Monday, March 31, 2008


The drama club at Andrew's school (Galloway Township Middle School GTMS) has struck paydirt again! Last week, on Thursday March 27th, Friday the 28th and twice that Saturday, they performed the Broadway sensation, "ONCE UPON A MATTRESS."

Under the expert tutelage of drama department head Brian Conover, the players were double-casted to maximize student exposure to acting. The show features two female lead performers. Queen Aggravain is a femme fatale while the heroine and show stopper is Princess Winnifred...or as her friends around the castle call her, FRED! The next most prominent character is King Sextimus the Silent, played comically and engagingly by my scion, Andrew.


Andrew was in the "A" cast and performed on opening night as well as the big Saturday night finale. His role was done nearly exclusively in pantomime (until his curse was broken at the end...and then, HE HAD PLENTY TO SAY !) Reminiscent of Harpo Marx, he used body language and expert timing to mock the queen and illustrate several puns--while still finding time to regularly and unsuccessfully chase hand-maidens across the stage.



Due to circumstances beyond my control, I only saw the Thursday night edition and loved it. However, I was informed that the entire cast "let it all hang out" for the Saturday night show and really out did themselves.

The truly talented actress playing the princess easily made the audience love her as she sang, danced and did physical comedy ala Carol Burnett or Lucille Ball. My favorite moment was the ensemble's performance of the "SPANISH PANIC" dance. Within this number, the princess repeatedly does the queen's task, faster and faster to the dance music. Later, I also thought she was great when Andrew's crown fell off ...she was so smooth, that the audience didn't realize she was ad libbing.


I congratulate the school administrators, faculty, performers, the students behind the scenes and everybody else involved, for an entertaining evening and a job well done.

Scroll down for additional pictures.



Monday, March 24, 2008


Here's the move !

Read the book AND the Cliff notes simultaneously! I'm sure millions of people already do it but I discovered it for myself and I appreciate the art of authoring more than ever.

I chose John Steinbeck's "THE GRAPES OF WRATH" because I wrote my blog about Woody Guthrie's biographical movie, "BOUND FOR GLORY" on February 11th, and saw many parallels between them.

He also wrote "OF MICE AND MEN." I read it in junior high and didn't get much out of it. As an adult HOBOKENKID turned me onto his novel, "THE PEARL" and loved it. Now I'm sold on him.

Some critics didn't like the socialist overtones in "Grapes of Wrath." The reality is, the overtones, as the title suggests are purely spiritual. Even if you prefer to ignore the religious implications, you can't possibly come away from this book without appreciating the notion and value of the concept: GOOD WILL TOWARDS MAN!

Steinbeck, in addition to his sweeping poetic descriptions, likes to lead the reader on an apparent adventure that will take his characters to their ultimate destiny. But somewhere along the line that direct path is diverted and the characters reach a completely different zenith. Or as the French like to say; LES ENDINGS DU SURPRISE !

I consider myself to be an aspiring author. I often think my scribblings are on the right track because I actually like my blog, the short stories, novel and two screenplays. That is odd because I'm usually overly critical of myself. However, after reading Steinbeck, I really have a hard time even imagining myself with the same shingle, AUTHOR, in front of my name. To illustrate my point further...while reading "Grapes of Wrath," read the Cliff notes!

Suddenly, the chapter you just loved takes on so much more meaning as each clump of Spackle between the cracks comes alive. Now I use a lot of imagery myself, but far less efficiently. I like seeing the reaction of my readers when I tell them the significance of; a name, the color of a scarf or the angle of a shadow. But Steinbeck is a genius. There is no waste. Every word serves as a foundation to build the story and in the end, the mortar is so smooth, you can't believe there ever were any cracks.

Sunday, March 9, 2008


When my son Andrew was three, his favorite kiddie book featured pictures of signs. On a dull afternoon, he and I got in the car to set out on a sign hunt. In the wilds of our neighborhood, he was excited to identify stop signs, no left turns and the speed limits. Our sign safari got better after we parked in beautiful downtown Absecon and strolled down New Jersey Avenue. In rapid succession he spotted; open, closed, no parking, in, out, air-conditioned, welcome, and thank you signs.

Beyond his fun of discovery and learning, I also picked-up on the power of good signage and its value...even to toddlers. It's too bad that this message isn't embraced by more people.

In 1982, at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas, the concept of good signage slipped through the hands of a co-worker named Oscar. Oscar was an Italian national with marginal mastery of the English language. In addition to having an annoying and abrasive personality, he had little experience as a craps dealer and was a slow learner. Shunned by the entire staff, this pariah forced himself into my little clique. The only reason why he was allowed to weasel himself in was because Oscar had been "juiced" into the Nugget by someone big. So we felt compelled to put on a false-face and tolerate him.

On the job, he couldn't handle being corrected by fellow dealers. The supervisors were in a worse position because he couldn't handle their criticism. Plus, because of Oscar's attitude problems with the customers, the same bosses that hated him had to protect him. The supervisors were so frustrated by him that they took their wrath out on us.

To keep the heat off, Oscar was taken aside by several of us but he never adjusted. Instead, he mistakenly took the attention he received, as friendship. He took advantage of this misinterpretation and oozed into our social circle, outside work. Then whenever Oscar had center stage, he'd reach new, "GUINNESS WORLD BOOK OF RECORDS," levels of irritation by bragging about opening an Italian restaurant.

Once Oscar interrupted a personal conversation I was having with Nick Tucker, (Nick was a universally beloved dealer and central character of my short story, "NO HELP'S HALL.").
In broken English Oscar said, "What's a good name for my restaurant?"
Nick was polite, "I don't know. I'm busy right now. Let me think about it."
Oscar turned my stomach. I thought everything he said was B. S. and that the restaurant nonsense was just a fantasy. I had always made it clear that I disliked him so I was surprised that he asked me to suggest a name for his restaurant too.
I said, "I know!"
Nick saw it coming from the gleam in my eye and said, "Don't."
I smiled, "Oscar, are you going to be doing the cooking?"
Oscar said, "Si."
So I said, "Then you should call it CASA STRUNZA."
Oscar was offended by the Italian phrase for, "House of Shit."
In addition to never speaking to me again, Oscar didn't invite me to the grand opening of his place called, "CIAO." All my other friends were invited but they gave up before they could find the place.
First, Oscar and his brother opened their elegant restaurant in an industrial park, on Polaris Drive, (off West Spring Mountain Road). They were opened for dinner only and for the most part, the industrial park closed at five. They immediately struggled. When they discovered this error, they opened for lunch but the food was too slow to prepare, too fancy and too expensive for the overwhelmingly blue-collar clientele.

More importantly, their CIAO sign, outside the complex as well as the one on the building was written in an ornate, hard to read, cursive font.

Oscar's directions did not include an actual street address. My friends, (none of which were Italian), blew by the sign which didn't even include the word; restaurant, cafe or eatery. They got lost, searched a short time in vain and gave up. After all, even if they telephoned for information, they were typical craps dealers and would have spelled the restaurant: "CHOW." After all, what else would a moron name his restaurant.

Down through the years, business people have softened their signs. These days, the word NO is rarely used. Benign international symbols have replaced "NO SMOKING" signs, and phrases like, "SHOES AND SHIRTS REQUIRED" has replaced, "NO shoes, NO shirt NO service."

To the entertainment of guys like me, Oscar, still haven't gotten the memo. This point is proven by this year's sign of the year. It is hanging right now, in the window of a gourmet (expensive) Indian restaurant, in one of Atlantic City's casinos.

I preface this statement with the following politically correct disclaimer. I mean no disrespect to my Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan friends, coworkers and customers. My "glibness" is aimed specifically at your cuisine...more specifically at the disagreeable smell of curry...To demonstrate my food sensitivity/strangeness, I feel the same way about bananas, strawberries, Brussels sprouts and liver. You put me on "FEAR FACTOR" and while everyone is hesitating about eating manatee eyes, I'd disqualify myself before the threat of the first scent of beets wafted my way!

I am guessing that this particular Indian restaurant has its own customer base...but for the life of me, I've never seen anyone inside. Perhaps it has to do with the sign on their front door...

Even a less than entrepreneurial three-year old would find that funny.

Monday, March 3, 2008


We can all relate to this because --whether you have a child or not--99% of us were children once ourselves.

Your kid comes home and you ask, "What happened at school today?"
Unless some girl was whacked in the head at lunch with a flying chocolate pudding, invariably, the answer is a standard, "Nuthin'!"

This happened recently in regards to my son Andrew's literature class. In recognition of black history month, his class was assigned a project on the flowering or rebirth of intellectualism and culture in American black people. This movement occurred roughly from 1919 till 1935. It was called, the Harlem Renaissance or the Black Literary Renaissance.

Today, Harlem is a predominately black slum in upper Manhattan. What most people don't realize is that it was once a thriving community of middle and upper middle-class blacks. Harlem attracted famous African Americans artists, activists and philosophers. During that time, the National Organization for the Advancement of Colored People, (NAACP) and the National Urban League were founded there.

The ultimate goal of the renaissance was to not only prove to the world that blacks were entitled to equality but that they were capable of doing anything that anyone else could do and that they deserved their own cultural niche within mainstream America.

So I find out through channels that my son is researching Jamaican born poet/civil rights activist Claude McKay. Andrew showed me his findings and read me some of McKay's poetry. He and I discussed some of McKay's imagery. I came away feeling enlightened and Andrew had a fuller understanding of McKay's message. He received an excellent closed....

Weeks go by and I ask Andrew, "What happened at school today?"
Naturally, he says, "Nuthin'."
A little later I see him feverishly writing and ask, "What's up?"
"Oh I have to re-write all this dialog for Thursday (February 21st)."

It was at that point, I found out the true scope of Andrew's Black History Month project and how his subject, Claude McKay fit into it.

Each student not only researched an individual from the Harlem Renaissance but they were required to work in committees, write out skits and then perform them. In this play-acting, their characters would come alive and interact with each other to identify their accomplishments.

In sets of three, eighteen prominent blacks including: Billie Holiday, Booker T. Washington, Louie Armstrong, Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes and W. E. B. DuBois were portrayed. These skits were inter-spliced with a multi-media production orchestrated by the advanced literature teacher Ms. Barbara Rodilosso. To add to the realism, some of the students went to the trouble to wear clothing consistent of the 20's and 30's.





Performed in the school library, this hour-long presentation was shown four times throughout the day, enabling the entire GTMS student body to see it. The show opened with a short film of Harlem street scenes during the renaissance with an establishing narration over it. Then between the students' vignettes, a four-piece combo (featuring three teachers and a parent) played live music of the period. Sound bites and slides were also incorporated into the show. Additionally, one of the students sang Billie Holliday's, "Stormy Weather" and Ella Fitzgerald's, "A Tisket a Tasket." The house was brought down when four students spontaneously paired-off and danced along to the music.

I admit, I attended by accident. my son led me to believe that it was just a simple in-class project, (in reality, I came in only to discuss my own writing with Ms. Rodilosso). I'm not sure why the word never got out to the public (very few non-students saw it) because it was a learning experience and a terrific show.

To avoid missing out on great things at school, grill your kid every day and never accept "nuthin'" as an answer! You wouldn't want to waste an opportunity to be entertained and educated at such a high level.

To see some event photos go to the Galloway Township newspaper, "The Current" at:

For more details about the Harlem Renaissance, either GOOGLE it or visit wikipedia.