Archive for July, 2010

Brooklyn’s Not-So-Finest

July 30, 2010

by Thomas M. Pender

I’ve heard it said that real mobsters consider the classic drama The Godfather a comedy, due to Hollywood’s gross misrepresentations of la cosa nostra.

Real cops must absolutely hate films about cops.  I’ve never been a police officer, but being the son of a cop, the nephew of a retired chief of detectives, and the grandson of a two-time chief of police, unrealistic cop films actually anger me.  Hollywood cops seem to come in only two varieties: stupid and crooked.  The procedural mistakes, the constant insubordination and rule-breaking with little or no consequences, and particularly all the police corruption running rampant on the screen must make real police officers alternate between roaring with laughter and cringing with disgust.  Director Antoine (Training Day) Fuqua, no stranger to controversy himself, and screenwriter Michael Martin apparently decided to take every Hollywood stereotypical cop character, and mash them together in the completely ridiculous Brooklyn’s Finest.

Richard Gere, apparently on the downslide of his career, plays your standard retiring-in-one-week, doesn’t-give-a-damn alcoholic veteran, and guess what he does on his very last week on the job?  That’s right, he trains a rookie!  See?  You’ve seen this movie before, too.  No wonder they hired Fuqua, who had already directed this story in Training Day.  Just to add stereotype on top of stereotype, Gere is in love with – all together now – a prostitute.  It’s like Martin read the first chapter of How To Write A Screenplay For Morons, stopped there, and went for it.  Shockingly, the script got sold.  (Maybe I shouldn’t be shocked, considering the last few years of Hollywood-produced sewage.)

Ethan Hawke, also an alum of Training Day, plays your garden-variety desperate cop who will do anything for money, including break the law.  He kills the good and steals from the bad, all for the almighty dollar.

Don Cheadle gets the assignment of the wants-out-of-the-life cop and the can’t-tell-the-good-guys-from-the-bad cop!  A heavy burden for one performer, but apparently there was no budget for every cookie-cutter character to have a different actor.

Of course, the entire film takes place in – where else? – the “highest crime area in the highest crime precinct” (that’s a direct quote from the film, if you can believe it).  Your eyeballs will be sore from rolling about 15 minutes into this mess . . . if they aren’t already.

Do I believe there are corrupt cops?  Sure, I do.  Alcoholic cops in real life?  No doubt.  But do I believe every single person who ever wore a badge is a corrupt drunk drug abuser who hates everybody and everything?  That would be a “no.”  I think Hollywood as a whole owes America’s police officers an apology for their rampant cartoon-level disrespect.  The creators of Brooklyn’s Finest should be first in line.

“All Of It”

July 29, 2010

by Thomas M. Pender

I had such a great time with my boys when they were very young.  As any parent knows, kids are different kinds of fun at different ages, and while it’s nice that your children eventually grow and learn and mature, the innocent and mischievous years will always have a place in a parent’s heart.

Something I enjoyed doing when each son was in the three-to-six-year-old range (where John Christian still resides for another 15 months) was asking them open-ended questions, just to see how their brains worked.  The best question, in terms of the responses, remains “How much?”

My dad was a great guy and a good dad, but there were a few things I experienced as a son that I planned to alter someday as a father.  In general, the fathers of my dad’s generation weren’t too comfy saying “I love you” to their sons, at least past the toddling era.  I think (and hope!) my generation is a bit more mindful of how short and precious our time can be, and also of our children’s self-esteems.  Even when my boys were infants, I made sure to express love in words as much as in deeds, and I make a conscious effort to do so as they grow.  I don’t believe you’re ever “too old” to hear that your parent loves you.  There is sure to be an embarrassing period in the adolescent years, especially if you time it so their friends hear you chiming your affections (insert evil laugh here), but even while they’re squirming, somewhere inside, they will be better off and better people knowing that they are cherished.

I met my oldest son Nick when he was six, so he was a bit past the “toddling” stage.  Still, I was able to let him know how important he was by asking, “Who loves you more than I do?”  When he would shrug, I’d say, “Only God.”  Later, when his brother Garrett reached a talkative age, I wanted to learn how a person that young defined and measured something as undefinable and immeasurable as Love, so I changed my question.  To the two-year-old, I’d say “You love me?” and he’d say “Yes.”  Then one day, I followed with “How much?”

“All of it.”

On his very first try, my mischievous, ticklish son came across the perfect answer to that enigmatic question in just three words!  “All of it.”  With all the love I can muster, as hard as I can love, I love you.  It was so simple, only a child could have come up with it.  Even as time passed, whenever I would repeat the question, I got the same perfect answer.

Four years later, when John Christian was old enough to challenge, I asked him “How much?” and I got a very intelligent, thought-out, and meticulously expressed response.  While Garrett graded on a curve, Johnny used a point system!  The first time I asked the magic question, he furrowed his brow for an answer, then held up three fingers.  He loved me three, supposedly out of ten (though if I had assumed it was out of five, my score would have been better).  As I continued to ask, his lovemeter did, indeed, vary by the rater’s activities and attitude.  Once, when John was unaware of our destination, I asked him as I strapped him in the car.  He loved me two.  A few hours of Chuck E. Cheese activities later, I asked him again as I was putting him into his car seat, and baby, I was a total TEN!  Apparently, the affections of my youngest child could be bought.

It is said by some that when children are born, they know all there is to know from Heaven, but can’t express it.  As they learn to communicate, they lose this knowledge.  This is why I love conversing with the very, very young.  If you give them the chance, it’s surprising how well they can share what they’re thinking!

Planet of the Talk Show Hosts

July 28, 2010

by Thomas M. Pender

Where do these people come from?  What qualifies these countless television talk show hosts to distribute advice, or to coach people in crisis, or even to referee a debate?

When I was young, Phil Donahue was the king of talk.  This guy at least made a logical rise through the steps of college, production assistant, radio announcer, program director, reporter/anchor, talk show host.  He had a background in interviewing.  He could ask the right questions and he let the guest answer.

Jerry Springer, on the other hand, was a lawyer, a worker in Robert F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign, a gubernatorial candidate, a mayor, and a radio personality.  Not a bad resumé, but does this mean we should really be listening to him tell us how to treat each other?  This question is particularly relevant, since he regularly hosts undereducated family members who beat on, throw food at, and disown each other.  Springer stands out of harm’s way, watching with delight, then speaks at the end as if he has helped someone.

The incident that caused me to write this article happened just about a week ago.  I was in a restaurant that has many televisions tuned to many different channels with the sound off.  I happened to see that on Rachel Ray’s daytime talk show, they were discussing breast augmentation.  For those who don’t know, Rachel Ray is a well-known, very trusted cooking expert!  Knowing how to throw together lamb chops and basil earns you a talk show, and then you are qualified to discuss surgical procedures?  God bless America, huh?

Of course, I can’t talk talk shows without talking Oprah.  Oprah Winfrey is a true success story: born into poverty, suffering many personal tragedies in her youth, Ms. Winfrey is now one of the wealthiest people in the history of the planet, and the driving force of an empire.  She sways worldwide public opinion on books, films, trends, and Christmas gifts few can afford.  But let’s be honest: regardless of the love the world feels for her, who is this person so many people have devoted their attention to?  She was a news reader on a Tennessee radio station in her teens.  She was not a news gatherer, researcher or writer; she was a news reader.  Her emotive ad-libs on the air earned her a tiny local daytime talk show, and when the ratings spiked, she started her own production company, plunged into syndication, and a billionaire was born!  In the meantime, she landed a part in the blockbuster film The Color Purple and launched the career of another guru, Dr. Phil McGraw.

Success story?  Absolutely!  Someone we should be listening to about health and relationships?  Hardly.  Did you notice any degrees or formal training in her history?  In anything?  Let alone the all-encompassing relationships-family-health-literature-psychology weight she throws around on her show, with the world staring in awe and taking notes.  Two things bother me about her ascension that should be kept in mind: One is that when her talk show started, it was at the level of the Springer show.  She had lunatics on her show left and right.  The other is that when she does have experts and testifiers on her show, she constantly interrupts them, either finishing their sentences or drawing conclusions she has no right or expertise to draw.  I understand that her show is on a time limit, but that’s why you hire editors.  Ideally, you let the experts explain things, then you cut their answer down to fit the time slot.  You don’t let them speak a sentence and a half, then barge in with, “So what you’re saying is . . .”  Oy!  And the camera is obsessed with showing her, rather than the guests or the audience.  I remember one show I flipped past that had a musical superstar performing, and every three seconds, the camera was showing us Oprah, sitting in front and singing along.  But why?

I understand that careers happen through timing and chance opportunities.  I’m just saying that there should also be some ability in there somewhere, and that we as a society need to be careful who we listen to and trust among strangers.  The mayor of Cincinnati and a news reader from Tennessee do not qualify as experts in psychology or sociology . . . and Rachel Ray should stick to fixing chicken breasts!

Evil Step-Twins III: Revenge of the Ponderables

July 27, 2010

by Thomas M. Pender

Just last week, I wrote about the new verb “texted,” and how strange that word looks and sounds, though the modern verb is perfectly legitimate.  There are similar verb forms that seem odd, but are correct.  While they may look and sound like incorrect versions of more common verbs, they have real uses.

Hung vs. hanged

“Hung” is the common past tense of “hang.”  The word “hanged” is only used for one specific case, and that is in the case of someone being hanged as a form of execution.

Joey hung the poster up on his wall.

The stockings were hung on the mantel, ready for Santa.

I hung on the phone while Christine got a pen.

On April 14, 1965, Richard Hickock and Perry Edward Smith were hanged for the Clutter family murders.


Dove vs. dived

I don’t know of anyone who uses “dived” as the past tense form of “dive.”  It sounds like a learning child’s mistaken idea of what the past tense would look and sound like.  Believe it or not, while “dove” is the more commonly used form, “dived” is more universally accepted as the past tense.  In fact, some manuals will label “dove” as incorrect!  However, the consensus seems to be that the choice is simply a matter of personal style.  In all cases where “dove” can be used, “dived” can be correctly placed, or vice versa.  It’s up to the writer which he or she uses, but it is best to be consistent, whichever form you choose.

Harry dove for the football.

We dived with local guides off the shore of Oahu.

Annette dove off the high board, but I’m too scared to do that!

When Shelly saw her ex-boyfriend coming down the street, she dived into a store.

Dreamer’s Warning

July 26, 2010
by Thomas M. Pender
Never tell me
That my dreams are not real
That they have no substance
That they are too big
That they will not come to be
Never tell a Dreamer
That dreams are illusions
And will never be touched
In doing so,
You fade from a Dreamer’s reality
To allow room for the dream
To expand
Never tell me
I can’t
Or I won’t
Touch the stars I reach for
You will simply be
Fueling my journey toward them
written by t. michael pender  6/27/95
©1995 T. Michael Pender.  All rights reserved.

The Emotional Works of Lee Bogle

July 23, 2010

by Thomas M. Pender

I’ve never been much of an art aficionado.  I appreciate talented people who can do things I can’t, but was never one to gaze at art, or certainly buy art.  Then, in 1994, just after I moved from Michigan to the Chicago area, I was struck with the beauty and depth of one painting.

The only painters I know by name are the eternal “biggies”: Picasso, Michelangelo, and that crowd.  I had never heard the name Lee Bogle before that day in the Woodfield Mall, but the name in the lower right of the numbered print mattered little.  In a simulated “bark” wooden frame, two Native Americans, a man and a woman, stood back-to-back, eyes closed, leaning against each other, and holding hands.

The painting was called Soul Mates.  I stopped dead in my tracks.  I stood and stared, exploring all the details.  The more I looked, the more I saw.  The seemingly random colors around the couple did form a sort of deliberate sense to me.  There were darker spots and lighter spots, but while I peered at them, they seemed to be out-of-focus angels and demons.  In a symbolic sense, I guessed these were the experiences of Life and the encounters of the world, good and bad, which influence every relationship day after day.  Yet, against the storm of these pressures, the two lovers closed their eyes to the world, leaned on each other, and held onto each other tight.  The symbolism came to me quickly, and I immediately loved the message.  This was what I sought!  Someone you could love so deeply, and trust so much, that you could ignore the hardships of the world and stand strong, knowing your soul mate was standing with you.

I bought the numbered limited edition print some time later.  In the interim, I made several trips to the mall, each of which included a span of time standing and staring at the artistry and the message.

About a year later, in the same window, my eye was drawn by a similar color scheme and the identical style of painting.  Sure enough, there was a new Bogle painting displayed, and this seemed to be a sequel to Soul Mates in theme.  What appeared to be the same two lovers were depicted here, this time facing each other in an embrace, with peaceful looks on their faces.  This one was entitled The Secret.  There was no hint in the painting what “the secret” might be, but my mind told me that, like the rumored meaning behind the Mona Lisa’s smile, they were pregnant and hadn’t told anyone yet.  It could possibly have been a secret wedding.  Something that was intimate, definitely.  This one went home with me in short order, as well.  This work was numbered and signed like the first, but this one was unique in that it was autographed twice, once on the original work, and a second time next to the handwritten numbering.  I had never seen this style of signing before, and it seems quite noteworthy to me!

I’ve seen other works by Bogle, but none that touched me as these two did.  Wherever I move to, I try to position the pieces on opposite walls, facing each other.  Sometimes, they work best in the bedroom, and sometimes the living room makes more sense.  I still look at them at times, wondering what Bogle was thinking about when he painted them, what the images in the background of Soul Mates are meant to be, and if she’s indeed with child in The Secret.

Some questions are not meant to be answered, I suppose.  Merely pondered.

Keecher The Teacher Loses A Bet

July 22, 2010

by Thomas M. Pender

Sounds like a Dr. Seuss classic, doesn’t it?  Alas, this is not a cartoon-laced morality rhyme that teaches kids the evils of gambling.  This is the true story of vocational school Commercial Arts teacher Lawrence Keech, and his encounter with a kid who could spell.

By my senior year in high school, I was determined to go into advertising, and I took a Commercial Arts course at the area vocational school.  It was here that I first encountered Larry Keech, and I was immediately intrigued.

Mr. Keech was a twisted morphing of Jackson Pollock and WKRP in Cincinnati’s Dr. Johnny Fever.  He had long dark blonde hair, a scruffy beard, glasses with brown-tinted lenses, and he always dressed in hip colors and styles.  He played rock music while we worked, and he teased every student that ever entered his classroom.  In response, we immediately latched onto his unavoidable nickname, “Keecher the Teacher.”

For all his avant-garde-isms, goofy jokes, and “All Led Zeppelin” days in class, Mr. Keech had a well-earned reputation for being one of the toughest teachers in the district.  He told us on Day One that the purpose of the vocational school was to prepare us for the working world.  He told us that since advertising jobs usually get awarded to only one artist, he graded accordingly.  With extremely rare exceptions, he gave out only one “A” in the class per assignment!

One practice of Mr. Keech’s was the daily review session.  Before beginning work each day, we would gather around his drawing board, where he would critique our homework . . . in front of everyone!  He was very funny and colorful in his comments, but he could also be pretty harsh with his honesty, as was his plan.  He’d be the first to tell you in front of your peers that you did a masterful job, but this was not the norm.  In fact, that was the glaring exception to the rule.  What you normally heard as he held up your assignment was a string of jabs, giggles and questions like “What were you thinking?”  This inspired a classful of laughter and quite a few hurt feelings with each review, but his goal was met.  We developed thick skins, and became very competitive for those elusive “A”s.

At one point, we started a series of lettering projects.  We were expected to perfectly letter our given phrases using only our drafting pencils, rulers, and T-squares.  The fun part of these assignments turned out to be the phrases themselves.  Mr. Keech would verbally give us nonsense phrases from a list he had written up.

Before our first lettering assignment, however, he did give us one caveat: It was our responsibility to look up any unknown words, and to spell everything correctly.  Any error meant an instant failing grade on the entire project, no matter how spectacular it looked.  Then he shut the lights off, and gave us a slide show of some “A” projects from his past students.

The darkness was sprinkled with chuckles as we were exposed to some of his past humorous phrases.  Then, one appeared on the screen that made me sit straight up:




Until this point, he had shown us the finest projects his students had ever produced.  They were all well drafted, clean . . . and properly spelled.  So was this an example of what not to do?

Not wanting to challenge the leader of our little universe too overtly, I haltingly asked, “You did give this student an ‘E,’ right?”

Mr. Keech’s voice sounded puzzled in the darkness.  “No . . . why?”

“It’s misspelled.”

His shaded outline looked at the screen, then at me.  “No, it isn’t.”

“Yes, it is.  There’s only one ‘I’ in SKIS.”

Again, he looked at the screen.  “No, there isn’t.  I’ll betcha fifty bucks that’s right!””

“Okay!” I chimed.

Two frames later, the voice in the blackened room said, “Make it a hundred!”


Another frame, then: “Make it three hundred!”

“Fine,” I said.  “I need money for college!”

After the show, the lights came up and we started on our projects.

We took a 15-minute break every day at the halfway point in the three-hour course.  That day, Mr. Keech disappeared for the entire leg-stretching period.  As we returned to our drawing boards, he walked briskly past me without a glance or a word.

“Did you look it up?” I asked.


“Will that be cash or check?”  I beamed brightly, and the kids within earshot had a chuckle.  This time, it wasn’t at the expense of one of our own.  I got no look or response from our fearless leader, and the subject faded.

Inspired by my incredibly average grades in the class, I later informed Mr. Keech that I would be leaving at the end of the semester.  That June, I returned to the Commercial Arts classroom to collect autographs for my yearbook.  After I made the rounds among the students, I took the annual up to the teacher.

“You owe me $300,” I said.  “What I will accept is a self-portrait that you think is worth $300.”

He laughed, then opened the book.  On a crowded page, he drew a pretty darn good cartoon of himself:

I spelled words for many people after high school.  In college, I helped lots of students with their papers.  In my professional positions, no matter what my official title or trivial role in a company was, I often found opportunities to improve some sort of text for each firm.  In my mid-twenties, when I started to do freelance editing, I came up with a professional motto: “If I can’t spell it, it’s not a word!”  Arrogant, yes, but a decent sales pitch.

To put it another way: If you’re going to challenge me on spelling, bring your wallet!

Golf: A Good Nap Spoiled

July 21, 2010

by Thomas M. Pender

“Golf is a good walk spoiled.” – Mark Twain

“Golf is men in ugly pants, walking.” – Rosie O’Donnell

I would not presume to rank myself with these bastions of American humor, but for years, I’ve been saying, “Every time I get the urge to play golf, I take a nap.  Same thing.”

I have played miniature golf on occasion, and that’s interesting and fun.  How can you not love a game that involves windmills?  After my high school prom, I went with a small band of close friends to shoot some “putt-putt,” and we had a wonderful time in our tuxedos and hoop dresses.  The event was full of laughs and good-hearted ribbing.

None of these elements are allowed in actual golf.  Not the tuxes, not the windmills, and especially not the laughs.  I saw a bumper sticker once that read “GOLF IS THE MOST FUN YOU CAN HAVE GETTING REALLY, REALLY MAD.”  Oh, yes, please sign me up for this!  I don’t have enough challenges for my blood pressure in everyday life.  I simply must get in on this enterprise.  (Isn’t it a shame there isn’t a special font for sarcasm?)

I don’t even understand how golf is categorized as a sport.  In any other sport involving a projectile, there are physical boundaries which keep the ball from getting too far out of play, and in most, the projectile is returned to the player in one fashion or another.  In golf, the object is to take a tiny ball, hit it as far as you possibly can . . . and then go get it!  To this, I logically retort: Do you want the ball, or do you not?  Make up your mind, and then eliminate one of these steps.  Otherwise, you are personifying pure folly.

For those who argue that golf is good exercise, I retort with the golf cart and the caddy.  If you’re driving from hole to hole, you are not exercising.  If you are using a caddy, he or she is doing all your work.  Try again.

To enthusiasts who claim golf is interesting and exciting, I ask where is your proof?  Is it the crowds who attend the tournaments, standing still and staying quiet, then getting all giddy with the quiet “golf clap”?  Or is it the announcers, who talk as though they are in a library, and remain quiet even while reporting some “exciting” occurrence in the snooze parade?

More than golfers themselves, the people who stump me are those who watch golf on television.  Watching an event this lacking in any action on television is akin to subscribing to the Chess Channel.  It is literally watching grass grow . . . while oddly-dressed people walk on it.

Rather than a sport, I think golf is a science.  It is intricate in its practices, serious and thoroughly unentertaining in its execution, and has far too many steps and variations to be counted.  The angles, motions, speeds and force of each body part of the golfer during each swing determines to the tiniest degree where and how the ball will sail or roll.  People spend years practicing to get these elements down as perfectly as possible, yet Tom Sullivan, a well-known singer-songwriter-actor-author who I had the pleasure of meeting in 1986, is an avid and accomplished golfer . . . and the man has been blind since he was an infant.

Perhaps golfers are taking this pastime all too seriously.

21st Century Verb

July 20, 2010

by Thomas M. Pender

When I was young, words like “desks” and “masts” always sounded wrong to me.  Saying them aloud sounded like I was saying an extra “s” at the end, due to the double-hissing sound.  I would sit in my room and spell the words out, then make each letter’s sound, trying to eliminate the odd ending.  Eventually, I figured out that there was no way around it.  That’s just how the letters sounded together.

Nowadays, I have an issue with the word “texted.”  Growing up, I never dreamed that the word “text” would one day become a verb.  The idea that there would need to be a past tense of “text” was absurd.  Nevertheless, here we are in the Land of Cellular, and I’m constantly hearing people say, “I texted him yesterday” and such.  I guess it sounds so awful to me because “text” rhymes with “hexed,” “indexed” and “annexed,” so it already sounds like it’s in the past tense.  “Texted” sounds like “hexeded.”  To a writer and editor, the sound is like nails on a chalkboard.

I don’t suppose I can get away with saying that “texted” is wrong, since the verb “text” is a new word, but one that seems like it’s here to stay . . . at least until telepathy becomes all the rage, and everyone will be saying, “I thinked him yesterday.”  Personally, I avoid the word by simply saying “I sent you a text yesterday,” but again, that’s just me.  I couldn’t get around the weird-sounding word “desks,” but I can choose to avoid this new verb.

When I hear others use the word, I’ll just have to keep my nausea to myself.

I See God In Everything

July 19, 2010
I see God in everything – –
            For God creates such beauty
                        That Beauty becomes synonymous with God
            I see God’s hand in the sunset
                        Guiding the paintbrush
                                    That paints the darkening sky
            I hear God’s laughter
                        When I see the play
                                    Of the squirrels and rabbits
            I can feel God
                        When I feel the warmth
                                    Of a summer sun
            But most of all
                        I can see God’s art
                                    In the shine of your eyes
                                                And the beauty of your smile.
written by t. michael pender  11/15/85
©1985 T. Michael Pender.  All rights reserved.