Archive for November, 2009

Lucky Him

November 30, 2009

by Thomas M. Pender

 

We’ve never met.  He doesn’t even

Know my name.  Or that I

Know his.

 

I know many things about him.  Many

Ugly things.  I even saw his picture

Once.

 

Sitting in front of a studio backdrop with

His wife and son.  He had a big smile

On his face and his hand was touching

His wife’s shoulder.  Lucky him.

 

I only saw this picture once, but I have

Seen him many times in my mind.  Striking

The face that I kissed so softly.

 

I have seen evidence of his work, too.  I still

Have that picture.  Her smile seems so wrong

Beaming beneath the purple track left by his hand.  But I

Love that picture.  It is a good shot of her

Smile, and a reminder of what she will never

Have to go through again.

 

He and I have met many times in the corridors

Of my mind.  I have beaten him.  Stabbed him.

Shot him many times.  I cut off his hands

Once.  So he wouldn’t strike her again.

 

But he and I have never met.

 

 

 

Lucky him.

 

 ©1993 T. Michael Pender.  All rights reserved.

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When The Tigers Broke Into Pink Floyd’s “Final Cut”

November 27, 2009

by Thomas M. Pender

 

I’ve mentioned this before, but by nature I am a purist when it comes to preserving artists’ original visions.  I don’t believe anyone should be allowed to decide some time after a piece of film or art or music is created that it can or should be “improved.”  I did come across a surprising exception to this prejudice in 2004, when Pink Floyd’s album The Final Cut was re-released to include the rare single “When The Tigers Broke Free.”

The basis of my initial frowning is that the tune was only seen and heard in the 1982 film Pink Floyd: The Wall.  The film was based on the 1979 album of the same title, but at least two tunes that were excluded from the album had been added into the soundtrack.  Incredibly hard to find, this song, which recounts the pain of a son losing a father in a war, was something I had sought out for many years without hope.  Then I heard that it was, in fact, going to be released on CD, but instead of being added to The Wall, it was being added to The Final Cut!  Immediately, I had a problem with this.  What business did anyone have adding a song from one album’s film to another album?  Particularly when you consider that the themes of these albums were completely different!  The Wall is, in my interpretation, the exploration of one man’s mental breakdown as he grows from an overprotected youth to an isolated rock star.  The Final Cut, on the other completely distant hand, is about the horrors of war.

One or two seconds after having this thought, I saw a potential common thread.  “When The Tigers Broke Free” is about the singer’s father being killed during World War II, referring to the German army’s “tiger tanks.”  I decided to at least give it a listen, and a chance.  Before I heard it, I tried to imagine where they were going to put it.  I figured they would paste it in at the very beginning or the very end.  I was surprised that the tune was added in as the third track, between a very eerily serene “One of the Few” and the loud and shouty “The Hero’s Return.”  In their original flow, you are almost lulled to sleep by the end of the former, to be shocked upright by the opening crash of the latter.  How would “Tigers” affect this?  I wondered.

The opening of “Tigers” is very smooth indeed.  As “Few” fades out, the male choir on “Tigers” fades in.  “Tigers” then ends in an angry shout, which almost acts as a natural intro to the opening blast of “Hero’s.”

I’m not saying that inserting “Tigers” into The Wall wouldn’t have made more sense, but I have to admit, for a plan that I found vulgar in its essence, the insertion of one song into another album was very well executed!

Living Room Chili and Thanksgiving Surprise

November 26, 2009

by Thomas M. Pender

 

Searching their memories, there are probably very few specific meals that people would – or even could – recall, but I have two.  One is a simple dinner in 1972, and the other is Thanksgiving 1994.  It isn’t the foods that bring these meals to mind, but the circumstances around which they were eaten.  Therein lies the fun.

I was six years old in 1972, and I lived with my parents and two sisters in a house the size of Barbie’s Dream Camper, with the playing-card-sized dining table in the kitchen, and one black-and-white television.  (If you’re not old enough to know what “black-and-white” means, ask your parents.  They’ll explain.)  The television sat in the living room corner farthest from the kitchen.  When it was time for dinner, it was supposed to be inaccessible.

It was supposed to be, but Dad had skills!

As children, we were tortured by entertaining sounds seeping into the kitchen during dinnertime.  Whenever we tried to rush through dinner, Mom slowed us down with looming words of indigestion, so we chewed as fast as we could without sparking attention.

On the other hand, Dad’s chair was situated just inside the doorframe that separated the kitchen from the living room.  Between bites, this 32-year-old husband and father did Olympian contortions in order to see the mystical box, while we sat beyond the light of entertainment . . . and coveted.  This was our life at the dinner table for years.  But there was that one meal.  That one glorious night of naughtiness that still lives on in my heart.

I don’t recall where my sisters were.  Eight-year-old Debi might have been at a sleepover, and three-year-old Kristi at our grandparents.  For whatever reasons, that night it was just Mom and Dad and I in the house, and Mom was hitting the road soon.  In those days, she was a housewife and mother who probably only saw daylight on the way to and from the grocery store, so a few times a month, she would get together with a her girlfriends.

Mom had dinner prepared and announced, then went to change.  Dad and I went to the kitchen table, where Mom had already placed drinks, silverware, bowls of chili, and side bowls of shredded cheese and chopped onions.  After changing, she was on her way.  As she backed out of the driveway, Dad was craning his neck, but not to see the television in the next room.  Tonight, he was looking to see when Mom’s headlights disappeared!  My father immediately leaned over to me, and said the most magical words I’d heard in my six years that did not include the word Christmas:

“Let’s go eat in the living room.”

My first thought was probably to ask “We can do that?”  Instead, I didn’t spoil the moment by speaking.  We picked up our bowls and drinks, and stepped over the threshold of misbehavior, and into the holy undinnerable realm of the living room.

We ate like kings that night.  We delighted in the knowledge that we were breaking the rules, and no one was ever going to find out.  I don’t know about Dad, but I never told Mom about this night until I was well into adulthood and Dad had passed on.  She was amused, not only by our harmless sin, but by the delight in my voice in retelling it more than 20 years later.

No chili before or since has ever satisfied me quite as much.

The other meal that I recall just as sharply is the Thanksgiving I shared with my sisters in 1994.  I had just moved to the Chicago suburbs, and my now-married sisters were living across the Mississippi River from each other in Minneapolis and St. Paul.  Now living within driving distance, I jumped at the invitation to come eat with my sisters and their respective husbands.  My sisters had married two close friends of the family, and I missed their husbands almost as much as I missed them!

One thing my mother taught us to do when invited for a meal was to ask what we could bring with us.  I had paper and pen poised as I asked for my assignment.

“Oh, nothing,” Debi, the mealmaster that year, said politely.  “We have everything.”

“No, you don’t understand,” I retorted.  “What can I bring?”

“Nothing, really.”

I kept my cool, but I was determined to contribute.  “Tell me what I can bring for Thanksgiving, Deb.”

“I can’t think of anything, Tom.  Honest.”

“Alright,” I said calmly.

During my six-hour drive to Minneapolis, I plotted.  I had to come up with something that could be eaten with Thanksgiving dinner, yet cause the host to regret its presence.  I didn’t want to ruin the meal, I just wanted to make my point.  Shortly before getting to Debi’s neighborhood, I searched a nearby grocery store for just such an oddity, and I found it among the canned foods.

Chef Boyardee’s Beefaroni!

It was perfect.  It was digestible, yet so outside the traditional Thanksgiving edibles that it would surely stick out on the table, staring at my sister.  I presented the culinary treasure to Debi, and was rewarded with a look of confusion.

 “Next time I ask what you want me to bring,” I said with a grin, “I suggest you come up with something.”

As I recall, only my best friend/brother-in-law Scott and I partook of the orange noodles, but they were definitely a source of entertainment that holiday!  Before the meal was over, I made sure to compliment Debi on the food, including her fantastic preparation of the canned side dish that really made the meal . . . memorable!

Nowadays, when I ask a host what I can bring to add to a meal, most will repeat my sister’s polite response.  After I tell them the story of the Thanksgiving Beefaroni, though, they suddenly need one more thing at their table, and I happily provide it.

How NOT To Name Your Babies

November 25, 2009

by Thomas M. Pender

An important message for parents, and especially for expectant parents and future parents: For the sake of your child’s mental and emotional well-being, make sure you consider his or her last name when deciding on a first name!

“Ima” is a perfectly respectable name for a baby girl.  It is the Dutch derivative of “Irma,” which means “whole or universal.”  Very nice.  Still, if your surname is, say, “Hogg” (Welsh) or “Hoerr” (German), use your head, and protect your precious daughter from a life of migraines.

One of my best friends in school was a great guy named Jeff, whose last name just happened to be Dick.  Jeff was a large, intimidating youth, and only the dumbest of strangers teased him.  He would say “With a name like Dick, I knew from an early age that I was gonna have to start lifting weights, or get beat up a lot!”  Jeff and I roomed together our freshman year at Michigan State, and when we got back to campus after Thanksgiving weekend, he couldn’t wait to show me a form letter his dad had received.  It was one of those junk mailings, offering to send you a hardcover edition of your family’s history.  Basically, everyone gets the same letter, with the same or similar statistics, but your individual name is just typed in.  Well, with Jeff’s surname, the letter became a comedy skit worthy of Abbott and Costello!  In bold type, centered at the top, it read “THE HISTORY OF DICKS IN AMERICA,” and went on to proclaim “There are many famous Dicks in history!  There are Dicks in Washington, Dicks in Hollywood, and Dicks in every state of the union! . . . Did you know that 1 out of every 3,548 Americans is a Dick?  That means that 0.0008% of all Americans are Dicks!”  I’m adlibbing the numbers here, but the message shines in the annals of surname humor.  (Jeff has since changed his last name, so he is now safe from crank calls!)

As bad as Jeff had it in the name department, at least one person on MSU’s campus that year had it worse.  While looking through the campus directory, I discovered just under Jeff’s name was the entry “DICK, SCARLET.”  Come on, folks!  Why on Earth would you name your lovely baby something that sounds like a disease the Army inoculates its enlistees against?

It is possible the young lady married into the name.  Many a humorous wedding announcement has been circulated by comedic entities, including the “White-Wong” union.  A high school teacher of mine, Mr. Farah, once told us how his wife had dreamed all her life of having a daughter and naming her Sarah.  He informed her up front as they were courting that he would never name a child “Sarah Farah”!  In such cases, the young lady in question should choose between the beau and the name, but hopefully she will choose between them!  Going forward with both plans can only mean torment for an adolescent.

At the very least, if you’re gonna get cutesy with your child’s name, make it a positive or complimentary moniker!  With the last name Pender, I always joked that I would name a son “Biggs,” so his name would sound just like “Big Spender.”  I figured he would be a hit with the girls all his life, and it would be fun to call him in to dinner by leaning out the window and singing “Hey, Biggs Pender!

When It’s “Its” and When It’s “It’s”

November 24, 2009

by Thomas M. Pender

 

Due to the fact that America was settled by people from many countries, modern American English is probably the most difficult language to master – even for modern Americans!  Two words that stump many well-schooled countrymen are “its” and “it’s.”  In fact, many people are completely unaware of the word “its” and its usage!

 

The apostrophe in the contraction “it’s” signifies missing letters.  There are only two cases in which “it’s” will be used, and these substitutions are stated in the following rule:

 

‘ = “i” or “ha”

 

In a majority of cases, the apostrophe stands for “i,” turning “it’s” into “itis,” or “it is.”  Occasionally, though, the apostrophe is a substitute for “ha,” and the “it’s” contraction becomes “ithas,” or “it has.”  Examples of this are:

 

It’s going to rain tomorrow.

If it’s possible, please come up to my office.

It’s been a hard winter for us all.

 

If you try to insert the “i” where the apostrophe appears, you’ll notice that it works in the first two sentences.  The third sentence, however, requires the “ha” substitution to become logical.

 

Another method to decide whether an “its” in your text needs an apostrophe is:

 

The possessive form of “its” never has an apostrophe.

 

Most possessive forms of nouns use an apostrophe, as in “Jack’s tie.”  This is the reason that “its” is so confusing.  But, to determine a difference between the two forms of this particular word, an apostrophe does not appear in the possessive form.  Some examples are:

 

It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.

The skunk raised its tail, so Fran ran away.

It’s still tense between Libya and its neighbors.

 

In each example, if you substitute the letter “i” for the apostrophe in “it’s,” the sentence still makes sense.  But if you try to substitute the “i” into the word “its,” the sentence no longer makes sense.  It’s just that simple!

The Cold Embrace Of Never

November 23, 2009

by Thomas M. Pender

 

If Never were a woman of

Blood and flesh

Never would be my lover.

If Never had arms to

Embrace a child

Never would be my parent.

If Never could attach its

Silent steps and haunting darkness

To mortal heels

Never would be my shadow.

When I dream my rainbow

Dreams of hope and happiness

Never is there

Drawing a hard dark curtain

Across my aspirations

Whispering its name in my

Bleeding ears:

“Never.  Never, my love.  Never.”

Never loves me, and wants to

Be mine forever.  It longs to

Hold me at night and whisper in my ear.

But I have other plans.  You see,

I’m having an affair with Someday. . . .

 

 ©1995 T. Michael Pender.  All rights reserved.

“Lightning In A Bottle”: The Rockin’est Way to Get the Blues!

November 20, 2009

By Thomas M. Pender

Legendary guitarist Buddy Guy calls it “one of the greatest nights of my life.”  John Fogerty of rock’s Creedence Clearwater Revival felt “honored” to be invited.  On February 7, 2003, artists of practically every musical genre gathered at Madison Square Garden for one amazing show.  Martin Scorsese and Antoine Fuqua (director of “Training Day”) brought the best of the best together to celebrate and pay tribute to an original American institution: blues music.

After notoriously camera-shy Scorsese steps out onto the Garden stage for a very brief introduction, the concert film begins with an African tune performed by Angelique Kidjo.  From there, the audience is led along a timeline of music, visiting what is still referred to as “Negro spirituals,” passing through the early days of the blues, right up to today . . . and everyone came out to play!  The only imaginable contemporary blues artist missing is John Lee Hooker, who passed away in 2001, but he is there in spirit, as his signature classic “Boom Boom” is modernized by hip-hop group Fine Arts Militia.

During portions of the show, haunting images are projected onto large screens, showing hardships suffered by blacks in America over the years, presented together with the music that expressed their pain and hope.  Between songs, portions of interviews with blues greats reveal how they started out, how the music has changed, and yet, how it has always been the same venue of expression.  Surviving members of the early days of the blues relate stories of how difficult it was for musicians, and how grateful they are to be present for the show.  From Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Mavis Staples of The Staples Singers, and Ruth Brown (who subsequently passed away in 2006), to modern artists Macy Gray and Shemekia Copeland, every generation is represented.  Onstage, the fun and respect and joy of simply being together to perform the music they love is evident on each face.  The event is highlighted by B.B. King, “The King of the Blues,” as he pours his heart out in his classic “Sweet Sixteen.”

Any fan of the blues who hasn’t already seen this show must see this DVD (also available on CD, in case you are as taken with the music as I was!).  Anyone who respects history and music should see it, as well.  It’s really surprising how much one concert can teach you!

Lessons From the Other Side of the Counter

November 19, 2009

by Thomas M. Pender

 

Over the years and through several jobs, I have spent countless hours in one form of customer service or another.  Whether it’s at a cash register, information counter, or on the telephone, I’ve learned a lot about humans through customer service.  I’ve recently come to the conclusion that all citizens should be required by law to work in this field for one year, preferably between their last year of schooling and their first year of the career of their choice.  Society would certainly benefit!

Consider that when you speak to a customer service representative, you are generally in an unpleasant mood.  You are paying a bill, complaining, or in a rush to get something purchased or fixed so you can get home.  This person, hired and underpaid to make your life easier, is now the target for all your aggression, aggravation, and general abuse.

In my experience getting socially gut-punched, here’s what I think the public should learn about the customer service worker’s day:

1)      Greeting – In this field, you quickly conclude that you are lucky when a customer’s first word is “Hello.”  You are generally approached with the demand first.  All through your workday, you are introduced to people with the opening lines “I won’t stand for this!” or “How dare you?” or “What are you gonna do about this?”  Your friendliest greeter will probably shock you with the ever-endearing “You work here?”!  You feel completely dehumanized, yet you are required to smile as you respond.

2)      Courtesy – Forget “please.”  Don’t expect to hear “thank you” more than a couple of times a day.  Because it is your job to assist the customer, the customer considers you an employee of theirs, and therefore, you are to do what is demanded.  How dare you expect to be coddled with politeness?

3)      Anonymousness – It’s strange, but even while someone is complaining, if they take the time to glance at your nametag and fit what they read into their rave, you actually get a warm feeling.  Even when you hear “Look, Herb, something’s gotta be done about this,” you at least know that you are being acknowledged as an individual person, not a giant evil corporation.

The reason I feel that all people should be subjected to this is because after their sentence is up, they will never again be guilty of these atrocities.  Each time we approach a counter or call a help desk, we would recall how we were spoken to, and do our utmost to use as much kindness as we can muster.  I know it’s worked for me!  I’m the most patient customer some folks will meet all week, and all because I have felt their pain.

FedoraQuest!

November 18, 2009

by Thomas M. Pender

 

The other day, I had my noggin measured.  Oddly enough, it was not for the Guinness Book of Records.  I am determined to get a fedora.

Sadly, most people of my generation, and certainly members of subsequent generations, may have only heard the word before, and are unsure of its meaning, or may have never heard it.  Aside from a dictionary or Wikipedia, the best way to see a fedora is to watch a “classic” movie.  In films of the ‘30s through the ‘50s, any scene that takes place on a public street will likely appear as a moving sea of hats.  Women wore colorful hats pinned to their hair, and men wore creased hats with brims and hatbands, plus the occasional small feather.  These are fedoras, and I miss ‘em.

My grandfather had a red felt fedora, and upon his passing, I took possession.  My aforementioned noggin is too big to sport the hat in any reasonable manner, but  I kept it as a reminder of him.  It has travelled with me over the years through many moves, and for a time, rested atop my computer monitor with the brim slightly dipped over the edge.  It was a nice reminder of the man I admired, and even though my monitor has gone away – and the fedora will not balance on my laptop when opened – I still display Grandpa’s hat with pride.

In my 20s, I got into watching films of the ‘30s and ‘40s, and in some interior scenes, and practically all exterior scenes, the males on camera had the sun blocked and their hair weatherproofed by these handsome caps.  It led me to wonder whatever happened to them.

I decided to blame the Baby Boomers.  By the late 1960s, this large generation of men was deep into its rebellious period, and probably did not want to do whatever their fathers were doing.  I suspect, though I have yet to launch an exhaustive investigation, that this is the period when the fedoras were shunned.  In fact, the girls with the flowers in their hairs probably turned their noses up at their mothers’ pinned hats, as well.

This has been on my mind for years.  How does one person bring back an archaic tradition to an entire generation?  Well, first I found a friend who agreed with me.  Then, he guided me to a place where we could order fedoras – not an easy task in this day and age.  I was a bit depressed that I will have to order my fedora online (from a vast selection at www.thefedorastore.com), but I can’t say I’m totally surprised.  When was the last time you saw hats, or the word “haberdashery,” in a store window?  In any case, we will be acquiring these respectable accessories in the not-too-distant future, and wearing them to work and public events.

Bring back actual coolness . . . Join us!  Cover those brainpans! 

Anthem

November 16, 2009

by Thomas M. Pender

I wanted to start my Monday Poems with one that is probably the most important I’ve ever written, in the sense that it could mean something in the lives of the most people.  I had practically no self-esteem growing up, and it was no one’s fault but my own.  It took me 21 years, but I finally figured out that I was just as important in the world as everyone else, and after I had written it, I thought these words might help others with self-esteem issues.

 

 

I am

I am me

And no one else is allowed to be me

They can’t see what I see

They can’t feel what I feel

And I am proud

Proud to be me

I am not arrogant

Because I know that I am not better than others

Just different

Unique

I think

I dream

I fear

I love

I hate

And I cry

And each feeling that I feel

Is mine alone

Things touch me

Like they touch no one else

And I touch others

As no one else can

What others feel toward me

Good or bad

Are their own feelings

And I will not let them change me

In any way

Because if they change me

I will be someone else

And not me

And me is all I want to be

For no one else is allowed to be me

And me is a fine thing to be

©1987  T. Michael Pender.  All rights reserved.