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Archive for June, 2010

Writers and film makers do it all the time. They have complete control over the story they want to tell. They only include those chapters or scenes they want to see in their finished product. If something isn’t working or if they dislike the way the story is going, they edit it.

We are our own F. Scott Fitzgeralds and Steven Spielbergs. And the story is our life on the YBR. The problem with this is that we are both the main character in our story as well as the storyteller. And boy do we edit our stories to suit us.

We might not have had any control over the role we were given at birth. We can either blame or thank the ultimate casting director for that, but we do begin to edit our life story at a very young age. And I think we do that because for some reason we are disappointed with the life we actually live. The story and film that goes on in our head takes on a life of its own, and at times the story playing in our head becomes the ‘real’ story.

Ironically, it is the story in our head that often has a longer shelf life than the real life we lived. The past as it really was, eventually fades to black, but the past as it exists in our minds plays on and on forever. Mistakes made and opportunities missed usually fill the biog silver screen in our head. Sometimes it’s the things that didn’t happen that take center stage…like hitting a Little League All Star grand slam, or getting a standing ovation as the lead in a play, or maybe winning some award for some major academic accomplishment. The irony is that more often than not we never made the All Star team, only appeared in the chorus of the school play or never even were up for any award.

I sometimes wonder if the life we lived has less meaning than the life we have etched in our memories. I sometimes think that some of the scenes in ‘our life on the YBR’ hold us back. I also think that some of the fantasy scenes we have added to our life story are a source of happiness.

I find it interesting that people from the same family have different stories going on in their heads. Sometimes when my sister and I talk about our childhood, it’s as if we were from different families.

Our stories are different because there are many things in our childhoods we don’t remember…and there are also some things we’ve forgotten. There is a difference, you know between the two. Things we’ve forgotten are usually those little things that are out of place in our heads like a set of misplaced car keys. Things we don’t remember…well, there’s usually a reason why we don’t remember them and the reason is different for all of us.

My sister doesn’t remember how as kids we’d stand by the front door waiting for our mother to get her car keys so we could go over to our aunt’s because our father had come home a little drunk. She doesn’t remember because she doesn’t want to remember. I remember because I don’t ever want to forget.

Books are great. And so are movies. And while the stories we store away in our heads make us who we are, I prefer living the real life and enjoying every moment for what it is.

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Summer for me was always about the beach.

It didn’t begin on June 21st. It began the second the bell rang and the kids poured out of school never once looking back. That’s when summer began. And back then, summer was never measured in days. It was just summer, a time when there was no time.

The inner ten-year old I’ve continued to nurture cannot help but remember when summer was summer. On Lincoln Street in my hometown of Seaford, summer meant endless days of baseball. We usually played in the empty lot on Clarke Street where any ball hit over the trees was an automatic home run. And when we weren’t playing sand lot baseball, we were playing soft ball on Conway Street in front of Johnny and Joe Whiteman’s house, where Mrs. Whiteman always had what seemed to be a bottomless pitcher of Kool-Aid (the sweetened kind because sugar was not yet public enemy number one). And to add some variety to our baseball playing, we’d play wiffle ball or punch ball in front of my house. (Home plate was usually a piece of a paper bag; first and third bases were the street numbers on the curb and second base, which had a tendency to blow away, was usually the wrapper from a Milky Way (full size, because that’s when candy was candy. None of this bite-size stuff.) And who could forget stoop ball! (Does anyone still play stoop ball?)

Summer meant getting up ‘whenever,’ and going down to the kitchen to have a huge bowl of cereal. My cereal of choice was either Frosted Flakes or Rice Krinkles. And after breakfast  it was out the door for some serious playing. Lunch was never any set time, but it usually happened when our bodies had been reduced to puddles of sweat and we no longer had an ounce of energy. We’d all run home, make a the mandatory peanut butter and jelly sandwich My God, did I say peanut butter? What were we thinking? That’s right, back in 1958 people didn’t think about peanut allergies.

We’d either meet up for lunch under the tree between my house and the Cronemeyer’s or over  in the Whiteman’s backyard.  A lot of trading went on after we gobbled down our sandwiches and slurped down a gallon of milk. The items up for trade were cookies. (Oreos always had a high trade value. But of you had a Twinkie, you could corner the cookie market.)

Our early afternoons were spent riding all over town on our bikes. The library was a weekly stop. (Yes, I grew up with kids who liked to read). We’d each take out four or five books and actually read them, plus the other ones we traded. The Hardy Boy books were big on our list.

With renewed energy we’d choose up sides and play some more baseball until late afternoon when we’d hop on our bikes and ride over to the candy store on the corner of Clarke Street and Washington Avenue. For a dime we’d sit at the soda fountain and get a cherry coke (when cherry Cokes were really cherry Cokes) and two pretzel sticks. That was enough to hold us until dinner.

Then it was back home where we’d either play this baseball game with dice or play some board game like Go to the Head of the Class, Monopoly, Clue or Life. Sometimes we’d take out our baseball collections and either flip cards or trade them (got it, need it, got it….)

When it was really hot we’d drink from back yard hoses and then decide it would be a good idea if we all ran through a sprinkler. (No one had a pool in my neighborhood. We didn’t need one. We had Jones Beach.)

Because none of us had playground equipment in our backyards, we’d frequent the school playground where we’d monkey around on the monkey bars. (We didn’t know they were dangerous.)

And when we’d see one of the fathers in the neighborhood walk up the street we knew it was time to go home and wash up for dinner.

Post dinner we’d just hang out and figure out what we were going to do when the sun went down. Night games were always great.

And then completely exhausted we’d each go our separate ways, climb into bed…and then start all over again a few hours later.

Summer also meant taking a family trip. I can’t tell you how many forts and historic sites my sister and I saw growing up, and how many farms we visited (there’s something about the smell of a dairy farm when it’s 98 degrees outside that you never foerget) and how many tours we took of factories where they made maple sugar candy, glassware, jelly and jam, coat hangars…

The best part of those trips was staying at motels (the kind you see in horror movies today), swimming in the pool and eating in a local diner.

Small pleasures. Simple treasures. That’s what summer meant to me.

(Fondly remembering the kids in the hood: Johnny and Joe Whiteman, Bobby and Johnny Powell, Bobby Gardali, Bobby Milota, Bobby Stetina, Douglas Weberling, Bill “Buzzy” Riecker, Bruce Cronemeyer and John Moran  (bet you can’t guess what the most popular name on Lincoln Street was).

(l) don't my sister Patty and I look relaxed...somewhere (c) In a pool...somewhere with my mother, father and sister (r) relaxed again, this time somewhere in Florida

Note: we all did have parents, but back then, parents only played a supporting role in Summer.

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My father was a ticket agent for the Pennsylvania Railroad. My father was a Roman Catholic priest. My father was…

Well, let me begin this tale at the beginning. My father was Vincent Joseph Begley. He wasn’t my birth father, but back in day, a father was a father whether or not you were adopted. In fact it wasn’t until I turned 10 that I even started understanding that I actually did have another…father. But once I did, I couldn’t stop thinking about him.

No, that’s not true. I really never thought about him because he was never real to me. He was a pure figment of my imagination.

But why did I need a figment of my imagination when I had a flesh and blood father? I guess part of the reason is because I had an imagination and the other reason because I wanted my father to be different, not the man he was.

Don’t get me wrong, my father was a good man, a hard worker. He was also rough. And loud, too. We didn’t have all that much in common. But back then, it wasn’t necessary for a father and son to have anything in common. In all honesty, I was afraid of my father. Not that he would have ever done anything to me. But I was still afraid. I guess it didn’t help that he liked to drink.

So I began imagining who my ‘real’ father was. Largely he was everything my father wasn’t. We had everything in common. And he didn’t drink. Unlike my father who often didn’t understand me, my ‘real’ father did. I could talk to him about anything. My father and I didn’t talk very much about anything when I was a teenager (but what else is new – teenage boys and fathers are often miles apart).

My father never told me he loved me, but again, many people from my generation can say the same thing. But my ‘real’ father did say it. (Imaginary fathers often say a lot of things real fathers might not say.)

My father changed greatly when he became a grandfather. I think that’s the role he enjoyed the most. He was a wonderful grandfather. My children loved him, and even though he never said he loved them, I could tell that he did. Probably in the same way he loved me when I was a kid. Only different.

When I eventually learned the identity of my ‘real’ father, I was in for a shock. Not that he was a Catholic priest. That neither surprised nor shocked me. What I was surprised to learn was how similar we were in so many ways: he was a teacher, a writer, a stage director…all the things I had done and did.

But, he wasn’t the father I had imagined all those years. Not even close. My ‘real’ father had become real to me, but I still had this imaginary father. I wondered who he was.

And then one day I discovered who this third father was. He was me. In truth I was my own father. The person I had imagined was my father was the person I wanted to become. The father I one day hoped to be.

I owe a great deal to my father the ticket agent for the Pennsylvania Railroad. I owe a great deal to my father the Roman Catholic priest. One made great sacrifices to raise me the best he could. The other gave me the gift of life.

I am what I am today because of the two of them. But I couldn’t have done it without my third father because he is who I am today.

Fatherhood is a precious gift. I have been blessed with four wonderful children. They mean the world to me.

I love them.

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The Scarecrow had his day in the sun when he ‘blaghed’ about talking about capacity and all that brainy stuff, but I worked up the courage to throw in my two cents on the subject.

I get what he was trying to say about how we all have different capacities, and while we should never assume we have limited capacities, we often discover that having different capacities does not diminish us overall, it just means that we are all different and learn in different ways.

But what abut abilities? Does that have any impact on who we are as learners or as people (or in my case as a lion)? Take me and my roadies. We all ave different abilities. I’m naturally strong (and brave). I have abilities that neither the Scarecrow nor the Tin Man have. And the two of them have abilities I don’t have.

But when we were in elementary school together (they cut that out that part in the movie) our teacher, Miss Gulch, expected us all to have the same abilities in every subject. I think that was wrong.

The Scarecrow was ‘able’ to solve geometry problems without blinking an eye.  (I could barely tell the difference between a square and a circle.) And the Tin Man could wax sentimental about a Shakespearean sonnet when I could make heads or tails of a limerick. But when it came to phys. ed., I was able to do anything. (You should have seen the Scarecrow and the Tin Man when we had to swim in the pool.)

Why are we so reluctant to embrace our in-abilities? And why do so many educators expect all students to have the same abilities in every subject? (My French would drive you to jump in the Seine, but when you hear the Tin Man parlez vous, you can smell the croissants on his breath for crying out loud.)

Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes we don’t know what we are cap-able of doing or learning. Sometimes we don’t work hard enough to discover we have greater abilities than we first thought. But sometimes we have abilities that are never realized because we aren’t given the tools or the opportunities. (If I had been given piano lessons when I was a cub, I could have knocked them dead in Carnegie Hall.)

I’d like to make an analogy about abilities. I believe we are all light bulbs when it comes to different things. Some of us are 100 watt bulbs, others are 75s and some others 60s and 40s…in some things. Well, I think it’s wrong to expect a 60 watt bulb to glow like a 100 watt bulb. It ain’t gonna happen and it sure ain’t fair to the 60 watt bulb.  If after hard work, diligence and perseverance you are truly a 60 watt bulb and you use all the energy the good Lord gave you, then people should not expect you to be a 100 watt bulb.

On the other hand, if you are truly a 100 watt bulb and you’re only using 60 watts, you are a ‘re-voltin’ individual’ because you are able to do it.

But now I would like to amend what I just said. If you can be a 100 watt in something, but are dis-passionate about that particular thing, you shouldn’t be forced to ‘like it, just because you’re good at it or have the ability. A lot of unhappy people have followed their abilities instead of following their bliss. People like that often make lousy lawyers or CEOs.

I’m bored, so I’ll stop now.

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When last I ‘blaghed,’ I ranted on a bit about learning and education. I’m a firm believer that not only are we all different, we all learn differently. But more than that we each have different, what I call, learning capacities. With that said, I would like to turn the blagh over to the Scarecrow who holds a Doctor of Thinkology from Emerald University in Oz.

“I’ve done a lot of thinking about thinking and I’ve concluded that we all have different capacities for learning. I call it the ‘barrel and bucket’ theory of learning.  Consider then the barrel. And while barrels come in different sizes, they are generally larger than the bucket, which also comes in different sizes. No one would ever confuse the two. No one would ever expect a bucket to hold as much water, sand, nails…or whatever. We don’t disparage the bucket because it only has a set capacity. We accept it for what it is.

“Why then, don’t we use this same Scarecrow logic when it comes to learning? Don’t we all have different capacities? Are some people barrels and other people buckets? But unlike the literal barrel and bucket, people are not always a barrel or always a bucket. Some people are barrels when it comes to biology but a bucket when it comes to a foreign language. And it is not only in academic disciplines that we are different, i.e have different capacities, we have different learning styles.

“For example. Just because someone might have a barrel capacity when it comes to biology, it doesn’t always follow that they will fill their barrel (or achieve capacity). Some barrels learn one way (from a book and lecture) while other barrels are better filled with one-on-one and hands-on learning.

“I know what some of you are saying. ‘You’re targeting people and labeling them.’ Well, that’s not true. I’m just trying to say that our different capacities for learning different things in different ways should not be used against us, nor should we ever expect everyone to have the same capacity for all disciplines in all ways.

“The amazing thing about people, unlike the literal barrel and bucket, is that people have the ability to expand their capacity. One who is a bucket can develop into a bigger bucket and then a barrel…and even to a tanker.

“Our capacities are ever-changing. The more we are open to learning…and the less we fear taking risks (aka failing) the greater our capacity for learning becomes.

“Are there any limitations? That’s a subject for another blagh about mental abilities. Another aspect that needs to be revisited.

“But what do I know. I’m only the 37 pound scarecrow in the room.”

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There is no National Archives nor a Smithsonian Institute equivalent in Oz housing the Emerald City’s important founding documents. And knowing the Wizard as I’ve come to know him, I doubt he penned anything that resembles our Declaration of Independence or our Constitution. So I wonder if all people on the YBR in Oz were created equal or if Oz was a land of equal opportunity. I doubt it.

My doubt about equality in Oz makes me question the idea of all men being created equal here on the YBR we call home. Don’t get me wrong. I do believe the Founding Fathers were talking about how all of us are equal in the yes of our creator, i.e. that none of us are incidental. And while that sentiment is noble and can stand unchallenged in theological terms, I have some reservations about the whole equality issue on the YBR.

Forget about our spiritual relationship with an all-loving creator of whatever your religious persuasion might be or not be. I’m talking about equal in purely human terms. Are we all equal? If by equal we mean the same, it should be obvious that we are definitely not equal. We are decidedly different in hundreds of ways. And that’s a good thing. In fact, it’s a great things.

I have no argument with the struggle good people have in pushing the notion that we should value the intrinsic worth of a person not by using a comparative scale, but by considering the worthiness of a person just because he or she is. (I’m all in favor if ‘isness.’)

Where I have a problem is when we begin talking about equal opportunities. Consider Dorothy and her traveling companions (and Toto, too). All of them were very different – different physically, intellectually, emotionally, etc. They each had different needs and desires. And they all went to see the Wizard hoping they had an equal opportunity to have  their request honored.

The answer to that question might make a good question for a doctoral thesis, but the reality can be found by looking outside the yellow brick road to Oz. I’m sure Dorothy’s Scarecrow was not the only brainless scarecrow in all of Oz. And while the Tin Man might have been one-of-a-kind, isn’t it possible that there were other character in Oz who might also have been looking for a heart? Do you think the Cowardly Lion was the only king of the forest in need of some self-esteem therapy?

I suspect there were dozens if not hundreds of denizens of Oz who would have benefited from a visit to see the Wizard. What happened to their equal opportunities? Were they just in the wrong place at the wrong time? And if they had been in the right place at the right time, would Dorothy had treated them equally, i.e. would she have asked them all to travel to the Emerald City?

I don’t believe we all have equal opportunities on the YBR regardless of how much we want to believe we do. All of us have very unequal opportunities. Some of us are economically disadvantaged through no fault of our own while some of us are born with that ‘silver spoon’ in our mouths…again not by our doing. Some of us are born with certain skill-sets that have a high degree of marketability; some of us have less than marketable skill-sets. (Regarding skill sets: a lot depends upon our educational opportunities and our drive to take every advantage of our opportunities. Unfortunately not all school districts are equal, not all students apply themselves, and not all students are raised in an environment that nourishes learning. I believe it’s in the educational arena where we have the best chance at championing equal opportunities.)

I also don’t believe we are all given equal opportunities to succeed. Unfortunately the adage about’ it’s not what you know, it’s who you know,’ is not one of those urban legends. Not fair you say? What’s that other adage: life is not fair?

In the end, what really matters most is to believe we are all precious and worthy. I know that’s hard to believe when we think about some of the people we know because some people don’t seem to be precious at all. If we can’t love some of those people in our lives, I guess we can pray that someone can love them.

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Summer and being a kid (or remembering when you were a kid). Does it ever get any better than this?

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