Writing From The Dark Side

In a past life, my wife would need to implore me to come back from my dalliance with “the dark side”. When I worked for a company I liked to call “The Evil Empire”, that was a place I visited on too frequent a basis. I was not the easiest person to live with.

However, that job is gone, and Happy Joe has been present and accounted for 99% of the time. But, I seem to be on a little of a dark side streak. Negative events in the media have prompted publication of the two most recent posts here, my related opinions of the Aurora mass murder and the cover up and subsequent betrayal by Joe Paterno.

The original intent of this site was to pay tribute to those closest to me: grandparents, godmother, members of my family and friends, sharing the life lessons they passed along to me. Which I consider a gift.

Chris Brogan had put it best: “Turn your lens on your family. Tell family stories for future generations.”

Although my last two posts approach what is quality content, I’m unsure if the stories fit here. I want a certain feel to each post or series of posts. I didn’t get that feeling.

Lens On The Family

I left a comment at Jack’s place after he published an excellent post about how certain smells trigger memory. As I read it, one memory of the smell of meatballs cooking in my kitchen as I’m frying them immediately brings me back to my grandmother’s house, the scenario always being the same: Early on a Saturday morning, running down the stairs in my pajamas, woken up by the scent of meatballs wafting through the halls.

And the ritual of being the first to get a meatball sample at the start of another weekend. Perfect blog fodder for whenever I decide to dispatch procrastination and just write it.

I’m not exactly sure why I would write about anything else, especially the topics of mass murder and pedophile supporters. There are more than enough people to comment and write about all the crazy in the world. I did it, and it felt like a chore. When I left that brief comment about smells and memory, it flowed. I know if I turn it into a full length post, that would flow as well.

This summer has not been all peaches and cream. I lost my best friend after his long struggle with Parkinson’s, and another very good friend of mine passed away suddenly at the age of 59, just two weeks later.

It’s said that once you hit a certain age that you start to attend more funerals than weddings, and it looks like I may be in that place. That’s one part of life where you wish you could roll back the clock.

Clocks notwithstanding, life’s frequent patches of darkness are more than enough to shed light on without going to the current events pages to handle that as well. Lessons to be learned.

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Joe Lied – And Why It Should Matter To You

Courtesy of Wikipedia

The legacy of Joe Paterno was of a football program that molded boys into men, and did so with success for many years. Paterno was the archetype of the term “college football coach”, and a model of the Italian American community.

In that community of sports figures, his name could have easily been mentioned in the same breath as Lombardi, DiMaggio, and Marciano. Legendary in his work.

How sickening it was to learn, this past week, that his legacy will have nothing to do with football – but will have everything to do with his role as a protector of a sexual predator. A predator that preyed on children, ruining their lives.

It was easy to think previously that Paterno knew nothing, or knew little, about the crimes of Jerry Sandusky. That they were beyond his comprehension. But he did know. He knew for years. Lied about it. Did his part to try to cover it up.

He turned his back on the innocent. All in the name of his football program and its “reputation”. He could have stopped the actions of a monster, but he turned his back instead.

Could this have happened under the watch of Lombardi? In the locker room of DiMaggio? In the gym of Marciano?

Before the information from the Penn State investigation came out last week, I would have said “no”. As in hell, no. But no can turn into “who knows?”. Now, you can never be sure. About anything. This is part of what Paterno’s betrayal has done.

The worship of men, no matter the status, is a losing proposition. Can’t do it. It gives power and prestige to those that should never have it. Because they are human. They are flawed. Some of them are evil.

How many parents do you think felt completely confident sending their boys into the Penn State football program? Answer: All of them. How could they have known that they were bringing their children to rapists, molesters, liars?

If you are a parent, you are always on the offensive to begin with. When your kid drives a car. When they get into a car driven by someone else. When they go out with a friend.

Parents, it’s time to get your paranoia on. If you haven’t already. Every time your kids meet a new friend, meet a friend’s family, or go out among strangers, question it. Question everything. Make them give you every bit of information their little brains have.

Go on the offensive.

You’re in a new world now. Where coaches protect criminals, and themselves, in the name of fame, power and money. God forbid if your child is the one in the crossfire.

I admired Joe Paterno. Thought he was one of the good guys, a role model. I was fooled. I won’t get fooled again. The tradition that is the worship of men can no longer continue. Mickey Mantle is a memory, Willie Mays has faded, and “Where have you gone?” is a question that is no longer asked of Joe DiMaggio.

We know where they have gone. What they’ve left behind is a world where human tragedies play out off the field in the business of sports.

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This Is Not Your Grandfather’s “Job Security”

I can’t remember the last time I had a stunning day at work, but last week I had one of those days.

The stunner was the revelation that three people I had worked with, and come to know over the last five years,  lost their jobs. Just like that. In almost “mob hit” style, one minute we were talking, and the next they were gone.

Without a word.

Having been in the game for a long time now, I was less stunned than a lot of my workmates. But the fact that I felt this way at all showed just how complacent I’ve become.

This is not your grandfather’s world of “job security.” For all but a tiny percentage of workers, there is no longer the 40 year career at one company, retiring to collect a pension into your golden years.

Anyone that believes a corporation is going to “take care of them,” and is going to care about any more other than the concerns of its shareholders, is playing a dangerous game.

If you believe in such a thing as job security, you are doing yourself a disservice.

If you think there is a corporation that will take care of you more than you can take care of yourself, you’d better think again.

Image Courtesy of Wikipedia

My grandparents’ generation worked in factories, some their entire lives. They worked hard, and were rewarded them with a paycheck, pension and job security.

My own grandparents could have retired from jobs, from working for somebody else. They decided to run their own businesses instead, drawing success from their restaurants and providing for themselves the ultimate job security: As long as the doors were open, and sales were brisk, they could never get “fired.”

I never had a job until I was 35 years old. I worked in the family business, and I could always have that work as long as I wanted it.

There is no such thing as “job security,” no matter what you may tell yourself.  Whether you are just starting your career or are a little long in the tooth, look at that fact as an opportunity. It’s a new world, but you can take full advantage if you’re well armed.

One of my close friends made the comment if you have a strong support group, you can worry a little less. I tend to agree with him. The more connections, the more close friends and relatives you have that can cover your back, the better.

If you suddenly find yourself out of work, then let them go to work for you. Friends love helping each other out, right?

It can help if you have other skills beside your job as well. In my past life, I was a bartender in the family business. To make extra cash over the holidays this past year, I was a part time bartender again. It’s a skill that I’ll always have, and that people are willing to pay for.

Whether you realize it or not, you have a skill like that too. It is just up to you to find out what that is.

Speaking of friends, cash in the bank is a big ally too.  A cash cushion can keep you relaxed and stress free. It doesn’t have to be huge, but you better have something. You don’t want the situation of losing an income with your savings account dry as a bone.

I have no doubt the friends that I no longer work with will be OK, and land on their feet. They are a talented bunch, and one in particular already had a side business up and running.

But if there’s a lesson they can teach, it’s always be ready. Always be looking over your shoulder. And have your options in place if you ever need them. Chances are you will.

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So This Is Christmas…

So this is Christmas,  and what have you done, another year over, a new one just begun. And so this is Christmas, I hope you have fun, the near and the dear ones, the old and the young.

A very merry Christmas and a happy New Year. Let’s hope it’s a good one, without any fears.

Happy Xmas (War Is Over) – John Lennon/ Yoko Ono 1971

Christmas music starts on the radio in November, and pretty much continues to the end of the year. It can be enough to drive you insane.

But, along with any Christmas tune by Frank and Dino, the Lennon/Ono collaboration that became Happy Xmas is one of those Christmas songs that I could listen to repeatedly without getting sick of it.

It’s just a shame that its message is as relevant today as it was in 1971. A world without war to celebrate Christmas during our lifetimes? Not likely.

Photo by Gabrielle DeGiorgio

Post-Christmas, some other thoughts running around in my head:

I’m torn about gifts – While I think that my kids (and my wife and I) got far too many gifts again this year, fighting it may not be fair, and is probably a lost cause anyway. It’s a perfect right of their grandparents to spoil them as they see fit. So they get multitudes of gifts.

I’ll probably do the same thing when I’m a grandfather. I can’t bitch about the gift giving methods of anyone else when I know future Joe could be just as guilty.

As much as I like to complain about the lack of spirituality around the Christmas holiday, there wasn’t a seat to be had at the church where I attended Mass. In fact, there wasn’t much standing room, either. Elbow to elbow.

The fact that the church was packed reminded me of Christmas celebrations in past years, when I attended Mass with my grandparents and other family members. In the days when going to church was an essential activity in late December. That’s old school stuff that has a place here in 2011.

Next week, there will be plenty of available space. Next week, I’ll be able to sit if I want to.

Avoiding advertising is nearly impossible – The ramping up of ads proclaiming the latest and greatest discounts for Christmas sales is more intense than ever. To avoid it altogether is a tall order that’s hard to achieve. Materialism is front and center and it all reeks of receive, receive, receive. If you can get through the entire season without being tempted to spend more money than you actually have, congratulations.

And on that note…

The American economy is far too dependent on holiday shopping – A large part of our economy is based on consumer spending. What a house of cards. I can understand the fortunes of a retail chain bouncing up and down with the sales numbers, but…

Consumer confidence?

The stock market?

Crazy stuff. Thankfully, the average consumer was more than willing to put themselves into hock this holiday season to help out the economy. It was said that Americans were suffering from “frugal fatigue”, and their inclination was to spend their way out of it, to make themselves feel better.

Ho ho ho…

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The Fall Of An Italian American Icon: A Story Without Heroes

The death of former heavyweight champion “Smokin’ Joe” Frazier was enough bad news in the world of current events last week, another symbol of youth that fades away from all of us. It just doesn’t seem that long ago that I was a kid watching Frazier battle through his epic trilogy with Muhammad Ali, the epitome of a big heart and soul that went through life with his head down, at full speed.

He died of liver cancer last week, at the fairly young age of 67. He was tough, but eventually the fight ends for all of us.

He was a sporting figure worthy of your admiration, his resilience and tenacity being his greatest qualities. As an undefeated fighter, he took his championship into the ring against George Foreman, and was promptly knocked to the canvas six times en route to his first defeat in the brief bout.

But, Frazier kept getting up after each knockdown. He didn’t give up, and was only stopped by referee Arthur Mercante calling a halt to the bout.

Unfortunately, the Frazier story was overshadowed by the sexual abuse scandal at Penn State University. Legendary Nittany Lion coach Joe Paterno was fired from his position as head coach, as he seemed to not do enough to help bring to justice one of his assistants, a dirtball named Jerry Sandusky, who may have abused dozens of young boys.

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Paterno’s story is disconcerting because he built a program over 40 years of doing good and helping boys become men not just through football, but also solid principles of every day life.

That doesn’t matter now. Paterno could have used his significant power and influence to alert local police to a sexual deviant on his campus. He chose instead to relay it to the Athletic Director, who dismissively swept it under the rug. With no follow up on his part, Paterno looks like a willing accomplice.

That may not be fair, but it’s how it is in the court of public opinion. That’s life.

This is a story without heroes. It is an American tragedy, committed on her grounds of higher learning. No one tried to help the kids. From the University President, to the AD, assistant coaches, executive directors, all the way to the janitors that may have seen some of these despicable crimes. No one helped the children.

All they cared about was their positions and their paychecks. No one saved the kids.

The question that always bugs me is, how do they get away with it so many times? Like the scandal that plagued the Catholic Church before this, how are these perpetrators able to assault these children with such frequency?

I ask: Isn’t there one vigilante parent out there? Out of all the parents of these kids, isn’t there one defender of our youth? Shouldn’t the long arm of the law be the last thing these criminals have to worry about? Isn’t there one parent who would draw a six iron from his golf bag with the purpose of pulling a “Lee Trevino” on this guy? So he couldn’t hurt any more kids?

Joe Paterno is no longer one of the greatest college football coaches to ever walk a sideline. He has become a symbol.

Joe Paterno is an Italian American icon whose fall from grace will symbolize our country’s failure to always concern itself with the well being of our children. It’s sad that a man who probably did the right things most of his life, couldn’t pull the trigger to do the right thing one more time. To put a sexual predator behind bars. To help protect our kids.

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