December 31, 2010

What’s Buggin’ the Penguin Part 2

A few weeks ago I talked about a segment that Maqz and I do on our podcast “Countless Screaming Argonauts” called “What’s bugging Maqz and the Penguin” where we talk about the things we experience that bother us. In this post, I talked about a few but now in this post Christmas edition I would like to ruminate on a few more if you will indulge me.

During this last couple of weeks I got to see some TV which is unusual because we got rid of cable and mostly internet stream stuff. Watching TV however exposes us to commercials and one in particular has been bothering me. Several times over the last couple of years a football or baseball player has compared himself to a soldier in some sort of way and this has raised the ire of the American public. Whether the sports figure calls his sport going to war or says you don’t boo your team because we are hero’s, etc, all of this is nonsense and an affront to our sensibilities of the seriousness of wars and its implications. The sports figures have stepped over a line and are rightly called to task about that. However right now there is a Dodge Challenger commercial in regular potation where a British army in Revolutionary uniforms is run over by a George Washington character and the tagline is something like “at least we got freedom and cars right” and it makes me gag. Here we are reducing the essence of the War for our freedoms as equal to our love of cars. Please Dodge, give us a break. And even more so, why isn’t there an outcry about this. It is a disgrace.

Number two on my agenda of things bugging me, is this most recent snowstorm we had over the Christmas holiday and all the pronouncements on the news during the talking head banter segment where some goofball news reader says something like “so where is all that global warming they are talking about?” Look, I am no expert. I am somewhat well read on the subject but have not fully formed an opinion on it yet, being man created, all natural or a combination of both but I do know that the earth has been warming. I also know that climate is a multi-faceted process and that global warming can created more weather extremes not just hotter temperatures. So, if you mean it as a joke, cut it out, it got old a couple of years ago. If you are seriously thinking that global warming only means that it will get warmer, read something and get better informed.



(An example of the mind set that is just buggin' me!)

And finally, my hypocrisy rant for the day. Maqz and I talk about the hypocrisy we see in politics and society almost every podcast and it drives us nuts. Today I was reading an article about how an upcoming GOP Conservative Political Action Conference is being boycotted by a growing number of conservative groups because one group invited to participate is GOProud, a group of fiscally conservative Republicans who are gay. It is felt that that group is undermining the military (DADT repeal) and undermining the sanctity of marriage. Let me just spend a moment addressing that last thought. My dad served his country proudly and I know many people who did and continue to do so and at ANY time, to question their desire to serve this country and to call into doubt their commitment because of their sexuality, their race or religion or any other unrelated factor is hypocrisy at its greatest. And for any of you who feel that gays or gay marriage undermines the sanctity of that institution, think about all your brothers and sisters who are divorced, who cheated on their spouses or engaged in any other of this type behavior and look me in the eye and defend that as NOT undermining your goals. Self serving hypocrisy is dirty. It makes me gag.


Happy New Year to All!!

December 26, 2010

The Canonical Penguin: Celebrating the Holidays Penguin Style - Dinner

We had a nice quiet Christmas dinner this week. One bad thing was that CollegeBoy’s girlfriend, MissNicole, was not here which made the house quieter. We missed her, the house seems emptier when she is not here, but that is a topic for another post. For this one I want to focus on the dinner traditions.

I come from an Italian family and anyone who does now knows exactly what holiday dinners are like. Mrsfabp talks about coming to my home for a holiday dinner and being shocked that there was pasta and meat and more in addition to the typical Thanksgiving turkey or Christmas ham. Well, welcome to the world of an Italian family celebrating the holidays. I can remember growing up, the sideboard groaning under the weight of the different foods, delicacies and Italian pastries and cookies. This was a celebration and it centered on the food we shared.

Some other traditions; we traded off the holidays, one at our home, the other at my uncle and aunt's home. We lived close, only a few blocks so the traveling was easy and we would spend the day smelling the smells and enjoying the company. One controversy I remember was the stuffing. My dad was from a German family so the dressing was apples and raisins and sweeter. The Italian side of the family had a much more savory stuffing with onions and celery and spices. I do regret not understanding the value of each as I grew up, partaking only the German style for many years until I got married.

Yes, we did have a kids table! When the families were all together, there could be 13 people, too many for a simple dining room, so the kitchen table was set up for 4 or 5 of the youngest, who could make all the noise they wanted without interfering with the main dining going on.

One final tradition note. Besides all the Italian pastries and cookies, there was always a selection of pies. This all by itself should answer the age old debate about pie vs. cake: when we celebrate the holidays, we serve pie – apple, pecan, pumpkin, whatever. Ever hear of a Christmas cake going over well? How about a Thanksgiving one? And don’t give me that cheese cake argument, that’s not a cake at all. Pie wins.

Nowadays, we try to do a lot of the cooking from scratch and enjoy the process. We go all out at Thanksgiving but are a bit more reserved at Christmas, but there is all the traditional foods. We don’t do the Italian pasta tradition, mainly because there is usually only 4-5 of us. We live so far away, we usually don’t get a lot of holiday dinner visitors. MissNicole really likes pasta however, perhaps we should add a small lasagna or stuffed shells with meatballs to the menu…

December 24, 2010

The Canonical Penguin: New Bikes for Christmas

When I was about 10 years old, all I wanted for Christmas was a new bike. That’s it, just a new bike. Before this I had always been the recipient of hand me down, junk yard recycled, fixed in the garage bike. And we used them a lot. Even though my mother would not let us ride off the block, we rode them every day so bikes were important.

I can remember asking for a new bike and my parents being somewhat receptive to the idea. I can remember them taking me down the street to the big kids toy store “Kiddie City” (yes, kiddie city!) to look around. They were a precursor of Toys R Us, a large department style store, in somewhat of a warehouse type setting that had many different departments. These included the hobby corner (with stamps and coins), models (cars, boats, tanks, you name it), rows and rows of games, dolls, and even some kids clothes. And in the middle of the store, near the rear entrance was two long rows of bikes. Shiny chrome, brilliant colors, real leather seats, just lined up for looking at, each with a large price card shaped price card attached to them with string.

If you read my posts regularly, you might remember this one about crashing new bikes along the bay but those were new bikes we had bought with our own money and was several years later. These Christmas bikes were the first new bikes we were to ever get. At the store my brother Mike and I “tried on” several varieties, settling on shiny black Royce Union, 3 speed beauties. Yes folks, three separate speeds. I remember being so excited, that the time to Christmas seemed to crawl. It got there however and we raced down the stairs to look under the tree on Christmas morning and…no bikes. NO BIKES! At this point we could not say anything to our parents, and it’s not like we didn’t get other presents, it was JUST NO BIKES…

After a while of striping ribbon and wrapping paper off of the usual assortment of sock, pajamas and the like, my dad told us to go down to the basement to get some cans of vegetables for that days big meal. This was a usual activity for us, to be sent down to the basement to get some cans of something that was stored on a row of shelves down there (in case of atomic bomb attack I guess), and we dutifully did as requested. When we got the cans upstairs, I can remember my parents having a strange look on their face and asking if we saw them. “Saw what?” we replied and we were sent down to the basement a second time, to look. There, right next to the cans of food, were two brand new black 3 speed bikes. How had were missed them? I guess we were too disappointed to notice and now we were too happy to care.

We took them out the basement stairs and rode them all afternoon. Thank goodness it was our turn to host Christmas dinner (more about that tradition in the next post).

December 20, 2010

About my Dad, an obituary

My dad passed away early Monday morning of complications related to dementia and congestive heart disease. My brother was with him when he died and reported that he was comfortable and pain free. I’d like to take a few minutes and tell you a little about him.

My dad was a depression baby, spending his early years in a close knit German neighborhood in College Point, Queens. The area was called “Five Corners” because 5 different roads met at the intersection that his family’s house sat near. Ironically, some 50 years after this I went to work for my future brother in law, in a wood shop less than 100 feet from this spot. My dad grew up in a small cottage that barely seemed to be able to hold the whole family that included 11 children, one whom died soon after birth and one who passed at the age of ten.

Three images stand out from my dad’s stories about his childhood. That he would chase after the coal delivery truck to pick up coal that fell off, that his first paying job was setting pins by hand in a local bowling alley for a nickel a game, and that he would bring a small lunch pail to the local tavern each night to get beer for his dad.

(My mom and dad)

After my dad finished high school, a feat for him, he enlisted in the armed services and served his country and then returned to Queens to marry my mother and raise a family. I was the first born of 5 children. My mother passed away suddenly when I was 15 and I remember my dad sheltering us as best as possible from all the commotion. One image I have in my mind from this time was about a year later, walking in the hallway upstairs past his bedroom and seeing him lying on his bed looking at a picture of my mother. That is an image of him I will never forget.

A few years later my dad started a relationship with a woman who lived in a nearby town. They seemed very happy together, seemed to enjoy each other’s support and company. They did not get married because they both had younger children and did not want to have them deal with the issues of blended families. She got cancer and died after a long illness. The thought of his losing two people in his life like this was more than anyone should have to handle, but he did.

Later, he started a relationship with another woman from the neighborhood. They were great together, having lots of fun, traveling, enjoying each other’s company. After they had been together for several years he was trying to reach her by phone but there was no answer and he went over to her apartment to find that she had died. At her funeral, I hugged my dad and told him I was so sorry for all of his losses but these words seemed so insufficient then and even more so now.

My dad worked for 25 years for the city in the Department of Sanitation, retired and then worked for 10 more for the federal government delivering mail in NYC. He worked hard every single day of his life until the dementia forced him to give up his home and move to an assisted living home on Long Island. After all those years of independence, this was a most disagreeable thing for him but he could not be trusted to take care of himself and needed more attention.


(my dad and sister)

When he retired he continued to keep busy, working with his hands. My dad enjoyed making things and repairing things. He worked on cars and bicycles and remodeled rooms and fixed things all the time. He was with me when we bought our first home and spend hours and hours helping me make repairs – putting in new windows on the porch, removing a door, painting the entire outside, wallpapering the inside, remodeling the bathroom. We lived 3 hours away but he would come to visit, enjoy playing with his new granddaughter and work on the house with me. This joy too was robbed from him in the end.

It seems so hollow to say he is in a better place now, but it is true. The last few years have been difficult as the dementia invaded and took over his life. He was always a happy and energetic soul and this was taken from him. He easily made friends and this was taken from him. He always had a story to tell but this was taken from him. Now he is taken from us. The last time he recognized me was almost 4 years ago at Easter time at a dinner at my sister’s house. He was having a good day and was enjoying himself and the attention he got. But as the day grew longer he had more and more trouble and he slipped away from us that day. At Christmas that year I saw him again and he was at the point that he no longer recognized any of us. It was difficult for him to be in a strange place, my brothers house, that he had spend hours and hours at doing repairs and visiting in the years before because he no longer recognized it. I was difficult for me to see him this way, because he was slipping away, was no longer the person I knew. I really needed to remember him as the strong, energetic man who was my father, not as the person dementia was making him. I missed him, even when I was with him. He is in a better place now. I chose to remember him that way.



(Dad and my sister at his 80th birthday)

One final note. There is no way that I can ever repay or thank my siblings enough for all the caring that they did for my dad. All of them, my brother Michael and his wife Joanne and my sisters Annette, Johanna and my brother Anthony. I lived so far from where my dad was yet they always kept me updated about how he was doing and what was going on for him. Michael especially was so strong throughout this whole ordeal. They were the one who told my dad he had to leave his home and move to the assisted living home, they helped him look at places, they cleared out his home and moved his belongings, they sold his house, they took him to his doctor appointments, they looked out for him and they were there when he died. There are not enough words that I can say in gratitude to them. They made sure he was comfortable and taken care of right to the end. They are all blessed and I am honored to say thank you deeply for all they have done.

December 19, 2010

The Canonical Penguin: Celebrating the Holidays, Trimming the Tree

In a previous post I talked about some of the holiday traditions of my own childhood and of our time in New England. So in this post, I want to focus on the decoration of the tree.

I mentioned that in my family the tree was put up by Santa on Christmas Eve. I remember that it had large bulb lights, and that flashing ones were present occasionally. There also was a set of bubbler lights, colorful base with pencil thin tube of water that bubbled due to the heat of the bulb. These were always my favorites. They must have been a German tradition because I saw them on my dad’s family trees but not any on the Italian side of the family. Later on my dad went through a matching decoration phase, simultaneously with his artificial tree phase. First we went to all white lights (which I like) and all matching silk balls (which I hated). He did this because he was the ultimate bargain shopper and right after Christmas, went to the stores to stock up on the next years decorations. This gave us an almost department store look. One time I remember my dad tried angel hair on the tree, but he scratched for days after so no more angel hair EVA! Finally our tree had tinsel, put on one or two strands at a time for the proper effect.

On the New England front, our tree traditions kind of make me feel all Norman Rockwell inside. We would go out and cut our own tree, up until I had my BKA and can’t get around as well as I used to. We still pick out a real tree every year. We go smaller now but that is ok too. The decorations are ones we have made or bought ourselves over the years, many representative of a place or time or event. There are also a few old ones from our growing up families and some mindful of the ones we had as kids. No tinsel either – we use wooden cranberry strings and strands of little kid toys for the garland. Every year, after the decorating is done, we step back and say that it’s a great tree, one of the best ever and enjoy the real tree smell for days. We don’t decorate as much as we did in the past but we have come to realize that the family feelings come from each other not some plastic elf or window candle.

As for putting the tree up, we never got into putting it up too early. Now we wait for CollegeBoy to get home from school to go get it and put it up. I know lots of people get so very stressed during the holidays but we seem to have been able to just enjoy it for the good family feelings that spring from it.

(Not our baby Jesus but an incredible...)

One tradition we have, that has also caused its fair amount of tears is the placement of the Baby Jesus. This was one of my wife’s family traditions, where the youngest member of the household places a Baby Jesus on the boughs of the tree. Our first Christmas together I got to do it as I am younger than Mrsfabp (and I never let her forget that). But after that MillieJupiter got to place it 4 years in a row. Then CollegeBoy was born and it was his deal. Needless to say, MJ had a bit of trouble with this continuing interference of the new kid on the block. Sometimes I am surprised we didn’t find CB stuffed in a closet or something after another slight felt by MJ. But we got through it and now continue to do this each year. This year, MissNicole, CB’s girlfriend, who is really a member of the family will put it on the tree. Hopefully our kids will continue the tradition. Like reading the bible story of Jesus’ birth, it is a way of remembering values when most people are trying to decide iPad or iPod.

This weekend, we will go get a tree and put it up. We’ll untangle the lights, look through the boxes of ornaments for our favorites to put on the tree. I’ll find the little wool cap ornament, the penguins on ice ones, the glass light covers, the snow blower and all the rest. We’ll string the garland and then step back and say that it is one of the best trees ever. We’ll sip hot cocoa or egg nog and eat some cheese and crackers and bask in the glow of our Christmas.

December 17, 2010

A Little Bit of Excitement

CollegeBoy turned me onto Google reader and the wonderful world of RSS feeds a couple of years ago. He is always coming up with websites and blogs for me to look at. One of those sites was a blog called “Seth Curry Saves Duke”> Written by someone not named Seth Curry, it is a fans blog about mostly three teams – NY Yankees baseball, occasionally NY Giants football and Duke University College Sports, most specifically Duke basketball. This happens to be some of my very favorite teams and after reading a couple of entries I was hooked. It is a fan’s fan account of the goings on in the sports world, told with the fanaticism only a college student could muster. And it was funny. So for the last year or more, I have been a SCSD fan.

A few months ago the writer, mentioned doing a contest called “Pick Six” where six teams pick six sports winners for six weeks with the top two advancing to the next round with four new challengers. I enthusiastically sent in an email asking to be a part but alas, they were already full. However CollegeBoy independently had made contact and was working his way into the third round. Being his father, “I am your father!” I wormed my way onto his “team” to make a go of this. We recently heard that we are IN! The second round finished this past weekend and then the next round begins this week.

CollegeBoy and I collaborated on an opening statement to tell the millions of SCSD readers who we are and give them a taste of what they are about to experience. Following is the write up we did. I will provide links to the website whenever we are mentioned and also provide some insight to the picking and writing process that we engage in. Wish us luck!

Our SCSD introduction to the blogging world…
Our statement is about 2/3 down the page under the heading Dylan and Patrick...

December 16, 2010

On the Eve of Depression

This post is about my job and all the feelings I am experiencing right now. I generally do not talk about it too much, it’s my job but recent events and the overall plan at the place has me slipping downward and I am hopeful writing about it will help put it into a perspective.


(Monson State Hospital for Epileptics, 1911)

I am a social worker at a state facility for people who are developmentally challenged and have epilepsy. Historically the facility is over 130 years old, having started as a poor farm for the indigent from Boston but developing over the years as a state hospital and then Developmental Center for this current population. I started working here in 1983, just beginning my 28th year a couple of weeks ago. When I began here there were about 700 residents in some 15 buildings and about 1600 staff. In December 2009 we were informed that the state was going to close 4 of the 5 facilities for this general population over the coming three years. Now, with 19 months left we are down to 90 people and 300 staff. Just 2 buildings. If all goes according to plans, in the next 3 months, an additional 18 people will be moved, along with about 50 of the staff. This means our population will be down under 75.


(Simon Building, my first office space in 1983, picture about 1970)

Along the way it has been hard to say goodbye to the individuals and their families, some of which I have worked with for more that 25 years. But it is more than that because people have left before – moved or died. Even changes in caseload meant that families I have had a relationship with changes on a regular basis. But this is different as there is a sense of finality to it.

It first became noticeable soon after the closure announcement. People were down, worried about their jobs, worried about the people who lived here. How would they handle the change after living here so long? Many of the individuals on my caseload have been institutionalized for 60 years or more. They have severe physical and developmental handicaps. How would their families handle this? They have felt a sense of security about the health and safety of their family members for all those years. I spent hours on the telephone speaking with dozens of family members, reassuring them, crying with them, helping them plan and look at options. Helping them make one of the most difficult decisions they might ever make about their loved one. This has been a difficult time for all involved, including me.

More recently two things have happened that have hammered home these points. The first was in early October, our annual Family Day. We have had about 13 of them and I had gone to all but one, which I missed when I lost my leg. It has always been a time of connecting and happiness, often being the only time I might see a person that I talked to regularly on the phone. They always went well. I did not attend this year, I was at a wedding on Long Island and had to miss it. When I talked to staff and family members afterward, everyone commented on the fact that it seemed subdued, that there was little joy there. There was much sadness over speculation that this might be the last one we have. By next October, our population could be about 50 residents or less. Not much for a party.


(Closed Building, current picture)

The other event was more staff-centric. This week we had the annual Employee Christmas Buffet. In my 28 years there have been 27, one being cancelled due to budgetary issues about 10 years ago. I remember when the line for the buffet went out the door and outside of the auditorium where it is held. On this day there were no lines, plenty of empty tables and no waiting. No spirit either. There was a sense of doom and gloom about. There was plenty of speculation that this could be the last one. For the record, the vegetable lasagna was good and the pie, very good. A good time was not had by all.

December 14, 2010

The Canonical Penguin: Celebrating the Holidays, Penguin style

As we wind down the time we live in Massachusetts and excitedly anticipate life in New Mexico, I find myself contemplating all sorts of memories. The memories of my own kids growing up, triggers other memories - my own growing up in NYC and seeing how life has changed. Holidays go a long way to triggering this memory cascade and since Christmas is the most “holiday” of holidays, it accomplishes this in even more glorious fashion.


(Not our tree but an incredible simulation)

When I was growing up, Santa put up the tree on Christmas Eve, after all the kids went to bed. That night, nothing was there. It mysteriously appeared on Christmas morning, fully decorated with wrapped presents surrounding it. And with 5 kids, there was a lot of surrounding. It still amazes me that we did not have a Christmas Eve tradition and that my parents put the tree up, decorated it and wrapped the presents all in the evening after we went to bed. One very nice thing that Mrsfabp has brought to holiday tradition is some Christmas Eve festivities. We now read the Night Before Christmas and the Birth of Jesus from the Bible and while listening to some holiday music and sipping some egg-nog or warm cider and open a small gift that night. Our kids have really enjoyed this and it is something that we continue to this day. As we are all sitting around that night it just gives me the warmest feeling to know that this is a tradition that will continue on.

As for the tree, I was shocked when we moved to New England and saw how early people put up their tress. Coming from a house where the tree went up so late, by choice, it was a eye opener to see the trees going up right after Thanksgiving. In Mrsfabp’s family I believe the tree went up a bit before Christmas but not weeks and weeks before. I can remember one year going to my uncle’s house the year they got an artificial tree, a real beauty from Macy’s, and he was putting it up several days before Christmas Day, and I was positively scandalized by it going up early.

Now, about the tree itself. We always had a real tree. We had neighbors who were in landscaping and they would always give my dad a deal on a tree. One year they let us sell trees one night when they had some other things to attend to. One year we ran some extension cords for them for extra lights and got the tree for free. Then my uncle got a fake tree and the next year it seems we had one. This was not a keeping up with the Jones’ type thing. I think my parents saw the ease that the fake tree went up and came down without the “vacuuming of the needles” tradition. This went on for several years until one year my sister Jo, demanded we get a real tree again. I was away at college but remember walking into the house the first time with the real tree again and smelling the balsam. Thank you Jo for getting us back on the right track.


(Not our tree farm but an incredible simulation)

In our house we have always had a real tree and when the kids were younger, we cut it down our selves. We would go to a local place and tramp through the woods to find the perfect tree. I can remember several episodes of tears when a particular favorite was not chosen but I think that there are no real bad memories on MillieJupiter’s part about this, Right?

(next up, decorating the tree traditions…)

December 13, 2010

What’s Buggin’ the Penguin

On our podcast, Countless Screaming Argonauts, Maqz and I have a regular feature, called “What’s bugging Maqz and the Penguin” where we talk about the things thrown at us during our days which bother us. For example, recently Maqz went off on the fact that McDonalds, a multinational trillion dollar company tries to guilt you into donating a dollar to whatever their most recent charity is while making billions of dollars in profits. So I was at the Mall Christmas browsing this past weekend and ran into several things that just bug the crap out of me and thought I would take a few minutes to spread the “cheer” so to speak.

I do not mind body art/piercings/tattoos on people within reason. As a matter of fact, I think a little butterfly or similar thing can be sexy, a cartoon character interesting or even memory invoking. CollegeBoy has one, a quiet one and I like it. No problem for me as long as they are not over the top. However, I saw two at the mall that made me throw up a bit in my mouth. One was a teenager who had a “Bar code” tattoo under his ear on his neck. The other was an adult who had shaved off his eyebrows and had two words tattooed in their place. Before you ask, no I didn’t get close enough to see what the words were (perhaps IamAn Asshole?) That would have pushed me over the edge.

Where has all our sanity gone folks? We are using the elevator at the mall. It is small, a glass enclosed one, traveling slowly. Soft holiday music is playing over the speakers to set the mood along with the holiday decorations one sees through the windows. A woman gets on and spends the ride time talking loudly on her cell phone about the behavior of her child, to what we can all only assume is a psychologist or other parent. The poor kid is standing there listening to her behavior being berated. Finally the woman says, "Here, you talk to her" and hands her child the phone. As you can imagine, the child has little to say as I am sure she is getting a dressing down here. People, leave the drama at home. We do not need to hear your opinions on child rearing, ungratefulness or rude behavior. Talk about calling the kettle black!

Finally, we went for a late lunch at a chain pizza mall restaurant, sitting down to relax a bit. Mrsfabp and I shared a beer. They had Sam Adams on tap, always a good choice as well as Sam Adams Winter, another good choice. I saw at least two people in the restaurant order Sam Adams in a bottle. IDIOTS! There is tap beer. It is fresh, not made weeks ago and stored for who knows how long. Tap beer… It brought a tear to my eye. I’m surprised they didn’t order Bud Light or some other pisswater beer. Guys, it's Sam Adams. On tap. Good beer…

This concludes my rant for the day.

December 12, 2010

Book review- State of Fear by Michael Crichton



I was thinking the other day that all of reviews – books and movies have been very positive. Well that’s the way to kill that Karma, isn’t it? Let me start off by saying that overall I did not enjoy this book very much. So let me tell you why.

As always, Crichton comes to the writing process well prepared and topical. This novel is about global warming, eco-terrorists, mass murder plots and various conspiracies on both sides of the issue. The science seems solid, the plot lines interesting, the politics enlightening, its world wide reach ginormous. So what is the problem you ask? Well I thought there were two.

First off, the characters are like Teflon coated titanium – nothing sticks to them and they are indestructible. Good deeds, bad deeds, horrible intentions, nothing matters. Plus they survive that which no mortal man should as wave upon wave of mass destruction confronts them and they always seem to win. They are like superman without the capes.

Secondly it is the author’s notes at the end of the book, some 20 pages worth. If you have to provide that much explanation of things after the fact, you probably didn’t do a good enough job in the first 400 pages. Plus he spends the whole book proving how each side so totally believes what they are saying, quoting all types of statistics and then in his end notes tells us one cannot believe the hype and siding with those that are skeptical about the issue.

I give this book 2 penguins



I like Michael Crichton, I really do. I think he was on the cutting edge of most of the issues he had written about. However I think he missed the boat on this one. If he wanted to feel a certain way about a topic then support it in the novel. From the very start this one felt like it was a screen play for the next Stephen Spielberg movie rather than a great thriller. It just seemed like Crichton just was trying to play both sides of the fence, and I think he toppled off of it in the process.


December 10, 2010

Kanye Kitty Psychosocial Assessment

Kanye Kitty is a 3 ½ year old male, gray and white, short haired feline. Generally he presents with a somewhat social demeanor, although he does go through long periods of time when he prefers to be off by himself. He usually spends this time sleeping, not unusual for the species, or wandering around the local woods, exploring his environment. He was “tutored” at 6 months by the local vet and recovered with only his dignity intact.

Developmentally, Kanye was the second of five kittens born to a first time mother. One sibling died at birth. He reached all the usual kitten milestones – opening eyes at 2 weeks, playing with siblings at six weeks, chasing balls of yarn and bits of paper at 8 weeks and catching his first mouse at about 5 months of age. He does not maintain contact with any of his other siblings, two of which live in the same town currently or the other, who moved to Hopedale at 8 weeks of age. Mother was a bit overwhelmed by the responsibilities of raising a litter, always providing plenty of nourishment when needed but leaving the youngsters alone for long periods of time. She subsequently disappeared right after the kittens were weaned, possibly the result of an irresponsible relationship with a coyote. Little is known about the father as paternity was never established. It could have been any one of the several Toms who hung out in the neighborhood. None of the kittens resembled any of the Toms, making the possibility of an unknown male the father, a real possibility.

Medically, Kanye has had a relatively uneventful life. Outside of “tutoring” and his required vaccinations, he has not spent any time at the vets for treatments. He has a healthy appetite, preferring foods that he is not allowed to have most, but is generally satisfied with any number of dry foods. Occasionally treats are offered him, such as canned food or cat treats and he enjoys these lavishly.

Clincally, Kanye possess many positive skills. He can be social, climbing up on a lap for some petting or rolling over on his back so that you can scratch his belly. He likes people and does not generally disappear when strangers are present. However he goes through periods of time when he does the exact opposite. After months of sleeping in the master bedroom at night, he currently goes there and when he does, stays only for a short while before moving along. He does not get along well with his housemate, Millie, an 12 year old female, who makes her displeasure at his presence evident by copious hissing, scratching and at times ignoring him or taunting him, depending on her mood. Although generally mellow, Kanye will hiss back, raise his paws to her and attempt to fight back but it is not in his nature to prolong the confrontation most of the time.

Presenting problems are as follows: Apparent mood swings making him affectionate one minute and distant the next. Each of these extremes is seen in detail every day. Does not understand limits placed on him regarding going out at night, people food vs. cat food, or playing nicely with others. Constant whining when he does not get his way. Lack of conviction or severe indecision can be seen when he whines to come in the house and then immediately whines to go back out. Fear of some inanimate objects seen including wood stove and vacuum cleaner.

Diagnosis: Possible bi-polar disorder of rapid cycling depression and short bursts of euphoria, possible autism/Asberger’s syndrome with antisocial behavior predominantly displayed. Possible anti-social mood disorder.

Treatment recommendations: Aw, common guys, he’s a cat, get used to it.

T Fab P, LICSW

December 7, 2010

A few internet laughs...

I have occasionally talked about favorite websites in this blog and thought that in the spirit of the holiday season I would mention a few that bring a chuckle every once in a while. So without further ado…

Fail Blog: anyone who is at least somewhat familiar with the internet knows the meme “Fail.” The urban dictionary defines it as “either an interjection used when one disapproves of something, or a verb meaning approximately the same thing as the slang form of suck. The Glorious lack of success.” This website is a great compilation of pictures and short (45 seconds or so) videos of failures to thrive. Most bring a smile to my face and occasionally I just laugh out loud at the “stupidity” of the people involved. is high on my daily must look at list and no day seems off to a good start until I have checked out the latest delivery of “FAIL.” If you use an RSS reader, you can expect 12-15 posts each day. I can usually check out 10 in under 5 minutes, well worth the time investment for a bunch of laughs.

I Love Charts: This is a wonderful site that takes a look at life as we know it in the form of a chart. The creators say that this is “By people who love charts for people who love charts” and they deliver time and time again. For example I give you this chart about Thanksgiving Dinner that made me smile as I interpreted it.



I actually submitted several charts that got published
This one -



And this one





And this one



Anyone can create and submit a chart that reflects an experience in their life that a chart can help explain. You can go to graphjam.com to create and save a chart very easily and then submit it to I Love Charts right on their page.

I am a proud member of the I Love Chart nation. You can expect 4-6 posts a day, again, very easy to spend just a couple of minutes with and end with a smile. Check it out here!

Very Demotivational: Everyone is familiar with the series of mock motivational posters that had become an internet sensation a few years ago. Well this website takes this meme a bit further, offering creative demotivational posters and offering poster comments on them. Most make me smile and again, some make me laugh out loud. You get 5-8 every day and most are just tremendous. Website is here



Damn You Autotcorrect: If you use a phone to text and your phone has a T9 feature, you have seen the havoc it can reap on your messages by changing words. Well this site, recommended by MillieJupiter to me, shows a flood of these type corrections, often to hilarious surprise at what was sent. My only issue is that in any give day you can get 25 or so examples and they take a while to get through. I just wish they were ranked so I could skim through just some of the best. It is worth a look at though and you can find it here.

December 6, 2010

Movie Review: “It’s kind of a funny story”



At the holidays, we are always looking for a good film to see, one the whole family would enjoy. Usually we are successful, having seen things like “Déjà Vu” and other similar action pictures that feature more than just “shoot them ups” When CollegeBoy showed us the trailer for this picture, my interest was immediately piqued, even though there was no “action”. What there was, was intelligence and wit and a likable set of characters. So we packed up the car and went to see this picture.

In short, it is sort of a light hearted “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” with a kinder, gentler edge. The similarities and contrasts are evident through the picture. Instead of Jack Nicholson, we get Keir Gilchrist (United States of Tara) in the lead role, a teenager struggling with growing up, facing expectations and being depressed. Instead of the crazy Nurse Ratchett, we get the sympathetic psychiatrist, Viola Davis (also in Tara…) who walks Keir through his 5 day stay in a NYC psychiatric hospital. The worlds of both pictures are filled with colorful, crazy characters like Danny DeVito in Cuckoo’s Nest and Zack Galifianakis in this picture. There are lessons to be learned in this picture that are lost on Nicholson but both portray a group of people that sometimes flaunt the rules, sometimes bend them but ultimately learn from their experience.

Keir Gilchrist as the teen Craig, is dealing with all the growing pains we see in young adults today. He is worried about school and getting into college, about having friends, being popular, and girls, girls, girls, as well as a fairly humorous eating disorder, all of which is wrapped around a good heart and the soul of a survivor. He is different in the end, having grown through the experience rather than continuing to act out and facing the repercussions that Jack Nicholson did in his film. Zach Galifianakis, a comedian at his core, gives a moving, yet still funny performance as Craig’s guiding light through life’s many twists and turns and helps him see himself as a good person with a lot to offer.

I would give this film 4 penguins.



Overall this was a funny, moving picture with just enough twists to keep you on your feet. It is not a thriller but still a very, very enjoyable film. I would not hesitate recommending this picture at all. I must say however that if your tastes in films runs only to the action variety, this will be disappoint. Some might consider this a chick flick but it really is a lot more than that. By the way, for an interesting twist, look up Zack Galifianakis on YouTube and look at the interview series he did – a bunch of 5 minute shorts. He is a very funny fellow and his offbeat humor is interesting. Thanks to CollegeBoy for this tip.




December 5, 2010

Finding a new hobby – From Kiln to Card Making and Jewelry

I never contemplated a stay-at-home, doing nothing, sort of retirement. Because of the dementia that my father is in the grips of, I always felt that I needed something to do with my brain. At my job now, I do a lot of writing so I felt that I had it covered. In retirement I figured to work on keeping a blog going and more recently have entertained the notion of writing a book. It is these things that I expect will keep my mind going. Plus, I have lots of things to read, blog wise, and listen to books on a daily basis (right now I am enjoying “The Hunger Games” the first of a three part series) and expect to continue that too.

But I need something to do with my hands. I used to make note cards from my photographs and sold some at a local autumn fair for a while. This is something I really enjoy and recently Mrsfabp and I have been engaging in recycling Christmas cards using her scrapbooking talents and techniques and have really enjoyed not only that process but also the thought of incorporating it into my own card making. I am sure to write about that in a future post.

At one point I thought the hobby might be pottery. I bought a used kiln, started taking classes and although I really enjoyed the process, I learned one valuable thing. I have no artistic talent in this type of field. I should have guessed that fact earlier. After all, all of my drawings look like stick figures, even portraits. This was a clue, dismissed by me, able to be ignored until later on in the pottery classes. I could make a cup if my life depended on it. My thinks looked like the sort of thing that summer camp arts and crafters throw away. I was disappointed but accepting of my fate. This just meant that I needed to find some other hobby/crafty thing to do. At this point, I think it might be jewelry making – more specifically earrings and pendants.

I have made a couple so far and am pleased with both the process and the result. Like with the card making, there is a certain sense of creativity that I think I may have the eye for. In the cards, like in photographs, it is the context and the overall composition of the picture of the picture, and I think I may have a talent for that. With the jewelry, I seem to be able to see what I want the piece to look like. Now I just need to learn how to do it.

So, I have collected my beads and other items, the jewelry finds, the tools and move forward with this new endeavor. Let’s just see where it takes me…

December 2, 2010

Apartment living – the agony and the ecstasy...

Every Sunday we get an email from our Las Cruces Realtor, Todd, with a listing of the houses that have recently been put on the market there. Mrsfabp looks at them while she is at the Sports centre desk and then when she gets home we look at them together. We still do this despite the fact that our own home situation (failed septic, failed well and failed economy) mean that we will not have the money for a down payment any longer. We can still dream though and each Sunday brings lots of pictures of homes it is easy to picture ourselves in.

In moments of brutal honesty (we had one this week) we realize that apartment living is in our future and although this is not the future I envisioned, it is the place I envisioned and so we will do what we must to get there. I had thought at one time building a new home was our goal and even last February while in Las Cruces, we looked at several builders and their model homes. However as the spring turned into summer and we talked to several realtors here, it became obvious that this was not going to happen. The market is poor, the house value has dropped, yada, yada, yada…

As I think about apartment living, there are surely positives and negatives. I have lived in a place not my own for about 4 years total of my 35 adult years. I hate having a landlord, hate that things are not mine, hate the feeling of not being settled in. However then when we have problems in our home like needing a new well or water heater or septic system, I think how much of a hassle it is and wish someone else would take care of that sort of thing. To bad they don’t have somewhere you can live and other people are responsible for the repairs and upkeep. Oh, wait…

So, that is our goal, our quest as it were. We check Craigslist and the Internet weekly for apartments and dream the dream of a move. When all is said and done, I guess there place is not the most important factor. It will be where I am, who I am with, being near friends and enjoying some relaxing things like writing and taking photos and relaxing. Until then I will continue to practice my retirement sometimes, spending days reading and writing and making photo cards and trying the newest hobby of making some jewelry and see what happens.

November 24, 2010

A thought or two on Thanksgiving

I have always like the holidays. Sure, there are hassles I hate, like the shopping for people I barely know, the hustle and bustle, the cold, icy and snowy weather, all inflicting their influence.

At the same time I think that Mrsfabp and I have done it right. If there is one thing that we have been able to convey to our kids, it is the idea that the holidays are really about family and the positive feelings we have for each other. This really became evident when MillieJupiter went away to college and returned for Thanksgiving and then again a few days before Christmas. This had the benefit of making the holidays about being together and this is a feeling all of us enjoy very much. And then there is the turkey, or more exactly cooking together.



The very best part about having CollegeBoy home from school is all the planning that we do for the Thanksgiving meal. The four of us plus MissNicole (CollegeBoy’s SO) have enjoyed the last few days playing games, planning the day and getting ready to cook our meal together. We will all be in there, each doing things we like, helping each other out. Mrsfabp has the dressing and gravy, MillieJupiter and MissNicole in charge of pies and keeping us organized, I have the turkey brined and ready to go into the oven, CollegeBoy has the Mimosas ready for watching the parade. This experience has changed the way we do holidays and has made them a most enjoyable time of the year.



So if you are stressed out during this season, if you are wondering just how to get all the things you “need to do,” done, take a second to sit back, count your blessings and remember to enjoy the time. That is my Thanksgiving message to you all. Enjoy the time. That is what counts the most.

To all my family and friends, and even to those I may not know, enjoy this wonderful time of the year…

November 23, 2010

My attempt to "blow up" Reddit

Reddit is a very popular news/social networking / communication site that has filed the void the last few months, created when DIGG, at one time, another very popular site, jumped the shark by changing the way they did business. Social networking geeks (and I include myself peripherally in this group – I twitter, Facebook, and blog…) were ticked off because DIGG went way too commercial with sponsored posts and the users complained about a plethora of issues including: terrible interface, spurious accounts, poor content posts, and multiple posts about the same stories. This turned its readers against them. I had been dissatisfied with DIGG for a while. I used it to look for Podcast content and did not find anything for months. I started using Reddit 9 months ago and kept telling CollegeBoy about it. He resisted but now both he and MillieJupiter thank me for having turned them on to it. Especially some of the sub-reddits (sub sections of the board) that focus on things such as humor, politics, news, DAE (Did anyone else…) and AMA (Ask me anything…) sections. Additionally you are encouraged to comment in any area and other readers can give you up votes for appropriate and pithy comments you make.

I want to thank Reddit for being such a great space and so I thought I would do two things.

First I will encourage everyone that I know who read the interwebs to give the site a try – Maqz, Clairz, Bill, Peggy, and the rest of you, go to reddit.com and give it a whirl. Search for some subs that interest you and follow them for a week or two. One of the best is the “I am a” (AMA) which announces something like “I am a Pixar employee, ask me anything” and this opens up a generally insightful, often funny and occasionally deep conversations in the comment section. Just try it, I am sure you will be glad you did.

Second, I have gotten about 100 points/up votes for comments I have made but have not started a thread yet on Reddit. If you remember this blog post you are familiar with my picture with and story about Aunt Bee. I am thinking of posting that to the site to see if it can generate some buzz. Being that Reddit is not just limited to the 18-25 year old group, and has lots of older followers, I betting that many will have fond memories of Aunt Bee and will like the photo especially. You may just want to join so you can watch the website blow up…

I will report on what happens if/when I make the post submission.

November 18, 2010

The Book

I haven’t felt like writing too much in this blog for the past week or so and that is mostly because for the last several weeks I have been thinking about and have started to write a book. I figure if George Bush can get out the old crayons and write down a few memoirs, I should at least try to do so also.

I got the idea for a book maybe 10 years ago. I wrote a few paragraphs, a bit of an outline and then allowed it to percolate for a while. Earlier this year Mrsfabp asked me what I wanted to do in my retirement and I said write this blog (boy, aren’t you lucky!) take some pictures (look out Las Cruces) and then surprised even myself when I said write a book. I hadn’t looked at the notes I had written for maybe 5 or so years but they were right where I left them and I decided to give it a chance.

One thing I have learned about writing is that you have to do it, not just talk about it. I am sure that if you write your own blog and read this, you are nodding your head right now. You have to put the time into it. I started writing this blog each day at lunch time and on Sunday mornings. Unfortunately I cannot do it every day at work as sometimes real work interferes but most days, it gets 30 minutes. I figured that once I am retired or at least just working part time, I can afford to put more time into it.

So, the 30 minutes has given me ample opportunity to write, edit, rewrite, all the blog entries you have seen in this space over the last 9 months. When I am diligent, I get a few posts ahead and have one or two in the pipe but not posted. About a month ago when this happened, I opened up the idea of my book and made an effort to get it under control.

In the last month I have written a Forward and the first 5 chapters. Or that might be an afterward and 5 of the first 7 chapters, or some other combination. I have also completed a basic outline for the entire book even though I am not sure where it was going to go at times.

It was at this point that I figured I needed some feedback and so I asked Mrsfabp to give it a whirl and Saturday morning over coffee she read the first 30 pages. I was not worried about grammar or punctuation at this point (Mrsfabp is a great proof reader and I will use that skill set later). I needed some feedback about whether this was an effort or a waste, was it worth continuing. Was it a book? I was nervous and anxious and a bit emotional as I let her look at the words. At the end she told me that she liked it but even more important, it WAS a book and worth my continuing effort.

So my plan is in place. I will continue with the story. My hope is to share it or at least some pieces of it along the way. I also hope to get some additional feedback from a couple of other people whose opinions I have a great deal of respect for, who will tell me if it should continue. I expect to report on the progress from time to time, maybe once a month or so.

November 17, 2010

MASS Exodus: November 2010 Update or "The good news is we haven’t had any more bad news lately!"

It has been a while since the last timeline for retirement was reviewed, and several major things have happened, none good, so I thought I might take a couple of minutes to put it all down on paper.

As readers would know, we had two major setbacks in the late summer and early fall. The first was when our septic system failed its Title V test, which was pretty much expected. It was 30 years old and even though it had never given us any problems, it was probably not going to meet current standards. We got a guesstimate to repair at about 12K, again which was expected. We spent several weeks trying to figure out how we would pay for this until we were told about this escrow account allowed to be built into the house sale where money from the sale was put aside to pay for the repair. Until we discovered this, we were unsure what was to happen but this seems like a good solution.

Our second major setback is the fact our well failed. We had a shallow well, it had been a very dry last year here and the well was also 30 years old and it failed. We had a new well drilled and this has set us back tremendously because of the cost. It tipped the scale at $6500. There was no magic escrow account to fall back on, we needed water, we got it drilled; 360 feet. We spent all of the money we had saved to make repairs to the house and still owe $1500 to the pump company. The money that was going to go to house repairs, exterior painting, deck clean and stain, engineer hire and septic repair design and the last of the rubbish removal from the basement is now gone. This has set us back around 4-6 months at best guess.

We were going to try to put the house on the market in the fall but obviously have missed that date. I am optimistic that we can get what we need done by late spring and get house for sale by April. Over the winter we can do the painting of the inside trim and living room as well continue to weed out the junk and downside.

So, what does this do to our timeline? I figure it has gotten moved back about 5 or 6months. Originally it was - house on market, October 2010, up to 9 months to sell (area market average), July 2011, move to Las Cruces by October 2011. New timeline is probably more along the lines of house on market, April 2011, up to 9 months to sell, January 2012, move to Las Cruces, March 2012.

On a good news front, Mrsfabp has noticed that there has been an increase in the area house sales as published in the newspaper. We are hopeful that this means that the average time on market will begin to fall. There are two houses on our block that have put up for sale signs in the last 6 weeks so we will be watching them to see what the attitude of the market will be.

As for our plans in moving, I have to admit that these setbacks have really affected what I want to do. Originally we wanted to build a new home in NM but the shrinking valuation of our home really put a crimp into this plan. We then were thinking about maybe just wanting to purchase a condo because it would require less money down and no maintenance worries. This latest setback has just about killed that particular part of the dream. After paying for the septic repair, and then paying back our other house loan and the loan to make our house handicapped accessible, there will be little left for a down payment. So, Mrsfabp and I have grown into the idea of apartment living. It is not how I wanted our retirement to go but it is the necessary steps to keep the dream of Las Cruses, NM alive.

We shall endure! The dream lives on…

November 14, 2010

One of my favorite old things...

There is a joke here, but I think I will take the high road, and move right into this post.

I pride myself on being pretty contemporary even in my old age. I blog, podcast, follow cultural trends and social network. I use a computer competently, text, stream TV and the like. My kids help keep me young at heart by their actions and allowing me to be a part of what they see and experience. This is a good thing.

But every once in a while, I find myself really liking something, something that sort of runs contrary to this technologically advanced, gadget driven world we live in. This morning I experienced it full force and it made me smile.

On weekends, I like to play “retired.” I try to experience at least part of the day as if my retirement has come and I am enjoying my time. I like to get up early and follow a bit of a routine each day that I can. This includes a cup of coffee while checking email, news and blogs and then a second cup (sitting right next to me right now!) while I do some writing for the day. That cup of coffee is the subject of my technology protest.

My wife likes her instant coffee and heats up water in the microwave. On weekends I would make a pot of coffee in the old “Mr. Coffee” and be quite content. But then I realized that we were wasting a bit of coffee. I do not finish a whole pot. God, I’d never get to sleep with all the caffeine. So I began to make it one cup a time. My first reaction was to want one of those Keurig machines that make one cup at a time but then felt it odd to want to save some money on coffee by buying another expensive gadget. However I am not crazy about using the microwave for this so I put on the old tea kettle and set it to boil.



I sit and get everything ready and then watch the pot come to a boil with its shrill whistle to let me know it is ready to pour. I use the time to organize my thoughts about what I want to read or write or look at on the internet and always find myself surprised when the kettle begins to whistle. I found myself smiling at the whistle this morning, letting it go for a couple of seconds, letting it call me a bit longer. It was good to hear it, it was good to sit there smiling and enjoy the start of my day.

I just love the tea kettle whistle...

November 12, 2010

The Canonical Penguin: Breezy Point Summers

Summers in New York City are hot and sticky and seem never ending. When I was growing up air conditioning was not the norm, so we had box fans in all the windows blowing warn air around and prayed that the latest heat wave would break sooner, rather than later. For this reason, weekend drives to Jones Beach were a regular treat. We would switch between the gigantic salt water pool and the waves of the beach until the sun set and the air cooled a bit.

For a few summers (the exact number is not remembered but it was at least 2-3) we enjoyed spending a few days at a friend’s family cottage at Breezy Point. From Wiki: “Breezy Point is a neighborhood in the New York City borough of Queens, located on the western end of the Rockaway peninsula, between Rockaway Inlet and Jamaica Bay on the landward side, and the Atlantic Ocean. Breezy Point Tip, to the west of the community, is part of Gateway National Recreation Area, which is run by the National Park Service. This isolated, 200-acre area includes an ocean-facing beach, a shoreline on Jamaica Bay, sand dunes, and marshland. It is a breeding spot for the piping plover, least tern, black skimmer, American oystercatcher and common tern. According to the United States Census Bureau, the community's ZIP code (11697) has the nation's highest concentration of Irish-Americans, at 60.3% as of the United States Census, 2000. It functions mainly as a summer get-away for many residents of New York. Estimates put summer residency at 12,000, while year-round residency was 4337 in the most recent Census. Notable residents included Frank McCourt, author; Angela's Ashes, who mentioned in his memoir Tis, that his mother Angela McCourt spent time with him at a house in Breezy Point. Due to its large concentration of Irish-Americans, Breezy Point has been called the "Irish Riviera."”



Our friends were the Kammeran’s, a nice Irish Catholic family in our neighborhood. My mother was friends with their mother through the school and I was in grammar school with one of their sons and my brother Mike was in class with one of their daughters. There were other little Kammerans, but I do not remember an exact number, just that there was a lot. As I said, they were a good Irish catholic family.

They owned a cottage on the beach at Breezy Point. There were rows of them from the beach back and theirs was one that was right on the waters edge. To get to it you had to pass at least 3 or 4 rows of cottages. They all looked about the same, painted in a white clapboard, green trim kind of way. It had a small porch on the back that segued into a kitchen/dining room area, past a bathroom/laundry room combo, past 4 bedrooms and then onto a front porch that overlooked the beach. The house was raised about 12 feet in the air, the better to avoid flooding during hurricanes and had a flight of steps in front, back and an outside shower without cover for rinsing off sand.

There was plenty to do for the kids. We swam all day, went fishing and boating in a 12 foot rowboat with a small motor attached. There was a tiny boardwalk about 300 yards down the beach with a few rides and a couple of restaurants for hot dogs and clams and ice cream. At night we were all “smooshed” together in a couple of bed rooms, sleeping on beds and couches and floors but there was never much sleeping as we fooled around late into the night and were up early for swimming and fishing.



One of the best features of Breezy Point was being able to see the Marine Parkway Bridge, later renamed the Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge. It was a draw bridge with the center span totally lifting up to allows ships to pass through. It was noisy and we were close to it, so the sound of it raising always drew a crowd on the beach top see what huge ship was coming through. I also can remember one summer it had been painted a different shade of green and looked so different. But the sounds were the same and that helped it remain familiar.

We would go for a few days, eat grilled burgers and hot dogs and just enjoyed being kids at the beach.



(These are stories about things that actually happened with plenty of witnesses. It has passed from the apocryphal to canonical in nature. Wiki says of canon – “material that is considered to be "genuine", "something that actually happened", or can be directly referenced as material produced by the original author or creator.”)

November 7, 2010

The Influenced Penguin: Bob Dylan

(This new series is posts about the people, places and things that have had significant influence on my life. Whether real or fictional, having had direct contact or not is less important than seeing how these people and events and situations have changed my life for the positive…Hope you enjoy reliving them with me.)

More than any other musician, more than any figure from the early sixties, more than any activist, I have been profoundly affected by the music and words of Bob Dylan. Perhaps it was the timing, perhaps the rebel spirit, perhaps the clear voice and heart on the sleeve, perhaps the 6 decades of doing “IT”, he embodies so much positive for me.

I first became aware of him in the mid sixties when I was about 10 years old. I was not too into music then but found a copy of “The Freewheeling Bob Dylan” in our house. I have no idea who it belonged to as my parents did not play records often. I think it might just have been something my dad, ever the hoarder and collector, found. It had among other classics, “Blowing in the Wind,” “Masters of War,” “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” and “I Shall be Free.” To be a borderline rebelling teen with music like this to drive me, is the essence of what Dylan meant at first. But then he changed and I changed with him.



In 1965 when he was the star performer at the Newport Folk Festival, Dylan upset the establishment by performing a set with an electric guitar. He was booed off the stage after three songs and subsequently, music reviewers castigated him for losing touch with his audience and fans and the “folkies”. His response was to immediately go back into the studio to record some of his most famous, driving, meaningful music ever with “Positively 4th Street,” “Like a Rolling Stone,” and his next two albums Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde. This was the double hammer, the ultimate “finger” to the critics and at the same time, beginning his “next” career, as a rock and roll icon, one that would continue to bring him the accolades of the industry and fan alike. For me, this change was unbelievable, a life changer. It helped me realize that the only one we need to please is yourself, and this is a lesson that has stuck with me ever since.

By the time I got to college in 1972 Dylan was entrenched in the music scene and in my playlist. Through my college years, I bought his albums which today remain as some of my very favorites – Planet Waves, Blood on the Tracks and Desire. (blogger note: If I had not become T Fab P and had the title Penguin Droppings fall into my lap thanks to my Brother-in-law’s creativity, the second choice for my blog title was going to be Blood on the Tracks. I still hope to use that one day!). At this time too I met a friend and eventual house mate Mike, now a priest, and certainly one of the biggest Dylan fans ever. We listen to his music, discussed his relevance and went to his concerts. We commiserated when our apartment was broken into and all his Dylan albums were stolen.

This influence has continued all of my life. I still look for information about what Dylan is doing and when the next album is due out. This influence is so strong that we named our son after him and CollegeBoy has accounted himself well in my book. He is progressive and caring and unafraid of change and challenges. He has lived up to his legacy’s name and gives me something to very proud of. A very positive influence on both accounts. Thank you Dylan.

November 5, 2010

On The Streak

Please indulge me a sports moment…

When does a streak stop being about the dedication and start becoming just about the streak? How does one manage to balance the desire to help your team win with being a slave to the numbers. When should a streak end? How should a streak end? Well Bret Favre is showing us the down side of starting consecutive games, when a streak takes on a life of its own and ends up starting to effect his legacy.

This is not about Favre retiring and un-retiring so many times that we lose count. This is not about the controversy related to cell phone pictures or getting back at the Packers or using the NY Jets or any such folly. This isn’t about him or his career jumping the shark. This is about when a player needs to see that he is no longer helping the team he plays for and moves on with the rest of his life.
Unfortunately we are a sports fan nation that is over indulgent of streaks. A baseball player hits in 10 or 15 straight games and DiMaggio’s 56 game streak is brought up. A player hits 10 home runs in the first month of the season and we are inundated with “on a pace to break Maris/Bonds” claims for weeks on end. We honor streaks that can “never” be broken like Gehrig’s until Ripken comes along and does break it. Then his becomes a “never be broken” too.

I can’t help but think that SOME of Ripken’s legacy was affected by being enslaved by the streak. Yes, it is honorable to want to be in their every single game but what to do when your performance is no longer up to the accepted standards and yet you are enslaved to the streak. This is what the Yankees and Derek Jeter are going to go through this winter as he looks at a new contract. Although there is not a “streak” per se to be enslaved to, the fact that he has been with one club for so many years, going against the grain of free agency and the norm in baseball now a days and that this contract is said to represent not only expected performance but a reward for what he has done for the team, bring about the same sort of feelings.

Bret Favre is on the down side of his career and has been for a while. Because his week to week appearance is so tied to the streak, it has lost the meaning of what he can mean to the team’s chance of winning. We just spent the past week wondering if Bret was going to be able to keep his streak alive. If you are a Viking fan, you are probable more interested in can the team win this week, not can the streak win this week.

I guess the real question will be “when will this stop being about Bret, or the streak, and start being about the team again?”

Thanks for the indulgence…

November 3, 2010

Movie AND Book Review: The Social Network / The Accidental Billionaires

Recently Maqz and I were talking on Countless Screaming Argonauts, the Podcast of Record, about movies that were not as good as the book they came from and movies that were better than the book. Well today I am going to review both a book and the movie it spawned. This is the story of Facebook.



The book is “The Accidental Billionaires” by Ben Mezrich. (For those interested, Mezrich was also the author of “Bringing Down the House” about the gambling MIT students, made into the movie “21,” another interesting combo, done successfully.) This book is about the founding of Facebook, its meteoritic rise to fame and fortune for its founder Mark Zuckerberg, and a detailing of the bodies left behind. Actually it is not that bad, Zuckerberg comes across as a socially awkward, possible Asberger’s young adult with a wonderful idea and set of skills to do what he wants to do. In the process he makes 65 Billion (that’s with a B) dollars. It is written in a narrative style and is most enjoyable. From the teenage antics to the California lifestyle, it is easy to identify with this kid and feel the excitement he must have felt as his project advances. We watch as this college student dream becomes a company and see the friendships and acquaintances left behind.



I would give this book 4 Penguins, my only issue being the abrupt ending. I understand that there were issues still to be resolved in the multiple lawsuits going on but still, he just stopped it. I wanted some more.



The movie is “The Social Network” which was released in October and gathered quite a significant number of excellent reviews. Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing and A Few Good Men among other credits) wrote the screenplay and his fingerprints are all over it. I like that style, the immediacy of the characters and their interactions, so I figured I would like the pace and style of the movie, and I did.

One of the marks of a good, successful book adaptation is having the movie characters being close to how they appeared in the book, so much so that you immediately recognize them for all they are worth. This movie captures this well with Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg, Andrew Garfield as Eduardo Saverin, and Justin Timberlake as Sean Parker, leading the ensemble cast. Each captures the essence of his character, Eisenberg, the social awkwardness, Garfield, the business major with big dreams and Timberlake, as the paranoid, Silicon Valley wunderkind who turns everything he touches into gold and then back to straw. The movie is fast paced, filled with stylistic images and drives home the story well.



I give it 4 Penguins also, recommending it for almost everyone. If you have no interest in the internet (WTF IS WRONG WITH YOU?), you might be bored or confused by this story but I still think the relationships can carry the movie quite nicely.

To be fair, there are some inconsistencies in the movie when examined against the book. Timelines are fudged to make it all fit. Some of the obvious feelings are lost or covered over. Some of the reasoning is faulty. However in spite of that both the movie and the book stand independently on their own, as well as well together. This is quite a coup in my book when the book and movie are equally good. They entertain and enlighten. What more can you ask.

November 1, 2010

Book Review: Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton



When I first saw this book I wondered at first if Crichton would display his intense research as he often does with his novels. By the end of the first chapter, I was convinced he had and settled in for an interesting read while I learned a lot about the subject. Wiki says about it “thoroughly researched...packed through with great detail about navigation and how pirates operated, and links between the New World and the Caribbean and Spain.” Yes, I was going to learn about pirates and I was not disappointed in the least.

I like Crichton a lot. From the first few pages of Jurassic Park some 21 years ago, I found him to be stimulating, interesting, well researched and a great story teller. This book does not disappoint in the least. I was worried when I learned it was being published posthumously, figuring it had to be completed but from what I gathered in my own research about it, it was done and just needed some editing before hitting Barnes and Noble.

Again help from Wiki – “It is an adventure story concerning piracy in Jamaica in the 17th century. The novel stars a privateer named Hunter who, together with the governor of Jamaica, plots to raid a Spanish galleon for its treasure.”



It paints an interesting picture of a Jamaican port city, life in the mid 1600’s, piracy and all of its harsh realities, all the while reading like an action adventure picture. It is no wonder that Stephen Spielberg has purchased the rights to the book with the notion of making a real pirate tale, not the Disneyfied Pirates of the Caribbean with Johnny Depp (not that there is anything wrong with that. I love the PotC series!).

My only complaint is that that the book ends a bit suddenly with a quick review of what happened to the main characters in the rest of their life. I just felt that PERHAPS Crichton had some more in mind at the end but did not “finish his thoughts”, so to speak.

Overall I give this book 4 penguins



I enjoyed it very much, often times wishing my commute were longer so as to get more of the story. I found myself rooting for some of the characters, hating some others and always being on the edge of my seat. The reader of the story also did very well with the characters and voices which helped a great deal in visualizing the book.

October 31, 2010

Wedding Photos and Facebook

There seems to be a lot of discussion about social networking these days. The movie “The Social Network,” about the founding of Facebook by wunderkind and now billionaire Mark Zuckerman is garnering very positive reviews. (We saw it a couple of weeks ago and would give it 4 Penguins, no question asked / I am reading the book Accidental Billionaire right now too.) It is a #hashtag topic, with pros and cons and conflicts and confidentiality being discussed in all manners of the media, from CNN to internet blogs, from Facebook to Twitter. Our family actually had a discussion about the seeming demise of Facebook and what might replace it. You could tell that there was going to be problems in Facebook’s future when the internet meme “my mother’s on Facebook” became such an indictment. As you might guess, this influx of adults has the kids all tied up in knots. Well, a few weeks ago I experienced what might be the real essence of the value of Facebook to all of its 500 MILLION followers – wedding pictures!

We went to a wedding a couple of Saturdays ago, It was at 2 pm. The reception at 6pm was at an aquarium, some 2 hours away. The families of these people are far flung including us in New England as well as North Carolina, Florida and Belgium, among other places.

In the old days, what this meant was that after the film was printed, maybe a second set was made and sent to someone, or you waited until the next big family event to look at the photographs. It could be months easily and I have looked at wedding photos for the first time two years after a wedding took place.

Beside the lack of timeliness in this process. you are looking at only a small selection of photos taken. What about the ones Aunt Mabel took? Didn’t anyone get a picture of Uncle Pete with the lampshade on his head? Did you see that little kid steal the show on the dance floor? You get the idea, right?

Well Facebook has changed all this. As we were driving home from the wedding on Sunday, Mrsfabp turned to me and said something like “I wonder when we will get to see some photos of the wedding”. MollieJupiter, snickered and said they probably are already posted on Facebook and sure enough by 5 pm on Sunday, less that 24 hours after the reception, there were some 150 photographs posted by the family. By late that evening there were more than 300 and by the next day there were well over 500 pictures of the wedding and reception posted by a number of people.

Now this is something Facebook does well, sharing the information to all who might be interested. Plus now other people can be directed to the photos with a simple email link. All I can think is how much my dad would have loved being able to share the 500 photographs of clouds he took from the plane on the first trip we took to California when we were kids. Much easier than sitting through 17 Kodak Carousel Slide holders of the same pictures!