Sunday, December 28, 2014

In Search of Christmas

“There'll be parties for hosting,
Marshmallows for toasting,
And caroling out in the snow.
There'll be scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases
long long ago.” – E. Pola

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!” – C. Dickens

“Pass Me By
Pass Me By,
If You Don’t Happen to Like it
Pass Me By.” – C. Leigh

You cyber-see before you a man on a holly, ivy and mistletoe mission. Like Leonard Nimoy before me, I go “In Search Of.” Mr. Nimoy pursued unsolved crimes, ancient mysteries, mythological figures, escape from the unyielding annoyance of William Shatner, high syndication ratings and so very often, alien life forms (he was Scientology before Scientology was cool and a show business prerequisite, as witnessed by the unrelated and inappropriate L. Ron Hubbard tribute and float at this year’s Hollywood Christmas parade) whilst nycityman still tracks the tenuous and slippery quarry that is the spirit of Christmas, which to this belated juncture continues to elusively escape me.

I share this personal and potentially tedious and pedantic tale, neither fascinating nor unique, in lieu of the usual politics or societal commentary specifically because of its lack of uniqueness. Enhanced expectations and over-reach of activities leading to inevitable disappointment is as common this time of year as a tone-deaf Mariah Carey live performance of “All I Want for Christmas is You.”

However, before you get the wrong impression, neither Ebenezer nor Henry Potter am I. My affection and expectation of the season of Silver Bells exists almost without borders or boundaries. The late Mr. Williams was absolutely correct; it is indeed “the most wonderful time of the year.” At the juncture when August becomes September my anticipation for Yuletide commences, and as I delve deeper into the autumn of my years, the more I see a calendar divided into but two seasons, summer and then Christmas.  I’ve nary a clue about what happens in the months and weeks in between - perhaps hibernation or perhaps all recollections and experiences are erased and eliminated by some sneaky, effective and loathsome North Korean power. If they have the ability to assure that finally we are no longer required to view zaftig Seth Rogen partially naked each and every day of our modern lives (why are those who should least be publically shirtless always the ones who are? ) then clearly there exists a capacity north of the 38th parallel far beyond our reckoning.

Hot on the cold heels of the New York Mets dropping out of playoff contention (although, in all honesty, that can occur in April) I’m researching recipes for mulled wine, playing Darlene Love on the gramophone and making a list and checking it twice. And there, my festive friends and caroling colleagues is the regretful rub, a holiday season that initiates even prior to JC Penny, Gimbels and EJ Korvettes’ removal of cardboard skeletons and plastic pumpkin decorations from All Hallows.  By the time the proper Yule period rolls around we’ve already been Linus’d and Grinch’d and Rudolph’d beyond reason. No event could live up to the expectation and anticipation of Christmas, not even a romantic rendezvous with Barbara Eden, or in this era, beauteous Welsh warbler, Katherine Jenkins.

You have to admit, Katherine takes a good picture
So, help me. Help me find Christmas.  I seek that childhood feeling when we had the whole week off between Christmas and New Years and the spirit and the season didn’t suddenly expire on the 26th of December.

Outside of the North Pole, I live in, arguably, the finest and most festive locale for Christmas wassailing and wandering, and I take it all in - the store windows, the Rockefeller Center tree, the carolers, the off-key and drunken Salvation Army bell-ringers, the Christmas markets and skating rinks - I’ll even amble into the celebrated and sacrosanct St. Patrick’s Cathedral and I’m a Hell-bound heathen.

And while I appreciate the effort, the sincerity, the intent of those of a more faithful bent who with a Linus penchant might attempt to “sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about… lights, please.” me, I had that indoctrination as a youth and having been there done that, discovered a greater enlightenment in the rejection of such. Christmas to me is not really about the man it was named for but more the canon of Crosby, the lighted decorations, the gatherings and overall good will and spirit of the season.

Could it be that Christmas is more of a nostalgia holiday than a celebration of the present? It’s so much about memories of the past, as opposed to memories you may be making in the here and now – precious recollections of childhood, the troubled sleep of the anticipatory eve, the early awakening to the excited discovery of Santa’s bounty, remembrances of seeming perfection and flawless positivity as now imagined through the hazy filter of time and wishes. As decades pass, faults and frailties fade away and Christmas morns from long ago become sepia-toned Polaroid’s of the Cratchits feasting on a prize goose as tall as Tiny Tim and Ralphie almost shooting his eye out with his much-longed for Red Ryder B.B. gun.

Today is December 28th and I fear that despite all my best efforts, Christmas 2014 has passed me by. If you have any suggestions or Christmas traditions that keep the holiday near and dear to you, please feel free to comment or send an email at the address you will find below. And for now, we all move on to New Year’s Eve, and surely that overly-hyped, capricious commemoration of the arbitrary turning of a calendar page could never disappoint.

As this a special time of year, please enjoy two jaunty melodies beginning with Andy Williams and the classic, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” followed by the Ray Conniff Singers (that’s right, the Ray Conniff singers, just as your dad used to listen to on the “beautiful music” station) performing “Pass Me By” from the film “Father Goose.”

Any comments, questions, criticisms, candid confessions, cash contributions?  Contact me at butchersaprons@mail.com.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

‘Twas the Weeks Before Christmas – Christmas time in America 2014

"Love is but a song we sing,
And fear's the way we die” - Chet Powers

Guns. Violence. Murder. The bread and butter, the very backbone of who and what we are as a country - Merry Christmas. Whether it be the regularly scheduled school shootings (this massacre of the innocent is proudly and happily sponsored by your frenemies at the National Rifle Association in conjunction with the bought and paid for Republicans on Capitol Hill) or the shoot first and ask questions later policies too frequently practiced by white police officers toward young, African-American men from purple mountain majesties to fruited plains to gleaming alabaster cities throughout the land.

We’ve made a conscious decision as a society, as a people and as a governing institution that we would begrudgingly accept frequent mass shootings rather than place any limitations on the ability of the criminally minded and mentally unstable from purchasing firearms, even automatic and semi-automatic assault weaponry intended solely for military use. Instead, we have chosen to occasionally sacrifice our children on the altar of the NRA and the faulty misinterpretation that the Second Amendment permits any and all citizens of the Red, White and Blue the right to own arms, which it does not.

Additionally, in the “Stand Your Ground” nation of 21st century America, while not technically legal for white people, particularly law enforcement agents, to shoot black people, it has become commonly allowed and increasingly a crime that escapes punishment or prosecution.

So, welcome to Christmas 2014, and to get you in the appropriate, non-festive spirit befitting this period and place, enjoy this modern and timely adaptation of the Clement Clarke Moore classic, “A Visit from St. Nicholas.”

 ‘Twas the Weeks Before Christmas – A Visit from the Nick

'Twas the weeks before Christmas and all through the state
Folks invest in protesting institutional hate.
Gendarmes prepped the tear gas with impeccable care
For they knew that the marchers soon would be there.

Black children lay frightened and huddled in beds,
Having just been enlightened ‘bout the price on their heads.
While Mom tried to calm them and Dad did his best
To explain the germane points of civil unrest.

When out in the street there arose such a clatter
A pop from a cop gun and another life shattered.
Away from the windows they flew like a flash,
To be safe from the strafe of a follow-up clash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow 
Gave the luster of midday to the body below, 
Then, what to their watering eyes did they see,
Not a doc or a nurse or a brave EMT.

The young victim just lay in his blood, unattended,
While the group, sworn to serve,  got their tall tale amended.
Once the details were clear in their story, they joked
Of a vicious attack, every bit unprovoked.

And the courts in each case fill Conservative dictum
If the skin’s a bit dark, put the blame on the victim
A lesson to learn this pre-holiday time
Just trust us, rare’s justice for this sort of crime

So, a wish for us all this most festive of seasons,
No more need to protest, let's end these racist reasons.
For every life matters, not just each shade of white,
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a safe night.

We close with a classic song from the 60’s whose message may seem a bit dated or na├»ve but very needed, if heeded, in such turbulent days.

Any comments, questions, criticisms, candid confessions, cash contributions? Contact me at butchers aprons@mail.com.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Gunned Down in Ferguson - 12 Shots, 1 Unarmed Teen

Our Nation’s Original Sin Returns to Haunt Us

“If you can't speak out against this kind of thing
A crime that's so unjust
Your eyes are filled with dead men's dirt
Your mind is filled with dust

Your arms and legs
They must be in shackles and chains
And your blood, it must refuse to flow
For you let this human race
Fall down so God-awful low” – Bob Dylan

Having done nothing to earn or deserve such a societal ranking of honor or prestige, merely by happenstance of birth, I am a member of the most privileged demographic in these United States, that of a white, heterosexual male. Additionally beneficial, prior to experiencing a personal Great Awakening to Atheism, I was also a Christian.  Had I but sprung from the gold-leafed loins of a Koch, a Rockefeller, or a Romney, I would have filled the inside straight of American privilege, but my boyhood reality was lower middle class. However, having been given the pigmentation that 4 out of 5 “real Americans” surveyed prefer, it was fairly effortless to improve upon that initial economic standing.

In 55 years, I have never been arrested, never been stopped or questioned by a police officer, never been followed down the aisles of a grocery store, never been refused housing, never been passed up by a taxi, never been called names demeaning to my skin color or ethnicity and have never felt my life placed in jeopardy - more than half a century without ever experiencing a single instance of any kind of discrimination.  I live in one of the two Americas, for only 18 years,  Michael Brown lived in the other.

 “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” – Benjamin Franklin

It’s important to have a historical and ethical context and recognition of where our journey began as a country. We were founded by massacring one people and stealing their land, and today we continue this debasement by turning Native-Americans into racist, humiliating, and offensive sports mascots.  We were built on the backs of another people that we enslaved.  And today, there is an undeclared war on young, African-American males. As a nation, we have intolerance and bigotry in our bloodstreams, it’s part of who we are as a people, a country and a political and social institution. We suffer from an original sin that no nation could ever properly atone for, and until we acknowledge, accept and attempt to move beyond our ugly past, it will continue to haunt us.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Current common and often all too accepted behavior has to cease. Whether they are completely unarmed, or armed only with a bag of Skittles, it’s not okay to keep exterminating young black men.  And, sadly, in some locales, to do so is not only custom, but law.  Twenty six states have instituted “Stand Your Ground”  or “Shoot First” edicts allowing individuals to use deadly force to injure or kill, provided that the shooter can convince a judge that he or she had a reasonable fear of imminent death or great bodily harm. In practical terms and in numerous cases, even beyond the assassination of Trayvon Martin, the applied use of this legislation has come to mean that all a killer need do is express feelings of fear in the face of an ebony visage, be they threatened by hip hop played too loudly, a scowling facial expression or an uncomfortable verbal exchange, and they are free to fire at will without concerns of legal reprisal.

 "And when I grabbed him, the only way I can describe it is I felt like a five-year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan. That's just how big he felt and how small I felt just from grasping his arm. (Brown) had the most intense aggressive face. The only way I can describe it, it looks like a demon, that’s how angry he looked." – 6’ 4” Officer Darren Wilson, describing his encounter with 6’ 4” Michael Brown.

Sorry officer, this isn’t a Godzilla movie where you fire and fire and fire at the approaching and unstoppable monster until bereft of ammunition, at which point you futilely toss your now empty weapon only to witness it bounce off his impenetrable hide as you flee screaming for your very existence. Despite the constable’s fearsome description, Michael Brown was no demon, and it was Wilson who ceaselessly discharged his pistol at a teenager deprived of any means of defense. But the facts of this gloomy case have become irrelevant for the prosecution and the conservative media, the tweets, and the blogosphere assured that it was never, never Darren Wilson, the assassin, who was on trial but only Michael Brown, the victim.

Thanks to prosecutorial due diligence, ignorance and institutional racism, this was about a kid who stole some cigars, and not about an officer of the law,  sworn to serve and protect, who instead took it upon himself to be judge, jury, and after 12 shots, executioner, having determined that the proper sentence for robbing a convenience store was capital punishment.

 “True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The solution to this malicious, unlawful and complex dilemma may be deceptively uncomplicated.  There need not be two separate and unequal justice systems, or two distinct and independent countries. Americans could attempt to move beyond a shameful history and learn to dismiss the violent, hateful and divisive rhetoric of Fox, Limbaugh, Hannity, Palin and their vile ilk to regard African-Americans, as well as all minorities, as people, regular people – sharing the same emotions, the same needs, the same feelings, thoughts, problems, circulatory system and internal organs (to quote the Bard, “If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die?) deserving of compassion and humanity and entitled to the same rights, legalities and justice, rather than viewed as targets of vigilantes and police who too often shoot first and ask questions later.

This United States is full of Michael Browns, Kimani Grays, Ramarely Grahams, Sean Bells, Jonathan Ferrells, Oscar Grants, Kendrec McDades and Trayvon Martins – young African-American men, unarmed, gunned down, justice denied. Their tragic tales legion, their sad stories too soon forgotten, lives briefly lived in the second America.

“I’m sorry, but I would shoot Michael Brown again.” – Officer Darren Wilson

In 1962, Bob Dylan composed the song “The Death of Emmitt Till” the musical saga of the 1955 murder of a 14 year old black teen for the crime of whistling at a white woman.  In 2014, we now know that, unfortunately, the times are not really “a-changin’” rapidly enough.

“This song is just a reminder
To remind your fellow man
That this kind of thing still lives today
In that ghost-robed Ku Klux Klan

But if all of us folks that thinks alike
If we gave all we could give
We could make this great land of ours
A greater place to live” – Bob Dylan

Any comments, questions, criticisms, candid confessions, cash contributions? Contact me at butchersaprons@mail.com.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

As Long As I Have You - Rebecca Robbins

Saturday Song Selection: Special Edition

“It's so hard to fight a battle 
When you cannot see your foe
And hard to start a marathon 
When you have so far to go
And I wonder if I'm strong enough 
Or if I have the heart
Cause some days I want to walk away 
And quit before I start" - Jill Santoriello

Who is Rebecca Robbins, you ask? You will learn that shortly, but rest assured, like the meetings of Davy Jones and Marcia Brady, James Carville and Mary Matalin, or that accidental stumble that leads to the Hershey bar being mushed into your Jif, her acquaintance, through story and song, is one you will be exceedingly pleased to make.

Why a Saturday Song Selection on a Wednesday? So anxious am I to share this beautiful new ballad and expose the eloquent and significant voices of both the composer and performer for the enjoyment and appreciation of the resplendent readers who browse this blog that, like an anticipatory toddler on Christmas morn, I have not the patience for the next Saturday to make its appointed arrival.

One hundred and fifty years ago, in the era when computers were either hand cranked or powered by kerosene and the internet was a literal net physically connecting log cabin to log cabin, we launched “… and several butcher’s aprons” as a politically progressive publication whose initial installment expressed dissatisfaction with the Congressional passage of the Coinage Act of 1864 mandating the inscription "In God We Trust" on all U.S. coins. In the many subsequent successful decades, descriptives from A to Z have been penned in opinion of the off-times controversial dissertations presented – arrogant, bilious, Communistic, derisive, egotistical, fractious (I shall assume that you have grasped the alphabetical gist) but rarely has this page received such superlatives as gallant, heartening, inspirational, joyous, kind, loving, moving (again, one must assume you have gotten the general intention. See “Sesame Street” for the sequential conclusion) but that’s all about to change.

“… I hear a gentle voice
I feel a hand in mine
And then that mountain in my way 
Is not too high to climb”

In November, in Philadelphia P.A., home of our Liberty Bell, the marvelous marching Mummers and creepy movie kids who see dead people, the lovely Rebecca Robbins, singer, actress, musical theatre veteran and friend, will be playing the role of Mrs. Winifred Banks in the Walnut Street Theatre’s production of “Mary Poppins.” Today, her voice and video graces “… and several butcher’s aprons” telling the poignant and personal musical tale of her battle with and ultimate triumph over a frightening malady.  A few months after the wonderful experience of making her Broadway debut, Rebecca was diagnosed with stage II Hodgkin's Lymphoma, which was followed by many months of challenging treatments. At this point, allow me to momentarily stifle my self-indulgent exercise in verbosity and lexicon abuse to let Rebecca properly and artfully continue her story.

“It is with overwhelming joy and a tremendous sense of relief that I can finally announce that as of today, October 16, 2014, my cancer is officially CURED. This is the first day of my new life and I can finally put all this behind me and move forward. I will forever be changed by this experience and am grateful for the valuable lessons it has taught me. As frightening, painful and inconvenient as it was to live through, I wouldn't change a thing. I am a better person for having gone through it… I hope my story can inspire others who are in treatment, recovering or still waiting for a cure. Never, ever lose hope. Miracles do happen and one day that word ‘cancer’ will forever be erased from every language in the world. – A five year journey from cancer to cured. My story. My voice.”

“You've shown me there's a light that shines
From deep inside the pain
You've taught me I can laugh at clouds
And revel in the rain”

Art, like life, is often most fulfilling when realized as a cooperative concern.  “As Long As I Have You” was created in collaboration with composer, the also lovely, Jill Santoriello and orchestrator, arguably the loveliest of all, Edward B. Kessel.  This terrifically talented trio first joined forces working on the magnificent and memorable 2008 Broadway premiere of “A Tale of Two Cities: the Musical,” book, music and lyrics by Ms. Santoriello.  

“I think of all we had before
And all that's left to do
I'll never quit or walk away
And no price is too high to pay
I'll count my blessings every day
As long as I have you”