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Friday, December 30, 2016

Rant #1,811: We've Only Just Begun ...

Today is Friday, December 30, 2016, and we have just today and tomorrow left in the current year. We are right now at the doorstep of 2017.

2016 started out pretty well for my family and I, and for most of the year, it was truly great.

My parents celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary, my wife celebrated her xxth birthday, and my father finally retired after all those years of driving a cab.

My son continued to thrive at his job, and while I took each day at a time with my job, at least I had one that I could count on to pay my bills, if nothing else.

I won a contest this year, and my wife and I traveled to South Korea. We were treated like movie stars, and it is a trip that neither of us will ever forget.

Then, towards the end of the year, the wheels came off the car.

First, my dental situation, which I was told did not exist by my dentist, accelerated to the point that I can rightfully say that I traveled around the world with numerous dental problems, all of which culminated with a cronoscopy that I should have had months before it ever got this bad.

Happily, my mouth feels much better now, and while I will be looking for a new dentist in 2017, at least I can put that nightmare behind me once and for all.

Then, leading up to the end of the year holidays, very quickly and very brazenly, I found out that my company, and the job that I had, were both in dire jeopardy.

We all knew that the company was not doing well, but having been here for more than 20 years in some cases, we all figured that the bad times would pass and the good times, or at least better times, were right around the corner.

Well, we found out that that scenario wasn’t true, and we have downsized to the point that we have nothing more than a skeleton crew here. It is almost as if we are counting down the days here.

Our benefits have been taken away from us, and we are in a holding pattern that doesn’t seem to show any signs of stopping anytime soon.

Heck, they won't even provide us with desk calendars anymore!

No, the holidays were not fun this year, not at all.

I have started my job quest, but looking for a job is so different today than it was years ago. Add in that I will turn 60 in April, and you have what I would call a mess in the making.

So I look at 2017 as a year of redemption in a way. No, I can’t beat 2016 for the thrills—and spills—that my family and I experienced, but I do expect to find a new job sometime during the year, and I plan on putting all the current nonsense in the past when that happens.

When it will happen is another story. Will I go down with the ship, or will I get off of the Titanic before it hits that proverbial iceberg and quickly sinks?

I wish I had the answer to that, I really do.

But I will keep on plugging along, hoping that my current job can last just as long as I need it to last, and I can find something that suits my background, experience and skills.

So yes, I look at the new year with anxiety, with some trepidation, with some wariness, but I also look at it as a year of hope.

So I wish you a Happy New Year, to one and to all, and I will speak to you next on Tuesday, January 3.

My quest has only just begun …

Classic Rant #464 (March 16, 2016): Jeter Great, But Babe Better

Showing the utter moronicness of those who participated, a Siena College survey of New York residents found that they have chosen New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter as the greatest athlete in the history of New York.

I need to ask one question: who are the numbskulls who participated in this poll? Were they under the age of 21, or just plain stupid (or both)?

Fourteen percent of those polled said he was the best ever. Ruth was named by 11 percent of the participants. There was a three-way tie for third between Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and Joe Namath.

And get this, Carmelo Anthony, who was only signed by the Knicks a few weeks ago, finished ahead of Lou Gehrig and Jackie Robinson in the poll.

And, surprise, 41 percent of those polled said they were not sports fans.

More than 100 of those polled were from Long Island, and they picked Ruth over Jeter 12 percent to 10 percent.

The Yankees are Long Island's favorite team--which is a great changeover, as Long Island was Mets' territory as far as I am concerned--with 38 percent of the vote, followed not even that closely by the Jets, Mets, Knicks, Giants and Rangers.

Don't get me wrong, I am a Derek Jeter fan all the way. He is the heart and soul of the Yankees, and has been for the past 15 years or so. But to say that he was a better athlete than Babe Ruth ... c'mon.

Ruth was not only New York's greatest athlete, but he might have been the greatest athlete of all time in any professional sport.

Ruth is best known for hitting 714 home runs, but many people forget that he started out as a pitcher. If he started out as an outfielder, I don't think anyone would have caught him yet in the homerun derby, as he probably would have hit well over 800 dingers.

His batting average, power numbers, and records far exceed those of Jeter. He changed the game, from one of "dead ball" to one of power hitting. He was unquestionably the most famous face on the planet in the 1920s and 1930s, and he actually made an average salary that was much more than what the President was making, which is not unusual only in that he did it during the Depression years.

As I said, a good number of those polled weren't sports fans, but I wonder how many of those polled were in their 20s, 30s, and 40s.

You know that the younger ones polled have absolutely no understanding of their past, and they only know what has taken place in the world since maybe 1980. I call them "The MTV Generation," because everything seems to be geared to that year that MTV started. Everything before that is "ancient" and not worth understanding.

Bah! What balderdash and nonsense.

And by the way, the greatest basketball player I ever saw was not Michael Jordan--it was Julius Erving when he played in the ABA for the New York Nets.

Jordan couldn't even carry his shoes!

Take that, you people who don't know what you are talking about!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Rant #1,810: Listen People

Well, this is my next to last Rant of 2016, so I figured I would tie everything up in a nice bow today and review my 10 favorite record albums of all time, the best albums I have in my collection.

Heck, if others can review the best albums of the year, I can put up my best, and go one better, make it my all-time best.

You already know my best album of 2016, it is “Good Times!” by the Monkees. So many outlets have put this on their personal “Best Ofs” for 2016 that if you haven’t heard this album yet, you really MUST listen to it! Yes, believe it or not, it is really THAT good.

And that is the perfect segueway for my top albums of all time, because the Monkees are on that list too—proving that 50 years from their creation, they still are a one-of-a-kind entity, and that is probably why they aren’t in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame above all the other reasons I and others have given for their glaring omission.

But that being said, here are my all-time favorites.

1) Monkees-“Headquarters”: Anybody who knows anything about the Monkees knows that this album was really their true coming out party, the first time that they basically ran the show. What could have been an unmitigated disaster turned out to be their finest moment on vinyl, with a cohesiveness that wasn’t found in their first two albums. Featuring such incredible tunes as “For Pete’s Sake” and “Randy Scouse Git,”—which were written by Peter Tork and Micky Dolenz, respectively--no singles were released from the LP in the U.S., and thus, the LP just begs to be listened to as a whole to really get where they were coming from at this time.

2) Monkees-“Head” (soundtrack): I could pretty much say the same thing for this album, but in reverse: Anybody who knows anything about the Monkees knows that this album (and movie) was really their death knell, the last time that their music (and them themselves) meant anything viable in the music world. Again, what could have been a disaster turned out to be a pleasant surprise, and although the LP did have one minor hit single—the psychedelic classic “Porpoise Song”—the album is meant to be listened to as a whole, to get the entire direction of both the music and the movie. An incredible soundtrack to an even more incredible movie, and an album that you can listen to separate from the film and have a great listening experience with.

3) Beatles-“Magical Mystery Tour”: Yes, I know that this really isn’t an album, per se, but in the U.S., it was just that, as the soundtrack to the film of the same name, with a few added on songs to round things out. Funny, but the whole deal is as cohesive as can be, featuring the Beatles at their psychedelic best. So many hits on here that I won’t list them all, but any album with “I Am the Walrus” is right up my alley for the absurd that actually makes quite a bit of sense.

4) Cheap Trick-“Live at Budokan”: I decided to include live and best ofs in this top 10, but they only qualify if they make a musical statement aside from all the hits found on these types of collections. This album certainly did 40 years ago. Cheap Trick was basically a guilty pleasure for a lot of people back then, but this album trumped up their music with a live, adoring audience in Japan, and in the process brought their music up to another level. It is the greatest live album I have ever heard, simply because both the band and the fans seem to be having a good time. And listen to the original album, not the expanded CDs—listen to all we had back then, and I am sure you will agree that this is one powerhouse live album. “I Want You To Want Me” for sure!

5) Elvis Costello-“My Aim Is True”: I think I like albums that surprise me, and this one didn’t just surprise me, it took everyone for a real ride! Looking at this guy, you kind of doubted that he could mesmerize you with his music like he did, but yes, he did, and did it during an era where disco ruled. It is sparse yet deep, and yes, “Alison” should have been a huge it but wasn’t. And the album still holds up all these years later.

6) Sly and the Family Stone-“Greatest Hits”: Sylvester Stewart was THE man in the late 1960s, and he and his band put out a mix of soul, rhythm and blues, rock and pop that was hard to classify, but eventually morphed into funk. This album, featuring all of the band’s earliest, groundbreaking hits, is probably the hottest dance album ever assembled. I defy you to not at least stamp your feet to “Dance To the Music” and the other songs on this recording. And again, don’t listen to the expanded edition, listen to the original—they guy had a lot to say and he said it, all to his own beat.

7) Beatles: “Meet the Beatles”: Again, like my other “Best Ofs,” this LP could have been No. 1, No. 4, No. 6, and there really is no difference to me with the placement of most of these LPs, but if I have to put something somewhere, then this album goes where it goes. The Beatles were such monumental music, social and life changers that it is hard to believe that this is where it all started for them, at least in the U.S. “I Want To Hold Your Hand” is such an incredible song, but all the others here are nearly just as good. This album influenced just about every act at that time, as did pretty much everything they did.

8) Dave Clark Five: “Glad All Over”: The Beatles had competition, and for a while, it was the DC5. This was their own first album, and it is a really good one, featuring a number of their early hits, including the song the LP is named after. They were the proponents of “The Tottenham Sound,” which was different from the Beatles’ “Mersey” sound as it was much louder but every bit as pop/rockfish. This album epitomized that sound, and set the groundwork for a very successful career for these guys, who were never as good as the Beatles were … but who was?

9) Paul Revere and the Raiders: “Spirit of ‘67”: In my mind, probably the most underrated album from that era, this LP really solidified the band from the Pacific Northwest as major hitmakers. “Good Thing” and “Hungry” are on this record, most of the songs are self-penned by the emerging singer/songwriter Mark Lindsay, and if you want to hear the perfect mix of rock, pop and garage and yes, mild psychedelia too, this is the LP to turn to. Much more than just bubblegum.

10) Jimi Hendrix Experience: “Are You Experienced?”: A revolutionary album in its own way, Hendrix, like Stone, mixed soul, rhythm and blues, rock and pop and heavy psychedelia into a cornucopia that hadn’t been touched back then and probably hasn’t been touched since. There was a lot of commercial appeal to this LP, led by “Foxy Lady,” but the tide had turned in music at this point, and Hendrix was the tide turner. Taken in its proper context, this album was an incredible stew, and again, listen to the original LP, not the expanded one, to get its full punch.

I guess you noticed that the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band” is not in my Top 10. Yes, it could be No. 11 if I expanded the list, and I understand its importance, but it is simply not one of my Top 10 albums of all time. Period. And that is why it is not on the list. I enjoyed the LP, but these others I enjoyed so much more.

So that is it. What are your favorite LPs of all time? Agree or disagree with my choices?

Please let me know.

Classic Rant #463 (March 15, 2016): The Star Spangled Banner, Mets' Style

As you probably know if you read this blog with any regularity, I am a die-hard Yankees fan. I have been a fan of the team in the Bronx for as long as I can remember. They are the most successful team in American sports history, and are known the world over for their superior play and incredible legacy.

Then we have the Mets. The team from Queens, my home borough, has had their share of success over the years--primarily when they won the World Series in 1969 and 1986--but let's face it, even Mets' fans would have to agree that they have generally looked up to the Yankees as that team's poor cousin.

Mystery and intrigue always surrounds the Mets, as this year's Bernie Madoff crisis has proven to be a real pain in the butt to this team, whose actual name is the Metropolitans.

But maybe, just for one day, Mets' fans can forget all of this nonsense, as yesterday, the team held its annual tryouts--not for ballplayers, but for singers of "The Star Spangled Banner."

Once a year, just before the season, the Mets hold tryouts, where average folk can see if they can warble this difficult tune. If they are chosen, they sing the anthem before a future home game.

At these auditions, you get what you think you get. You get people who sing in the shower, you get those who can't carry a tune if it was handed to them on a silver platter, and you get others who really are quite good.

At these auditions, the wannabe singers have to sing a song other than "The Star Spangled Banner." Later, if they pass muster, they will sing that song.

Yesterday, about 250 "singers" auditioned, and five will be selected as finalists. Those five will be judged another day as they perform the anthem in front of a group of judges.

Sure, this sounds like a version of "American Idol," but I guess it is kind of nice that local people--not necessarily professional singers--get a chance to sing in front of maybe 40,000 people at CitiField, and countless others watching at home.

I wish them luck. I can't carry a tune at all, so I wasn't there.

And remember, as pop band REO Speedwagon said years ago, "You can tune a piano, but you can't tuna fish."

My philosophy exactly.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Rant #1,809: Come On In: Our First Guest Contributor

Well, you just knew that someone would take me up on my offer to be a guest contributor … .

Anyway, Songbird 13291 has decided to use the Ranting and Raving Blog as her own personal lectern for the day, pontificating about yoga and some other things that have made her life more whole.

I know nothing about yoga, so I will leave it to her to tell us all about it.

Here it is, and again, anyone who wants to use this blog a few times a year to talk about anything is free to do so--send me what you have at, and remember, it must be completely original.

Yoga, Mindfulness and the Nice Jewish Girl

So, at my advanced age (I won’t reveal the number, but I have two adult daughters), it finally occurred to me that if I want to live a long and healthy life, I really needed to find some physical activity. I joined a gym, and it wasn’t the disaster I thought it would be. I actually enjoy my time on the treadmill, to the amazement of my inner couch potato.

My activities at the gym--circuit training and cardio--really felt good.  But I needed more. I needed something to improve my flexibility, not to mention my balance. I’m not exactly light on my feet these days, and I’ve got an overly-large fear of falling …

And then I discovered that my local high school offered yoga as part of its continuing education program. 

Yoga? Me?

Well, my daughters take yoga classes, but they are both 20-somethings, former dancers/cheerleaders, who thrive on physical activity. Their mom, not so much. 

But I gave it a try. The course was designed for multiple levels of ability, beginner to advanced. The instructor would get us into a pose, and then say, “If this feels good, stay here. If you want to take it further … ” and he’d show the way for more experienced students to advance.

It felt good.

But yoga, when taught correctly, isn’t just physical exercise. There is a huge spiritual component to the practice, including mediation. In fact, there are some religious groups that object to yoga as a “pagan practice.”

About a year ago, I started reading about “mindfulness,” a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. It’s a meditation technique that arises from Buddhist practices. And the more I read, the more I realized that zen and yoga exist in the same spiritual plane. Similar goals, similar techniques. 

Being a modern, 21st century woman, I downloaded an app and began to meditate.

Open yourself to the moment. Find your inner calm. Develop your gratitude, your compassion. These are the themes that predominate in the meditations.

But there’s another aspect to my life. I’m Jewish, I’m active in my synagogue, and I’ve studied the theology behind Jewish rituals and prayers. My faith is very much part of who I am.

Traditional Judaism addresses the Divinity, the Creator, that which we call G-d, separate and apart from ourselves. Eastern philosophy, mindfulness, focuses on the divinity within each of us, that which we call the soul. Very different aspects of spirituality. And yet, they are tied together.

Enter Jewish mysticism.

No, I’m not talking about that kitschy “Kabbalah” practiced by Madonna and other celebrities. 

Traditional Kabbalah focuses on the nature of G-d and how the universe works. Modern Jewish mystics, such as Rabbi Jeff Roth of the Awakened Heart Project, incorporate Eastern mindfulness techniques into our understanding of ourselves, our world and our relationship with the Almighty.

Very different aspects of my life, and yet they all come together. The physical leads to the spiritual.  The spiritual leads back to the physical.

Namaste. And shalom.

Rant #462 (March 14, 2011): Japan

What can you say about the devastation that has taken place in Japan?

The entire country, which exists on a major fault line, got socked by last week's tsunami.

For them, it was the end of the world as they knew it. I read that the death toll could pass 10,000.

And there is tremendous fear that there could be radioactive fallout from nuclear reactors over there.

It is scary.

Let's put it in perspective of our own country. We have been told for years that California lives on a major fault line, and it was just a matter of time before the West Coast experienced an earthquake that would be the do all and end all of all earthquakes, forever changing the landscape in that part of the country.

Well, that hasn't come yet, and may not come--and hopefully won't ever come--during our lifetime.

But, Japan had its own mother of all tsunamis and earthquakes last week, so they had theirs, so to speak.

Can ours be far behind?

My wife and I were watching the news yesterday, and we saw the devastation through video that was shot. It was incredible. Boats and cars were on top of buildings. Water ate through cities as if they were nothing. People lost loved ones, or were searching for loved ones under tons of rubble.

It was heartbreaking.

But the Japanese will bounce back. You know they will. It might take some time, but this massive event won't knock them out. It will only make them stronger.

But for right now, it really makes you stop and pause.

We have had earthquakes--minor ones of course--in my neck of the woods on Long Island.

If we can have such things happen here, well, it can happen anywhere.

And I think Japan's experience demonstrated that.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Rant #1,808: It's a Holiday

I welcome myself back to this blog after a few days off for the Christmas holiday.

Yes, Hanukkah happened at relatively the same time this year, but we got off because of Christmas, not because of Hanukkah.

My family did the requisite things during this period. We lit our candles early on December 24 for Hanukkah--which had its first night on Saturday evening--because we had a busy day ahead. We took out my father in law to lunch --he lives in the Veterans Home in Suffolk County right here on Long Island--and then we made our way over to my brother in law. He follows Christmas, so he had a whole house of people over, and we were among them.

On Sunday, December 25, we had a Hanukkah party at my sister's house. We also celebrated her birthday, which actually was yesterday, December 26, which is also Boxing Day, Bring Back Your Gifts and Get Something You Really Want Day, and the first day of Kwanzaa, all combined into one.

With everything happening on December 26, it's a miracle my mother actually was able to find time to give birth to my sister on that day way back in xxxx, but she managed.

And also yesterday, I actually had a visit from my daughter, who I don't see that often. She looked good, and we had a nice lunch together at that traditional Christmas eating place, Burger King.

Otherwise, with both my son and my wife working yesterday, I did nothing. I watched a movie I saw in the theater as a teenager, "The Big Bird Cage," which at the time I thought was pretty racy but now, more than 40 years later, it is somewhat tame compared to some of the other stuff I have seen since then.

But one tends to go out of their way for Pam Grier, circa early 1970s, so it was worth spending 90 minutes with her in one of her first films, no matter how bad the movie really was.

I also watched a classic episode of "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In"--which is being shown in full hour shows on the Decades channel this month--which featured Ringo Starr, the return of Goldie Hawn--she left the show to do "Cactus Flower," returned to her original haunts on occasion, and the rest was history for the actress--and Wally Cox in the "Farkle Family" blackouts. The show was a real hoot, even all these years later.

The holiday period is not a happy one in my household this year. After a really interesting year, the last few weeks have been torture.

The job situation is not a good one, and I really don't know if a year from now I will be employed, whether at my current place of business or elsewhere.

I am trying to keep the holiday spirit, but I am fighting a losing battle with myself. I spent so much less money this year on gifts, simply because I didn't have the money to spend, that it really doesn't feel much like the holidays to me right now.

But I have to keep a stiff upper lip, if for nothing else than for my family, in particular my son.

This is Hanukkah to him, and I have to make sure that it is as good a Hanukkah as I can muster, even when my spirits are dim.

So that was the holiday for my family and I. Not a memorable few days, but any days away from what I call my workplace right now can't be all bad.

Let's hope holiday 2017 is better than this year's holidays were for me. Right now, I am not a happy camper, I can tell you that for sure.

Classic Rant #461 (March 11, 2011): Ode to My Mom

Today is my mother's birthday, but it's not just any birthday, it's her 80th celebration.

My mother was born in 1931, and she is the oldest of two children. Her brother lives on the West Coast and is nine years younger than my mother.

My mother was born in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, but she grew up in the Kensington part of the borough, on Ocean Parkway. My grandparents lived on Ocean Parkway for decades, and into my 30s, I visited my grandmother often until she passed away in the 1990s. My grandfather died in the early 1970s.

Anyway, my parents got married in 1956, I came into the world a little more than a year later, my sister was born in 1959, and the rest is history.

With my and my sister's kids, my mom and my dad are grandparents five times over, with four boys and one girl.

My mother has been my Rock of Gibraltar for my entire life. She was there when I was little, and she is still there today. Through all the ups and downs, she has always been a source of strength for me.

I wasn't a perfect kid, and my mother let me know it on more than one occasion. But through it all, her upbringing made me a better person, and helped shape me as both a person and as a parent myself.

Actually, you wouldn't believe that my mother is 80 years old, or should I say young. She certainly doesn't look her age, and she has more get up and go than most people half her age.

One of the photos I included here is of my mother in about 1964 or 1965. Yes, look at that hair! The other is from this year. Sure, the hair has changed, but she is still the same person today at 80 that she was when she was in her early 30s.

She has always been a person that is always seemingly in constant motion. I remember growing up to the whirring of the vacuum cleaner at 4 or 5 in the morning during my youth. Although she doesn't get up that early to clean anymore, she, like me, isn't the greatest sleeper, and doesn't need that many hours of sleep per night, so she continues to wake up early.

She is the type of person you can count on to do a multitude of tasks and favors, if she can possibly do them.

Sure, at 80 she has various aches and pains and things she has to take care of, but all in all, my mother is in great health, and I believe she has many, many years left on this earth.

So here's to my mom. She deserves it on her special day.