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The text of the address delivered by the Scarecrow of Oz to the members of the United Nations in the summer 0f 2014

 

Before I begin to insult the intelligence of the people of planet Earth, let me tell you that Oz did have its problems. Once ruled by four witches….two good and two bad…and governed by a humbug, the residents of Oz were not living on the same page. The long-suffering Munchkins, who always believed they got the short end of the stick, were small in number compared to the people of Emerald City who believed they were in charge. The constant feuding between these two peoples made it very difficult for the other inhabitants of Oz to live in harmony. The Winkies, Quadlings, Field Mice and the Porcelain people in the China Country had their differences, but only rarely took up arms to settle their differences. The same can’t be said for the Kalidahs, those monstrous beasts with bodies like bears and heads like tigers, and the Fighting Trees. They shared the same territory but could not live together. Their differences they said were too great so they fought…constantly. And lastly there were the Winged Monkeys, a most maligned people. Having lived under the cruel Wicked Witch of the West, they had no rights. They were forced to do her bidding. But once the Wicked Witch was liquefied, they emerged as the great peacekeepers of Oz, and to this day they continue to fight….using words, not weapons…to help the people of Oz resolve their differences.

Having spent the past two years as a visiting professor at Harvard, and having had the opportunity to travel the world and meet the people of earth, I have to admit that you are an embarrassment. You live on a beautiful planet. You have been blessed beyond belief. But still, after thousands of years you are still uncivilized.  You claim to believe in a God that is all good and all loving, but instead of honoring your God, you make a mockery of this eternal being by shedding blood in his/her name.

The current situation in your Middle East tells me how stupid you people are. A good number of you are siding with the Palestinians…for what you believe are good and just reasons, A good number of you are aligned with Israel….for what you, too, believe are good and just reasons. The Arab and the Jewish people are shedding blood over what…a piece of land in the desert?  The people in the region believe that they are doing God’s bidding. These people are fighting a war that is almost as old as mankind.  And why?  Is it because the Jewish homeland was carved out of that little piece of earth the Palestinian people believed was theirs and theirs alone?  Is it because the State of Israel has mistreated the Palestinians and denied them their basic human rights?

Are you people so blind to your history that you can’t see that it was your greed that caused today’s problems in the Middle East in the first place.  And I say it was greed because after reading your history books that’s all I come away with….greed, with a heavy dose of self-righteousness thrown in there for bad measure.

There is not a place on this earth that has not suffered because of your greed and this belief that one people have a supreme right over other people. You Americans, who fought for independence and in your own words declared that all people are created equal, are the same people that nearly put an end to the people who called your land their home for centuries.  What you did to the members of the hundreds of Native American tribes is unconscionable. You took their land because you wanted it. You made a mockery of their beliefs, destroyed their traditions and inflicted them with diseases that did what your guns couldn’t do.  To make amends you gave these once great people reservations to live out their lives.

Your partition of the United States of America is only one example of how the people of planet earth believe that the earth must be conquered and divided up.  It doesn’t matter that the great shorelines, the mountain ranges and the mighty rivers that you uses as boundaries were never intended to divide you, but rather to join you as one great people.

What happened in the Middle East is the result of your desire to slice up the world and for the most powerful nations to take possession of it, regardless of what people might have called that land their home.  The blame for what is happening today in the Middle East needs to be a shared blame.  It’s far too easy to blame the current parties involved in the conflict because there is a history of blame that needs to be shared by other nations.

(To read the rest of the Scarecrow’s address….)

Scarecrow part two

 

Summer at Jones Beach

Jones Beach, circa 1956, with my sister, Patti, my mother, and the old thermos that weighed about 60 pounds before it was filled with ice and lemonade. My six-pack was a result of lugging that damn jug from the parking lot to the beach.

L. Frank Baum never mentioned seasons in The Wizard of Oz. Save for a brief snowstorm found in the movie, the land of Oz was postcard-perfect with a  bright yellow sun hanging in a bright blue sky. While risking my status as an Ozophile, I suspect it was summer all year long in Oz.

And while I like all the seasons of the year best, I usually like the one I’m in at the moment the best of all.

Even though I “grew up” (and the jury is still out on that one) at a time when home air conditioning was a pipe dream and the single fan we had in our house had been wired by Benjamin Franklin and it  turned every room in our house into a convection oven making it nigh impossible not to wake up in a puddle of sweat, summer was… a season of the mind. And when you’re a kid, summer is a mind-bending experience that might begin on June 20 and end on September 20, but in your mind, summer could not be found on any calendar because it resided in your heart and mind.

Growing up on the south shore of Long Island in what can only be described as the back lot of a 1950’s sit com like Leave It To Beaver or Father Knows Best, childhood was protected under the Constitution in that all kids were created to have endless fun at minimal cost. Back when I was one of the Boys of Summer on Lincoln Street  childhood was a safe place to be. Abductions?  You’ve got to be kidding. The only abductions were those at the hands of the aliens we saw in a matinée at the Bellmore movie theater.

There might have been 24 hours in a day back then, but for us, there were no hands on the clock. In fact there were only four times: breakfast, lunch, dinner and bedtime. In the blink of an eye we would wake up and be out playing baseball in the lot on Clark Street. After playing 37 innings we’d run over to the Whiteman’s house where we’d drink out of the hose and collapse on the front lawn. Two minutes we’d be back to play another 15 innings, much of it arguing whether the ball was fair or foul or if the base runner missed the base…which wasn’t hard to do because the base was usually an old ice cream bar wrapper.

And then it was a mad dash home where we would more than likely slap together a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and meet up at some designated spot where we would plot the rest of our afternoon, making sure we included time to trade baseball cards. One afternoon a week we’d ride our bikes to the library where we would take out four or five books to read in the afternoon under the tree that was part Cronemeyer and part Begley. Back then our reading list more often than not included an ample supply of Hardy Boy books.

With our lunch digested we’d commence to play some form of street ball, stoop ball, tag, red light/green light or statues where the person who was it would take you by the arm, spin you around and then let go, at which time you’d fall and freeze into a statue. (Today that game would be banned by the AMA and most American mothers).

The later part of the afternoon was either taken up with a street softball game in front of the Whiteman’s house on Conway Street, playing a baseball card game or playing the classic game Go to the Head of the Class. Once the games ended it was on our bikes to the candy store for a cherry coke and some pretzels before taking a hike in Takapusha Park.

If time allowed we’d hit the sprinklers because no one had a pool, above ground or built-in. And then like magic we’d all disperse for dinner, only to appear a short while later ready to take on the mysterious part of summer when the sun would slowly set and the moon and stars would appear.  After-dinner activities were usually less structured and most of the time spontaneous. We all thought we had died and gone to heaven when someone in the neighborhood got the delivery of a major appliance because the box it came in amused us for hours, being everything from a fort to a rocket ship, and lasting until we eventually destroyed it by rolling in it.

Sunset meant the start of night games, one of our favorite being an alien based game where we would dive on the lawns to avoid being hit by the beams of a car coming down Lincoln Street.

Exhausted, but totally exhilarated we’d all be called in and the once noisy Lincoln Street would grow silent. In bed I would listen to the sound of crickets and watch the sky fill up with stars and lightning bugs.

And then to sleep and perchance to dream amazing dreams.

The 2014 Lincoln Street Boys of Summer Award: There wasn’t a kid on Lincoln Street who didn’t get the most out of summer, but one boy in p[articular stands out because not only did he squeeze out every last drop of fun from summer, he was the very definition of summer.  Bobby Gardali’s face should be in the dictionary next to the definition of summer.  He was loud, he was brash, and he put his all into everything we did. He was a smart kid. Smart enough to realize who he was and what he wanted and didn’t want out of life.  He took a path less traveled. At an age when most people settle down, he picked up the fiddle and started to learn how to play. He is a life-long learner and there is very little he hasn’t read. And if you like photography, you should see his photos.  He is a real boy of summer.

BSO ACACEMY

I played in a school band/orchestra for nine years before hanging up my clarinet. And while I eventually made it to first chair, neither Benny Goodman nor Artie Shaw have anything to worry about; their reputations as masters of the clarinet are unsullied.

Artie Shaw

Artie Shaw

Unless you’ve ever played in a band or orchestra, your appreciation of the music is actually limited because the average listener largely hears the “whole,” not the “parts.” And by that I mean other than the occasional solo the listener cannot discern the individual pieces that go into making the whole musical piece.

I can remember when we were given the sheet music to a new piece and the conductor would have the different instruments play “their” part of the piece. Taken as is, what the clarinets played was only a small part of the piece. And the same went for the trumpets, flutes, trombones, saxophones, oboes, etc.

And what the third-part clarinets played was not what was played by the second clarinets, and what was played by the first clarinets.

So, where am I going? I’ll tell you. The orchestra is humanity and we are all playing an instrument. The parts we play and the notes on our piece of music are our own. And while we might not believe that the little part we play doesn’t matter, consider this.

Imagine an orchestra playing a magnificent score. And then listen to what happens when one-by-one of the players in a particular section of the orchestra stops playing. First it’s the third part clarinets, and then the second part trumpets, and so on. As each part drops out, the magnificent score becomes less magnificent, until a single player is playing. And then that player puts his/her instrument down…and the music dies.

We need to remember that the “part” we play in the human orchestra does matter. Once we begin to believe that the orchestra can get along without us, the sweetest sounds will be less sweet.

We all have a “part” to play. The notes in our lives only add to the sound the orchestra can make because the whole is only greater when the sum of the parts believe they make a difference.

lawn boy

I remember the summer I graduated from sixth grade at Seaford Manor Elementary School.  I was eleven going on 42. (I was always a little older than my chronological age.) I had been earning money shoveling snow and raking leaves since I was nine. But now I was entering the big time. Having passed the “Lawn Boy mower test,” i.e. my father gave me permission to make money with the family mower. And that’s exactly what I did. I went around the neighborhood and knocked on the doors of only those houses that had no kids….or just very little kids. I gave a little sales pitch and asked if I could become their own lawn boy. I had an idea what the job was worth, depending upon the size of the lawn and how many times a week they wanted their lawn cut.  On average I charged $1.25. (I kept a dollar and used the twenty-five cents to buy gas for the mower.)

That first summer I signed up about six clients. Only two of them had me cut their lawn twice a week.  So my weekly “profit” was $8. Back then…and to me…that was a king’s ransom.

I earned money, but better than that I learned about money. My Lawn Boy mower was not air-conditioned, and if memory serves me, I think the temperature every day that summer had to have been at least 120 degrees (no exaggeration).  It took me anywhere from an hour to two to complete each job. That meant I was “sacrificing” about 12 hours of play time. And here, “sacrifice” is the word, because that’s one of the things I learned cutting lawns on the YBR.  I also learned that doing a better than average job actually paid off because at the end of the summer (well, early fall) when I parked the old Lawn Boy in the garage I made another ten bucks in tips!

I also learned that there’s nothing wrong with sweating your head off (other blogs might refer to another part of the body, but this blog is G rated). I think I weighed about 90 pounds  when summer started that year, and by summer’s end I weighed about 14 pounds.  Add to that, I was allergic to grass. On or about sneeze number 3,472, I couldn’t see a thing because my eyes were filled with more water than Salt Lake.  My hearing was impacted by the roar of the Lawn Boy and my vision was nil.  Little did my clients know that they had hired Helen Keller to cut their lawn.

Again, another lesson learned. I learned that doing a job meant having to deal with some inconveniences.

I also learned something about my work ethic or work style.  I was not suited for repetitious tasks.  I was fully engaged when I cut my first lawn of the day, but by lawn two I was in la la land. I had to do something to take the “tine” out of “routine.”  What did I do? Well, I’ve never told anybody this before, but since my blogship is limited, I have no fear of confessing that when I would cut a lawn I would make believe I was cutting the head of a giant…a giant with green hair.

Another lesson learned.  You need to do whatever keeps you sane when doing a job that could make you insane.

I also learned about saving money that summer.  I think I made close to$150 that summer. I gave myself an allowance of about $1.50 a week…more than enough to go wild…and I banked about $130 that summer. Believe it or not, I started saving for college, and $130 went a long way when you consider tuition and room/board my first year at Marist was $1300.

Another lesson learned. It takes time to buy a dream and time means work.

My Lawn Boy and I worked together for four summers.  I got more lawn jobs (Lesson learned? There’s nothing wrong with a good reputation.) I banked around $900 those four years.

When I turned 15 I took my first pay-check job as a bus boy at Jones Beach. I was earning $1.17 an hour (no tips).The hours were long, the sun was hot and the job was boring…but I continued to learn life lessons.

What I learned working those summers when I was a kid I didn’t learn in school. To those who are members of the Class of 2014 remember that some of the lessons that will stay with you your entire life you learned outside of the classroom.  The best dreams that come true are the result of hard work.

Hope Floats Art by Lori McNee http://www.lorimcnee.com/

Hope Floats
Art by Lori McNee
http://www.lorimcnee.com/

I don’t recall there being any movie theaters in Oz…and if there were, I know for a fact that Dorothy and her traveling companions never stepped off the yellow brick road to catch the latest blockbuster. Here on the other side of the rainbow movies have been part of our shared culture for well over 100 years…if you begin with movies prior to talkies.

Despite the box office take and the plethora of movie awards, I believe movies have something to say about who we are and what the human condition was at a particular time.

When Oz the movie was released, Hitler was just beginning to wreck havoc in Europe and the Great Depression was still depressing millions of people around the world. Oddly enough the list of “great” movies in 1939 included, in addition to Oz, Gone With the Wind, Goodbye Mr Chips, Love Affair (remade as An Affair to Remember, which was again remade again in 1994 as Love Affair…and again remade as Sleepless in Seattle), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Wuthering Heights and Stagecoach. If there was any single theme or message in any of these films, let me use two famous lines from two of those movies. In Oz, Dorothy said “there’s no place like home.” And ion Gone With the Wind, Rhett Butler said, “Tomorrow is another day.”  What do those two lines have in common? They send a message of hope.

I believe most movie goers want to leave a darkened theater “hope-full” because life in the real world is so oppressive and so defeating. Oddly enough the message has, of late, been delivered in a plethora of movies loaded with violence and overflowing with unrelenting  anger. Movies like Iron Man, Thor, World War Z, Wolverine, The Dark Knight Rising, Captain America and the Superman, Spider Man and Batman franchises tell me that we believe we are helpless in a hopeless world.  We want there to be super heroes who battle evil and destroy the bad guy.  We want to use movies to release our pent-up aggression. And in movies like Godzilla allow ourselves to be scared…not to death, but scared to hope because we know good will ultimately triumph.

The phenomenal success of Disney’s Frozen goes to show that children want to believe that evil will be vanquished and that hearts will be mended.

Hope. Hope springs eternal. It’s the message we want. If only the real world got on board and filled us with hope.

1536_GlindaGoodWitch75yrs_56

 

The Fifth Oz Commencement Address:

Today one journey ends and another one begins. Unless you are going on to graduate school, your journey along the yellow brick road of formal education is over. Kaput. Finis. Bye-bye. So I will pose the same question to you that I posed to Dorothy…in the movie.

I asked her what she learned while you she was in Oz.

She said: “I learned that if I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with.”

On first look Dorothy’s answer was sort of a downer. I mean, how many of you went off to spend a semester abroad? How many of you went in search of your heart’s desire by taking an internship in a distant city? Many of you most certainly didn’t spend four years in your own backyard. But, I actually don’t think that’s what Dorothy meant. To keep it simple, Dorothy was telling us that finding your heart’s desire is only possible if you take an inner journey, a reflective journey.

How much of your college journey was reflective? How many times did you turn off your cell phone, not log on to Facebook, not send a tweet, or use any other technical device? How many times did you stop thinking about your future career and take a deep breath and inhale the moment?

I fear that if you were to answer those questions honestly you would have to admit that reflection was not a main ingredient in your college recipe.

You might have amassed a great academic resume. You might have taken all the right courses to get your career started. You might have made all the right connections to open some of those corporate doors.  And while there is nothing inherently wrong with any of those accomplishments, don’t think for a minute that your degree is a guarantee…of anything. Or that you are on the right road to find your heart’s desire.

Once you leave here today, the only thing you can follow is your heart. Trust me, it’s not easy to follow your heart because more often than not it means having to make some sacrifices. You might have to sacrifice that promotion, that big raise, that corner office…

Some of you might be saying, “I never took a course that taught me how to follow my heart.”

Well, even though following-your-heart-courses might not have been in the college catalog, that doesn’t mean they weren’t offered. They were. They were disguised in all your courses, especially those courses that were not directly related to your career path.  You earned your “As” in following your heart every time you readjusted your compass to make sure you were being true to yourself, every time you read something that made you think, and every time you heard something that resonated deep inside you. You were on your way to getting a degree in follow your heart when you came to understand that your education was meant to open your mind, enlarge your heart and instill your spirit with a heavy dose of courage.

The future should excite you as it invites you to jump in and make a name for yourself.  But let me remind you that the future is filled with a number of voices beckoning you to go this way or to go that way. Unfortunately all those voice sound familiar and it’s difficult at times to know which voice is the one you should listen to you. Here’s a tip. Listen closely with your heart. If the voice doesn’t “sound” right to your heart, stop and take a deep breath. If by chance you are fooled into following the “wrong” voice, don’t panic.  Making mistakes is not a bad thing…as long as you learn from them.

If, after all I’ve said you want to be a wolf on Wall Street, and rake in the big bucks at any cost, then it’s up to you. It’s your decision, and like all decisions, you’ll have to live with the consequences of your choices.

You are about to write the story of your life. Remember that if you want your story to have many happy endings,  you don’t have to  look any further than your own back yard, because if what you’re looking for isn’t there you’re not going to find it in someone else’s back yard.

Go and find your heart’s desire on the YBR!

Commencement Addresses from the past:

2010
2011
2012
2013

 

Remember man that you are lint and to lint you shall return

Remember man that you are lint and to lint you shall return

I don’t believe there was ever any mention of the celebration of any Christian holy days or seasons in Oz, but I do believe that Oz is a place where we can go to turn things inside out and look at what is overly familiar with a new pair of eyes.

Having just finished the Christian season of Lent, I was struck by something when I cleaned out the lint trap in the dryer between doing loads of laundry.  There is something odd, if not spooky, about lint.  It’s always there no matter how many times the items might have been washed and sent through the dryer.  Yet, the items never seem to disappear, unless lint is what happens to that sock that always seems to go missing.

I don’t think there have been any scientific studies about lint. Environmentalist never send out warnings about lint and how lint might actually play a role in global warming.  I know there are some people who do take lint and fashion little animals out if it but you never see lint animal exhibitions at museums…and I don’t even think there is a section about lint on Pintrest.

I often wonder if there is anybody out there who has made it a life-long hobby to collect lint.  I can’t imagine how much lint I could have collected over all these years of drying clothes. But that’s the subject for another blog that I don’t think will ever happen.

So back to the holy season of lint. As I cleaned out the lint trap this morning it got me thinking about how lint is really the story of us.  Lint is life’s way of telling us that slowly a little bit of us disappears as we grow older.  Oddly enough we never notice it, because it’s the clean clothes that we put on that grabs our attention and focus, not the lint ball that we toss in the garbage can.

But, the lint does come from the clothes we wear. And while the thinning of the shirt/blouse etc. might not really be perceptible, some of it does end up in the lint trap.

I think we need to “re-think” what we think about lint. I think we need to stop for a moment before we toss the lint ball away and reflect on how we spend each day. Lint is really the sum total of our experiences. Lint is a reminder of our journey on the yellow brick road.

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