Archive for September, 2008

Who inspired you?

Posted in personal with tags , on September 28, 2008 by barryshapiro

During the political season there has been quite a bit of reference to heroes a and inspirational figures in the candidates lives. McCain referenced one of his heroes, Teddy Roosevelt, in last nights debate. It’s got me thinking about people who have inspired me in my life. This morning I went for a long bike ride and while I was cruising down the road, my mind started to drift back and I could see the faces of so many people who had influenced me for the better. Heroes, mentors, muses.

Both my grandfathers were heroes to me. I was closer with Nat, my mothers father for most of my life until he died but when I went to college in New York City I spent more time and really bonded with my other grandfather, Sam. Sam believed in charitable work and giving back. In his “retirement” he served on dozens of committees and boards for a range of non-profit organizations. He was truly a man of the people. He was 80 years old and never took a day off. He was driving to work on a snowy cold day when a truck went through a stop sign and broadsided his car. He never knew what hit him. I wonder if he knew the big gaping hole he left behind for so many who were helped by his committment to serve.

I worked my way through Pratt Institute and one summer when I was between jobs I strolled into a neighborhood Italian restaurant asking if they needed a dishwasher. The funny little man who came rolling out of the kitchen covered in tomato sauce and breadcrumbs was Joe Yaccarino and it was my great privilege to  be ‘adopted’ by this New York original. Restauranteur, master chef and patron of the arts, Joe took one look at a skinny, long haired, rather sloppy student and said only “Do you want to make money?” Sure I said and so Joe made me a waiter. I did make lots of money for the first time in my life but I really gained so much more.  Joe introduced me to the Opera and to the Ballet. We argued over art and music and film and he taught me how to cook. Most important, he taught me to always believe in your talents and follow your passion, even against great odds. Joe was not only like a second father to me but he was a mentor and a dear friend till the day he left us.

Mickey Mantle was my boyhood idol, mostly because he was the charismatic New York Yankee center-fielder. But I felt that Mantle showed a lot of class later in life during his health struggles. Here’s a guy who, just like me, made  lot of mistakes but in the end he did what he could to atone. He had his shortcomings to be sure but his Phoenix-like rise and fall and rise became inspirational to many people of my generation. His charm and his self-deprecating sense of humor gave him a kind of everyman quality that I admired.

While I attended Pratt I was privileged to come in contact with some phenomenal teachers and artists. Herbert Berman, Audrey Flack, Franklin Faust, Ted Kurahara, Bill Toulis and Howard Buchwald were all influential and inspiring in their own way. But two of my professors really stood out and influenced my life in a radical way. James Grashow taught me wood-engraving but more importantly taught me constantly that art was not only about passion… it could also be fun. He also was the best damn drawing teacher I ever knew. His insistence that we use the entire page forced us to see beyond our as yet underdeveloped imaginations.

Susan Kleckner was my photography instructor and she taught us way more than how to use a camera. She taught us how to see. At her insistence, I spent an entire semester shooting a minimum of 8 rolls of film a week and never once looked through the lens. She also taught us how to think. Her reading list went beyond the photography books and journals that were standard college fare to include mind benders like “The Teachings of Don Juan” and Berger’s “Ways Of Seeing.”

My mom inspired me with her guts and her dedication to her children. She was brave and she was humble and she was strong. She always encouraged my sister and I to do the right by others and to be true to ourselves and our dreams. She instilled in us a sense of family loyalty that holds us together to this day.

I met Patricia Miles in late 1976 after returning to the States from a trip around the world. She was the most beautiful girl I ever met and I pursued her as I had no other. It took time and patience but I won her over and we were married. And just like that we were divorced. 19 years later we got back together. In between I searched far and wide for someone just like her. I never did find anyone to match her inner and outer beauty. I was lucky to get a second chance and I know it. Patricia and I have our differences still but we work through them now. The main thing is this – I have never known anyone as pure of heart and with such a strong desire to just be good. Patricia strives every day to bring a little light into the world. She has more determination in that regard than anyone I’ve ever known and she never quits. Amazingly, she has no idea of how brilliant and inspiring she is. Here is her gift – she makes me want to be a better human being. What can be more inspiring than that?

Paul Newman

Posted in personal with tags , , , on September 28, 2008 by barryshapiro

No question that Paul Newman was one of the great actors of our time. I never saw him do a part he didn’t radiate in, even in a silly piece of fluff like “What A Way To Go” or a wacky comedy like “Slap Shot.” It was his seminal role as Rocky Graziano in “Somebody Up There Likes Me” that first turned me (and the rest of the movie loving world) on to his talent. I just loved that film. And though I enjoyed “Butch Cassidy” and “The Sting” it was “The Verdict” that forever solidified Newman in my mind as one of the all-time greats. It was a pleasure to see him in person in “Our Town” and I will stay up late anytime if I can catch a rerun of “Hud” or “The Long Hot Summer” with his wife Joanne Woodward on AMC.

But it wasn’t a movie or play that solidified Paul Newman in my mind as a genuine hero and role model. It was his philanthropy as the founder of Newman’s Own and The Hole In The Wall Gang. My sweet and lovely niece Amanda grew up with severe epilepsy and it was because of the  heart and mind of Paul Newman that she had the great advantage of attending a Hole In The Wall Camp with other epileptic children, all free of charge.

So many kids have benefited from Newman’s generosity and foresight and the whole world has lauded him for his good work. But when a member of your family is touched by that genuine kindness and magnanimity you can’t help to be not only touched but inspired.

So that’s for the memories Paul and thanks for all you’ve done.. for Amanda and for all the kids. You’ll always be our hero.

Outrage over the financial scandal and other random angry thoughts

Posted in political with tags , , , , on September 27, 2008 by barryshapiro

I am as pissed off about the financial crisis as anyone and as nervous as everyone. I have no answers which seems to put me in good company – no one in Congress really knows what to do either.

First, the clowns in Congress and the Greedy Bastards on Wall Street together created this mess, so those people who are putting the blame on the people who took out bad mortgages they couldn’t afford are way off base and should just shut up.

Second, this mess didn’t start in the last few weeks, months or years This began with Ronald Reagan and his trickle down economics. It began with Reagan’s dismantling of the oversight of the financial sector, especially the SEC.

Third, no matter what the final deal is, the middle class is going to take it in the butt. I have read how many of the Wall Street are licking their chops with this bailout. They know that a smart investor knows how to make money in a down market, up market or even in a depression. It’s the average working stiff who is trying to make ends meet and pay his or her taxes that always gets hurt.

My friend David Wilson sent me a copy of a letter he sent to his Congressmen expressing his anger over the whole mess. I really liked his letter and decided to adapt it and send it to my 2 Florida Senators, Mel Martinez (R) and Bill Nelson (D). I got an immediate response from Martinez and, so far, nothing from Nelson. Unfortunately, though I appreciated the response, it was as almost as empty as Nelson’s non-response.

Whoever becomes the next President, the first thing he should do is get the best economic minds in the country, people who actually have an understanding of business and real life economics, and get them to fix this mess. Put Bloomberg in charge of the bailout. I think he’ll have a better idea than most of these guys and he won’t care who is ticks off to get the job done.

Today I was reading a description of the late author David Foster Wallace in the New Yorker where he was discribed as “One of the few satirists able to avoid meanness; he was moral without being judgmental.” That phrase really struck me. We live in a society where meanness is not only acceptable but seems to be gaining creedence as an acceptable personality trait. Just watch the majority of TV shows and you see meanness personified. I try to not be mean but I am judgmental. I have questionable morals but a very strict code of ethics.

My ethics tell me that it is bad to steal. My ethics tell me it is wrong to screw your neighbor or business partner or the guy on the bus you don’t know from Adam. My ethics drive me to be responsible for my family and for my personal finances. My ethics tell me that it is my civic duty to vote even though my cynicism tells me it’s a waste of time. My ethics also compel me to express my self honestly, even bluntly , in this blog. But my judgment of others is often at odds with my ethics. Being judgmental makes me angry and being angry makes me want to scream like Howard Beal, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore.”  It’s my ethics that keep me looking forward but it’s my judgements of others that make me bitter and makes me take it personally.

I have no use for morality. To me morality is a set of rules that some other person or group decide to place upon you. Ethics are the choices that you make as an individual to be on the side or right or the side of wrong.

It seems to me that our politicians are full of moral judgment but have a serious lack in ethics. Same for many of those corporate execs and high strung Wall Street types.  It is time to look at our politicians – especially McCain and Obama –  and look at their records. Let’s make sure their actions demonstrate a proclivity towards ethical behavior and a lack of pompous morality along with a tendency to avoid being overly judgmental.

My Stadium Memories

Posted in personal with tags , , on September 21, 2008 by barryshapiro

Today is the last day baseball will be played in The House That Ruth Built and the nostalgia is creeping in. I am, and always have been, a rabid New York Yankees fan. As a boy, pictures of the Yankees of that era adorned my bedroom walls – Maris, Berra, Howard, Skowron, Richardson, Ford, Kubek, Boyer and my boyhood idol, The Mick. My dad was a lifelong New York Giant fan and when they followed the Dodgers to the west coast he lost interest in baseball. He couldn’t share my love of the Yankees and couldn’t bring himself to take me to the Stadium he so disliked, so there was another thing that divided us in the 60’s.

I do remember my dad taking me once to Yankee Stadium. I have hardly any memory of the game at all or who the opponent was. My only recollection of that day was that, before the game, my father left me standing by the curb in front of the Stadium so that he could go negotiate better seating with the scalpers. I was nervous and didn’t want to move as my father had instructed me not to leave that spot until he returned. As I looked around at what seemed like a zillion people walking in every direction all over the place, I heard a familiar voice. There, right in front of me, signing autographs and greeting fans was the Scooter, Phil Rizzuto. The great Scooter, former MVP shrotstop and familiar Yankee broadcaster. I would have asked for an autograph if I had thought of it but I don’t think I though of anything – I just stared at the legend before me until my dad came a grabbed me. What was amazing about it for me now was that prior to seeing the Scooter I was shaking in my shoes but the moment I saw him up close I was calm and not worried about anything. Years later I was walking down Irving Place in Manhattan, near Pete’s Tavern, and I saw Phil and his wife Cora standing on the street waiting for a car to pick them up. As a jaded New Yorker I would never bother a celebrity on the street but this was Rizzuto and I had to introduce myself and thank him for all the memories. Both he and Cora were gracious and engaging and we chatted for a few minutes and I was able to relate my childhood memory. Rizzuto chuckled and started talking about his favorite restaurant. I had the feeling that everywhere he went people would tell him their stories and by that time he had heard them all more than once.

I have many Stadium memories to cherish. Only now that I live in Florida do I fully realize what a privilege it was to be able to jump on the #4 Train at Grand Central, often on a whim, and take it to the Bronx, get out with the crowd at 161st Street, find a scalper and get a great seat on the right field side. I’ve sat behind the Yankee dugout, the visitors dugout, in the bleachers and well, just about everywhere – but some places were more memorable than others. Sitting way up in the upper deck in Section 1 on a hot August day with all the regulars, drinking beer and eating hot dogs was an awesome way to see a game.

And there was the time late in the season, when the Yankees were battling the powerful Toronto Blue Jays and came from behind for a victory on a huge home run into the upper deck in right by catcher Ron Hassey. The blast wound up in the first row in the arms of a fan sitting only 4 seats over from me. Watching the ball lift off of Hassey’s bat and sail toward us was an overwhelming sight and for a brief moment I thought I would catch my first ball ever. Just as my my hopes were dashed, the Yanks didn’t make it to the promised land that year. The Jays went on to the World Series but that homer is etched in my memory.

I sat in the cold with a friend, Adam Smellin, on opening day when one-handed Jim Abbott got the win. I experienced pure joy with my good buddy Andy Silverman and his young sons Zachary and Ethan with great seats behind the Yankee dugout. I ate hot dogs and ate pastrami at the food court with girls I brought on dates. I had beers at Stan’s across the street. I saw Guidry pitch Louisiana Lightening and I was there when the fans threw change at Reggie in right field – a backhanded plea for him to not leave as a free agent.

But my greatest memory goes back to the 60’s. I was that kid who loved the Yankees but mostly by watching them on WPIX in black and white or more often listening to them on the radio. I loved the voice of Mel Allen and Rizzuto and of course there was the Mick. In 61 I had followed the amazing home run chase of Mantle and Maris and I was crushed when the Mick was injured and had to drop out of the race.

Mantle’s health was always an issue and he had been out with bad knees for much of that particular season. Now here is where my memory goes a bit south because I can’t remember if it was 64 or 65 but it was one of those years. My family had moved to Livingston, New Jersey and I had befriended a neighborhood kid, also named Barry. Barry Packin’s dad was a lawyer as I recall, and his firm had a box at the stadium. Barry was going to the game and his dad let him take a friend and I was the lucky boy to be invited. It was sheer heaven. The box was just behind the Yankee dugout towards right field with a great view of the action at first base. We got there early enough to see BP and watch the players warm up. Much to the disappointment of the two Barrys, Mantle was not going to start. He had just come off the disabled list with bad knees but was not expected to play. Still, we watched in awe as Mick tossed a ball in front of the dugout with teammates before the game. Once the game began however, Micky retreated to the dugout unseen from our vantage point.

It was a tense game and the Yankees were behind late (the 8th inning as my memory serves). With men on base and two outs we started to hear the rumbling. The crowd started to roar and we were out of our seats. And then I saw him. First his head popping out from the dugout and then that huge neck and muscular shoulders. It was Mantle coming out to pinch hit. I couldn’t believe my luck… Mickey Mantle was coming to bat.

Mantle hit a colossal home run and the Yankees went on to win the game. I was dizzy. Barry and I screamed and slapped each other with excitement as Mantle round the bases. The crowd went crazy, though not the way they do these days. I knew I would remember it forever but the memory, as I was about to learn, was not yet complete.

You see, back in those days, after the game, the fans were actually allowed to walk onto the field and go out to Monument Park which was in the back of centerfield. Today in the renovated Stadium the monuments are off the field in an enclosed space. You can go out there before the games begin but it’s not the same as when you’re on the field. We walked across the grass to the outfield and touched the monuments, 460 feet from home late, dedicated to Ruth, Gehrig and Rupert and Huggins. Barry and I looked around and soaked in every moment. We reached down and torn a small clump of grass and put it in our pockets. All the way home I kept feeling the grass in my trousers. We christened the clumps of Mickey Mantle Grass and I knew I’d keep it forever.

Unfortunately, I was exhausted and forgot to take the grass out of my pocket when I got home. That next morning my mom grabbed those pants and put them in the wash and that was it for my cherished memento. But to be there, in centerfeld at Yankee Stadium, where DiMaggio played, where Mantle played and where someday Bernie Williams would restore prestige to the position of Yankee center fielder, for a little kid like me… that was everything.

Stick a sock in it buddy

Posted in political with tags , , , , on September 18, 2008 by barryshapiro

So now we know…

It was John McCain who invented the Blackberry! Thank goodness we’ve answered that question once and for all.

What you may not know is that I invented the cell. that’s how cell phones got started, when I invented the cell. I swear it’s true.

It’s amazing that these politicians have time to do so much work in the lab, what with the war and the economy and all that.

Despite what the media thinks, this election is not about Sarah Palin. This election is about human lives and human suffering and what we are going to do about that for the next 4 years or more. I have a new rule we should enforce: no more TV or radio pundits commenting on the election or the candidates. Each presidential candidate will publish his or her position on the internet and we will all vote based soley on their platforms. I am tired of listening to the voiceboxes on the right and the left. Living in Florida I hear mostly those voices on the right and it’s enough to make me scream. If I ever meet Sean Hannity in person I want to stick a sock in his mouth – a very dirty sock. He is a sick and a dangerous weasel.

The exception to this rule is Jon Stewart. He can talk about whatever he wants cause he’s actually funny.

It’s the Economy Stupid!

Posted in political with tags , , , on September 17, 2008 by barryshapiro

Last night it was AIG. Who’s next? The government has bailed out Fannie and Freddie, Lehman tanked, Bear Stearns went bye bye and the Merrill Lynch bull has gone to pasture. The age of corporate socialism in America is upon us. The administration is clueless. I don’t think George Bush even knows how to spell BAILOUT.

Meanwhile, John McCain and Sarah Palin inch closer to the White House despite demonstrating the fact that they have no clue as to how to handle the biggest financial mess this country has experienced since the Great Depression. McCain’s plan to fix the economy is to create a commission to study the problem. Great! by the time the commission publishes it’s findings we’ll all be working for the Saudis and cashing our paychecks in Riyals.  Do we really need a commission to figure out what went wrong? We need a leader who understands economics and business.  As far as I am concerned, marrying a woman who became one of the wealthiest women in the country by inheritance does not make you an economic scholar. If he thinks the economy is still strong, as he declared in a campaign speech on Monday, Cindy should give him a nudge before he falls asleep in front of the TV.

McCain says his healthcare plan will pull 25 to 30 million people out of the ranks of the uninsured and yet the leading health care economists in the nation say that his numbers are off – by 25 to 30 million! This is not the sign of solid economic leadership. This is the sign that the guy can’t add, subtract, multiply or divide. To be fair, Obama’s economic policies may not be a slam dunk at this point either but I don’t see giving the Republicans 4 more years of control so that my retirement plan can continue to wither away and our national wealth can continue to solidify into the hands of a smaller and smaller group of zillionaires while the middle class washes away like a Galveston trailer park in a hurricane.

But I don’t blame George Bush for the current state of the economy. He is just a cog in the wheel as far as I am concerned. This has been coming for a long time. The man I place at the top of the blame pile is Ronald Reagan. When Reagan became president I was a young man starting out on the career path. At the time I worked for a scoundrel named Norman. Norm was not “uber-rich” but was very comfortable, a former lawyer who had become a producer with a trophy wife and a big house in tony Westport, CT. Norm and I had many interesting arguments but one that stands out now was about the long term effects of the Reagan administration’s “Trickle Down” economic policy.  Norm’s response was that Reagan would go down as the greatest president in American history. My take was exactly the opposite; that over the long haul, the lack of oversight in the private sector would allow greedy business men to rip off the country and that the difference between rich and poor would only become greater. That was OK with Norm as long as he was rich.  The policies that Reagan began and have been carried out through 12 years of Bush presidencies are what led us to this critical juncture in our nations economic history.

We need change in Washington that goes beyond the rhetoric of both Obama and MCain. We need truly fundamental change and that means not just new ideas but new people. We need businessmen to run the business of our government. We need HONEST politicians and bureaucrats who will put the interest of the people first. We need to toss out the lobbyists and we need some government oversite to keep the private sector honest. We don’t need assholes like McCain’s top economic advisor, the former Senator Phil Graham, who is quoted as saying “the United States is only in a mental recesion and has become a nation of whiners.” This is who we want running our economy?????

McCain vows to clean up Wall Street but how? Will he grab and broom and go down their and pick up trash off the sidewalk? Because so far his solutions are no more potent than that.

Money corrupts and from the halls of Congress to the floor of the New York Stock Exchange there are some very corrupt players handling some unimaginable amounts of our money. Those people want to not only keep that money but they want more of it in their own pockets. It is very similar to the business philosophy that old Norm lived by. One day we were riding to a job site in Norm’s car and he shared with me his theories on success. He told me he had learned everything he knew about business and life from his father, whom he hated passionately. The only thing his father had left him, he related to me, was a simple approach to dealing with people:”fuck ’em before they fuck you!”

Unfortunately there are way too many people in positions of power who also live by this philosophy. This is what we are up against and this is what we really must change in the coming election.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Posted in political with tags , , , , on September 16, 2008 by barryshapiro

I’m not a huge football fan but I do catch a few games, especially when it’s my favorite team, the New York Giants (World Champion New York Giants I might add). Anyhow, last Sunday afternoon I caught a bit of their game against the Rams. It wasn’t a great game even though it turned into a bit of a Giant blowout. At one point when the game was still close,  the Giants were driving when their QB, Eli Manning, was seemingly caught in a blitz and was about to be sacked when he switched the ball to his left hand and tossed an awkward but  accurate pass to running back Brandon Jacobs. It was amazing and the TV announcers seemed to be as astonished as the crowd.

Now if you saw the Super Bowl last year you might not be so surprised by Manning’s agility and quick thinking but still, I hadn’t seen that one done before.

Here’s the point. In this mornings Times, I read that this seemingly random play was actually something that Manning practices while warming up, “just in case.”

How many NFL Quarterbacks practice throwing with their non-dominant arm just in case?  Or, for that matter, how many regular folks like you and me take the time to prepare for the unexpected? I have a whole new respect for Eli Manning right now.

I don’t have any respect for Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, the morons who run FEMA, the Bush Administration or the government of the State of Texas. Apparently, with Hurricane Ike barreling down on the cities of Houston and Galveston, they all forgot to figure out who was going to deliver the emergency supplies to the people in need. FEMA thought that the State would do it, the State thought that the local government would take care of it. So FEMA sent water and blankets and whatever else they decided to send and no one delivered the goods to the victims. WHO ARE THESE IDIOTS?????

When do we say enough is enough? Hasn’t the current government in Washington ruined enough by now? Can’t they figure out how to make something like disaster relief work and then actually practice what they are supposed to do so that they make sure it works?

I think that the next President should replace Chertoff with Eli Manning. I think Eli will make certain that we are truly prepared for the unexpected.