December 2011

READING IS MY FUNDAMENTAL COMPULSION

I’m a reader. I like to read. I just never really thought it would get like this. Sure, it started with a magazine or two, like Los Angeles Magazine and Sports Illustrated . . . plus a book on the side, fiction or non-fiction, it didn’t really matter. I just liked to read. As I was thinking about what to write my year-ending blog entry, something caught my eye. This year I began placing the books that I’ve read on a dresser top between two newly bought bookends. So, I started counting the books. Wow. I then began to notice all the wildly divergent titles. Double wow. Then I remembered a few books deemed too large for the dresser top that I had moved to the hall bookcase and I also noticed a few more on the shelves of the entertainment cabinet. Uh-oh. Plus the two e-books I read using the Kindle app on my iPad. Holy Gutenberg! I am addicted to reading! In fact, I usually read at least two books at a time.

 

 

What I’ve noticed is that I most enjoy books that I pick out for myself. I usually don’t enjoy books recommended to me. In fact I dread when a close friend says, “Here, read this book. You’ll love it!” I quietly gasp inside. What if I hate it? What if I wonder, “What in hell they were thinking when they recommended this to me? Is that how they see me? As someone who would enjoy reading this?” It’s happened before. I guess reading is more personal to me than I had imagined. My tastes are unique not just to me, but also to me in the moment. How I feel at a certain time likely affects how I respond to a book. I now have no compunction about placing a recommended book to the side and get to it when I feel the time is right. That works much better for me.

 

 

But, you see, among my personal compulsions is that I must finish what I’ve started. I’ve never walked out of a movie theater; only once turned off a rented video before the end; and once I start to read a book, I MUST finish it. I don’t care how bad it is. I . . . must . . . finish . . . it! ARGH! There are, of course, worse compulsions. Right?

 

 

Thinking about this compulsion made me drudge up a long-repressed memory about the one and only book I ever stopped reading. I don’t remember the title or the author or even who had recommended it. It was a fantasy novel about some enchanted forest kingdom concerning the exploits of a princess-yet-expert-with-a-bow-and-arrow-type who was also part elf. I have no idea what genre this is, and I don’t want to know. Anyway, as my compulsion dictated, I plodded through her nomadic “Middle-Earth-inspired” adventures and discovered, that aside from making strange and often vulgar friends, and kicking some demonic ass, at the end of every other chapter, this elf princess inevitably had great sex. I say “great sex” because the author found it necessary to describe it all in minute detail . . . for pages on end. This princess was getting laid all the elf-ing time! So I stopped reading the book halfway through. I don’t know how it ended, but I’m pretty sure the princess got laid again.

 

 

 

Anyway, I thought I’d share with you the books I have read in 2011 in the approximate order I read them in:

 

 

Magnificent Desolation by Buzz Aldrin (2009) Autobiography.

The Laugh Makers by Robert Mills (2009) Memoir of comedy writer for Bob Hope.

Tragedy and Farce by John Nichols & Robert W. McChesney (2005) Media.

Empire of Illusion by Chris Hedges (2009) Media.

The Secret History of the World by Mark Booth (2008) Non fiction.

Waging the War of the Worlds by John Gosling (2009) Media.

Invasion from Mars: A Study in the Psychology of Panic by Albert H. Cantril (1940) Media.

World War II on the Air by Mark Berstein & Alex Lubertozzi (2003) Media.

Edward R.Murrow and the Birth of Broadcast Journalism by Bob Edwards (2004) Biography.

14 Radio Plays by Arch Oboler (1940) Radio plays.

Oboler Omnibus by Arch Oboler (1945) Radio plays.

Gandle Follows His Nose by Heywood Broun (1926) Fiction.

Chasing Aphrodite by Jason Felch & Ralph Frammolino (2011) Non fiction.

Reel Tears by Beverly Washburn (2009) Autobiography.

The People, Yes by Carl Sandburg (1936) Poetry.

Truman by David McCullough (1992) Biography.

Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897) Fiction.

The Gathering Storm by Winston Churchill (1948) Memoir of 1918-1940.

Thomas Jefferson by R.B. Berstein (2003) Biography.

So Far, So Good by Burgess Meredith (1994) Autobiography.

An Actor’s Odyssey: Orson Welles to Lucky the Lephrechaun by Arthur Anderson (2010) Autobiography.

I, Kowtower by Patrick Ratchford (2011) Fiction.

 

 

For those of you counting, that’s twenty-two books. There are worse compulsions, right? Right?

 

 

So what am I currently reading to inaugurate 2012? Two books: Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson (2003) and Trust Me, I’m Dr. Ozzy by Ozzy Osbourne (2011). I’m not kidding . . . you can’t make this stuff up!

 

 

I’m just saying…

IF I ONLY KNEW THEN WHAT I KNOW NOW

Thirty years ago I graduated from high school. I recently went to my class reunion where conversation flowed easily from present to past and back again. One of my classmates said to me, “If we only knew then what we know now . . .” The rest of the thought is left unexpressed. It has to be; the topic is so wide and deep and delightfully fraught with “what-ifs” that no words are necessary. It’s an intensely personal fantasy to play with. I love the statement and all that it implies and signifies.

 

Life comes at us in chunks, or phases, and can be grouped (at least later in one’s lifetime) into distinct eras. I’m speaking, of course, in terms of broad strokes. For example, I tend to view my life in these phases: childhood in Metuchen, New Jersey; childhood in Shamokin, Pennsylvania; high school years; Army years; college years; and domestic years married with two sons. Point to any one of these eras and I guarantee that a vivid memory or emotion will spill from the vats of my subconscious. (That conjures up a messy image, doesn’t it?)

 

Of my childhood in Metuchen, I see the Victorian house we lived in, its the second floor converted as an apartment; the old man who lived behind the gas station with his collection of seemingly gigantic turtles; and acting in my first play in the second grade, the same year I won a drawing contest in school.

 

Of the childhood years that followed in Shamokin, I remember sandlot baseball using large rocks as bases; the fourth grade teacher just about to retire who still wielded a wooden paddle for discipline; fear and isolation as my grandmother Alzheimer’s progressed before my very eyes, and, for the first time, Life’s fabric showing signs of fraying.

 

High school years must rank among the absolutely strangest years of a person’s life. The highs are frenetically high and the lows are the stuff of operas. “What is life?” asked Mr. Neary on the first day of tenth grade biology class. An excellent question that had less to do with biology for me as it did philosophy. Battling raging hormones, fears of inadequacy, and a yearning to belong, I somehow still remember having a lot of fun! It was fun becoming who I became, or at least a rudimentary version still in beta testing.

 

The Army years are perhaps the most conflicted era for me to visit. I tend to dip my toe into its tide pool carefully. No, I was never in combat; I served during peacetime with the exception of the Cold War, which was very real and deadly serious in ways most people today can’t imagine or as vividly remember. No, for me it was learning the cost of decisions made and the price of betrayal. Also realizing how easy it could be to wear the villain’s black hat all the while justifying my actions as, if not noble, then at least acceptable. In short, I learned the dark side of myself. Conversely, the best friends in my lifetime come from this maelstrom.

 

College years immediately followed the Army era. At Penn State I studied theater and lived in an off-campus apartment with some of my Army buddies also going to school there. These years recall drinking parties, youthful and seemingly carefree men and women, and moments of joy and accomplishment. I had managed to correct some of the tail spinning qualities I was cultivating years before and leveled out my flight path.

 

Finally, there is the era of my life today: as a husband and a father; of my work as an actor on television and film; a published writer; a film and stage director; and a nationally published cartoonist; adventures marked by a hundred crests and troughs. In fact this present twenty-year era could no doubt be sliced into smaller slivers if I was still not so close to it. In fact, I believe now that my sons are grown and moved away from home, I am about to enter a new phase of my life. I look forward to naming it after it passes.

 

Walt Neary, my biology teacher, recently passed away. I remember running into him some years after high school, in fact, during my Army years. We chatted and then I said, “By the way, there’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you. What is life? I think I was absent the day you answered that.” He broke into a wide grin, chuckled from back in his throat and replied, “Damned if I know.”

 

What a singular journey our own lives are! Celebrate yours. I have learned to finally celebrate mine, the good, the bad and even the ugly. They all have made me who I am today. I am no longer in beta test. For better or worse, I am the completed product. Well, nearly completed, always more fine-tuning to do, wouldn’t you agree?

 

So when I think of my life in terms of “If I only knew then what I know now,” I find myself instead hoping “If I can only remember tomorrow all that I’ve learned as of today”!

 

I’m just saying . . .