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Archive for the ‘Toto’ Category

Infinity-Time1

(Every year around this time one of the characters from Oz delivers a college commencement address. This year the honor goes to Toto.)

The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.
– Albert Einstein

Lost – yesterday, somewhere between sunrise and sunset, two golden hours, each set with sixty diamond minutes. No reward is offered, for they are gone forever.
– Horace Mann

Time flies over us, but leaves its shadow behind.
– Nathaniel Hawthorne

Esteemed Wizard, honored travelers on the YBR, and graduates.  Thank you for this great honor. It is a privilege to address you today as you prepare to step out on your own yellow brick road.

It’s all about time, isn’t it? While we have it in abundance, most of us squander it thinking nothing of how precious it really is. If time were an ocean and we were to dip our cupped hands in the sea and carry out the water we’ve collected, how much of it would be left by the time we made it back to the hole we had dug in the sand? That’s our life span. The distance between the shore and the hole. And even if you could hold onto every drop you scooped up, you’d quickly learn that the water would be absorbed by the hole.

You can’t collect time. You can’t save time. You can’t do something tomorrow with yesterday’s time. In fact, you can’t even do something in the next hour with time from an hour before. Time is the only thing that is past, present and future. During your four years at Emerald University your focus was on the future.  Everything you did seemed to be about what you were going to do…tomorrow.  Today, every class you took, every game you played and every conversation you ever had belongs to the past. Your shadow will follow you all the days of your life.

And although that is a truth, none of you are looking over your shoulders at your shadow. Your eyes are on the future. But what is the future? Is it something you have spent the last four years constructing like a child builds a sand castle at the beach?  And as all of you know, sand castle have a way of being defenseless against the elements. Does that hold true when you apply it to the sand castle you have been building in your mind?  The answer to that question is as much “yes” as it is “no.” It’s “yes” because even the best sand castle is subject to the vagaries of the sometimes cruel and harsh elements. It is also “no” because sand castles are made up of the same stuff that dreams are made of. And the funny thing about dreams is that they are often stronger than the forces that oppose them.

Remember,follow your dreams and never let them become a shadow that lingers behind you. Keep your dreams alive, but be prepared to let them grow as you grow. Don’t ever be a slave to them. Rather, embrace them and let them keep your spirit alive. Give them a life of their own. If you force a dream it’s like breaking a pet’s will, a concept I am familiar with.  And here’s another funny thing about dreams. They always don’t play out the way we think. New friends, new experiences…and especially new ideas have a way of reshaping your sand castle.

If I could give you anything today it would be the ability to appreciate how precious time is. Don’t take time lightly. But also don’t be so focused that time becomes a weight around your neck. Allow yourself to “waste” time the way you did when you were a kid and spent the whole day doing the “nothing” that only kids seem to be able to do. Make sure as you grow older you make room in your life for hours of glorious nothing.

I’d like to end by sharing the lyrics to a wonderful song written by Oscar Hammerstein II for the musical “Carousel.” The song was used to end the play when the graduation speaker gave some advice to the graduates:

When you walk through a storm
Hold your head up high
And don’t be afraid of the dark
At the end of the storm
There’s a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of a lark

Walk on through the wind
Walk on through the rain
Though your dreams be tossed and blown

Walk on walk on with hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone
You’ll never walk alone

Members of the class of 2015, may your walk on the yellow brick road be filled with the joys that time has in store for you. Step lively. Step,lovingly.

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rush hour

I rarely comment on the views of network or cable news shows, but after watching tonight’s episode of The O’Reilly Factor, I am spurred to action and not because I disagree with the host, but because the episode was not really fair and balanced. In fact, it took a myopic view of the world when the host proposed that America is becoming a weaker nation because teenagers are smoking weed/grass/pot at a younger age in increasing numbers and also because Americans under 30 are abusing technology with an alarming number of young people sending more than 100 texts a day.

Host Bill O’Reilly went on to add that this was an indication that our youth are trying to avoid reality and that if they continue on this path we will never be able to compete with the Chinese. It appears that the young people of China are ready to deal with reality, while America’s young people would rather escape reality. (To Oz?)

I won’t argue the point of the nation becoming weaker because there are many indicators that today’s young people are maturing at a slower pace, but there is a bigger point that Mr. O’Reilly failed to recognize.

Reality?  I don’t want to embrace reality because what passes for reality today in a word, sucks!  We have a Congress operating at its lowest approval rating in decades. We have a growing number of people who are spending more time figuring out how they can scam innocent people, hack computer programs, lie, cheat and steal, etc.  We have scandals galore in the Catholic Church. We have an increasing number of people who hide behind race, creed and color to do whatever they want to do; we have people who believe a small portion of the public should be responsible for taking care of another small portion of the public.  We have movies, music and other forms of entertainment that not only pushed the envelope but have ripped a hole in it.

That’s reality.  Please, light me a joint!

And then there’s the other adult reality. Instead of people living balanced lives where work is tempered with a life outside the office, more and more adults are working 10, 11 and 12 hours a day six and seven days a week.  The average worker is umbilicallyconnected to the office via the internet and social media.  And it’s no longer an exception, it’s a rule and woe be the worker who doesn’t check his/her email a dozen times when home after a hard  day at the office, on weekends and on vacation.

This is the real world we want our children to enter?  Hey, join me for a joint.

And what the f*** about China?  China’s young people are embracing reality?  Chinese reality is about as far from real reality as I am from being mistaken for Brad Pitt!

China is not a bastion of free thinking. Mao may be dead, but the idea of a nation of billions of people who think the way the government tells them to think, is not reality. It’s a nightmare.

So, America’s young people are lost on the Yellow Brick Road, but you know what? We can’t blame them.  We have not given them much to look forward to have we?

It is going to take a revolution, but not a  military one to change the course of America’s ship. It’s going to take people who don’t pledge allegiance to a politically party or a specific denomination to stand up and speak out.

I guess you could say that “America is going to pot”, however you might consider the phrase.

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I couldn’t even begin to hazard a guess as to how many people I have encountered over the years along the yellow brick road. Sometimes you encounter people you never expected to bump into let alone have an experience as brief as it might have been.

Before my memory fades to black, I want to share some of those encounters in no particular order.

Marlo Thomas

Marlo

Of course I was familiar with her from her role as Ann Marie in television’s That Girl and I first saw her on Broadway in Herb Gardner’s Thieves (1974), but I did not encounter her until she was appearing in Andrew Bergman’s Social Security (1986) at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre with the late Ron Silver, a talented actor and Joanna Gleason and Olympia Dukakis.

I met her during the rehearsal for the 40th Annual Tony Award telecast. I was working in a minor capacity for producer Alexander H. Cohen relishing every minute of the process of putting on a major television event.

Ms. Thomas was the consummate performer. She had star quality. She didn’t have star attitude. And I had a chance to talk to her (briefly) while she was in the rehearsal studio with the other headliners for the show.

On the night of the Tony Award telecast I was “awarded” the position of helping get the cast from the Minskoff Theatre to the Tony Award party.

I was stationed in the area between 44th and 45th Streets when Marlo Thomas and her husband, Phil Donohue, came out of the stage door. She went one way and he started to go the other way. He told her their car was “this way.” Thomas shrugged her shoulders and as she passed me she said to me, “it’s the other way” and smiled. Less than a minute later they were walking back “the other way,” and I Thomas say to her husband, “I told you we were parked the other way.”

A few weeks after the Tony Award Show I was at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre where I was going to see Thomas in Social Security.  Thomas had agreed to meet me in her dressing room where she told me I could drop off a script I had written.

I knocked on her dressing room door and she told me to come in.  Her hair dresser was working on her hair. She had yet to have her make-up put on. She was wearing a robe…and she was eating an egg salad sandwich.

We talked for a few minutes. She took the script and I made my exit. I gave my ticket (the one I bought with my own money) and the usherette showed me to my seat in the nose bleed section. If I had been one more row back I would have been on the outside of the theatre. I thought that for people sitting in this part of the balcony they should have had flight attendants instead of usherettes.

The play was wonderful and Marlo Thomas was great. So was Ron Silver (1946-2009). I had a brief encounter with him during the Tony Award rehearsal. I rode on the elevator with him down from the rehearsal studio.  We had an abbreviated elevator chat.

A month after seeing her on Broadway I got a note from her agent saying that while Ms. Thomas enjoyed reading the play she was not interested in returning to the stage right away.

Oh, well.

Nonetheless I did get to meet someone who was nothing short of being an exemplary woman of grace, wit and kindness.

Marlo Thomas auto plus

Marlo Thomas signed my informal Tony Award autograph book (right side). Also on this page: Lily Tomlin, Colleen Dewhurst, Charles Durning, Debbie Allen Nixon,  Jessica Tandy, Tony Randall, Rene Auberjonois and David Birney.  (Some close encounter stories about some of these actors to follow.)

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Rockefeller_Center_christmas_tree

There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays

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winged monkey

The  August 18, 1939 review of  “The Wizard of Oz” in the New York Times listed the main characters. And while only a handful of Ozites might be able to name all the credited characters, there was one name…the last one…that gave me reason to pause.  The character was Nikko and he was played by Pat Walshe (1900-1991).

Doe the character’s name mean anything to you?  Here’s a hint. He was a winged monkey. Well, in fact, he was the king of the winged monkeys. I don’t ever remember hearing his name mentioned in the movie, but nonetheless, he was given “billing” in this classic movie that only listed 10 of the people appearing in the movie.

It got me thinking. Nikko is probably the most forgettable of the characters in the Oz movie. Listed with Oz names most of us remember…Judy Garland, Bert Lahr, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, Margaret Hamilton and Frank Morgan, it should come as no surprise that most of us have no idea who Nikko was.

If life is a movie, I dare say that most of us are Nikkos in the major movies of world history. Most of us play very small parts in a much larger movie where only leading politicians, musicians, movie stars, billionaire entrepreneurs get to have their names on the movie marquee.

Most of us never get top billing. But in the end, does it really make a difference? It shouldn’t. Especially when you consider that we are leading players in our own story as it unfolds on the screen of daily living.

Our “home” movies might not get any Academy Award nominations, but that does not lessen the impact or importance of our lives.  Every day is a new day on the “set.”  Every day we have a chance to film the next scene.  And if it doesn’t go the way we wanted it to go, we can always shoot the scene over the next day. That is if we are smart enough to realize that life does, more times than not, give us a second chance…to make amends, to apologize, and to start all over again.

Here’s to Nikko. Here’s to us!

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chained-elephant

I’m not making this up. And in an effort to be as transparent as possible the analogy I’m about to use is not original. But, it serves as a starting point for a blog about chains (not of the S and  M variety I hasten to point out.)

The story of fact goes that one way an elephant is trained is that at a very young age, say when the elephant is perhaps five or six months old, the little pachyderm, is chained or tied with a rope of some sort to a stake that has been pounded deep into the earth. Naturally the baby elephant tries to tug and tug on the rope in the hope of pulling the stake out of the ground. It is obvious to everybody but the baby elephant that there is no way on earth that this poor creature is going to be able to accomplish the task at hand.

After a number of days and perhaps weeks, the baby elephant gives up. Something amazingly sad happens here. Not only does the elephant give up, he has now been “re-wired” to believe that he will never be able to pull the stake out of the ground despite the fact that when the elephant is two, three or more years old he could easily ripper the stake from the ground

Only thing is, he has stopped believing in his ability to alter the course of his destiny. In fact, it has been illustrated that just by putting an ankle brace on the elephant with the rope hanging free, the elephant will stay put.

I doubt any of my three followers wonder where I am going with this. It’s obvious, isn’t it?  But connect the little elephant story to an old proverb: there are none so blind as those that will not see,” and the elephant analogy takes on a new dimension.

If we fail to recognize that most of us were chained to something in childhood…usually in school…we will always be blind, just like the people of Oz were blinded by all the green in the Emerald City. The people of Oz had given up their power to a humbug.

My God. How many of us do that when we go into the polling place and blindly pull on the lever of a particular party because we have been chained into believing, without giving it any real thought, that this is the party of right.

And worse, how many of us find ourselves in a workplace where the people actually believe all the crap that they’ve piled up despite the fact that it’s all a lie?

We are a schizophrenic nation. On the one hand we encourage young people to think without a willingness to believe that thinking demands questioning and questioning begets challenging old ways of thinking. That’s like shackling an elephant to a stake.

We want young people to become thinkers, but then we go ahead and hammer in a stake that’s rooted in approved thinking. We give them books to read but really don’t want them to learn the truth behind the words unless the truths are approved truths.

Growing up I learned early on what my trainers had in mind…and once I learned this, I stopped pulling on the chain. I let them think I was “trained,” but little did they know I was onto them and that’s why I took Robert Frost’s road less traveled.

It doesn’t make life any easier, but better to be free and be a questioner than to wrap your trunk around another elephant’s tail and march in an endless circle.

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book tree

For the few people who “follow” my blog it should come as no surprise that “The Wizard of Oz” is my favorite book for more reasons than I can fit into a readable blog. What few people might know is that while it might not be my favorite movie, it is my favorite movie every time I see it. And this evening I saw it again. (I’ve seen it so many times since it was released in 2000 that I’ve lost track.) The movie is the classic “Finding Forrester.” And because it combines my deepest love of writing and my equally deep love of following the yellow brick road, I find myself over the rainbow each and every time I get lost in “Finding Forrester.”  (It doesn’t hurt that the J.D. Salingerness of the movie makes it all the more heartfelt.)

I lose myself in the movie because it is a fantasy I wish I could own. It’s a movie about a number of different things, but most of all it’s about the struggle to dig down deep into your soul to find the words buried in your imagination. The fact that in the movie young Jamal is dismissed by people who don’t believe him or in him is a story I can relate to.

But there’s much more to the movie than that. There’s the tangential relationship between Jamal and William Forrester that grows into a deep friendship where the wall between what’s given and what’s taken comes crumbling down.

In the end, though, it’s still about the writing and the power of story and how mere words can fill the heart with hope and wonder. In the end, though, “Finding Forrester” is the story I wish was my story.

Everybody has a yellow brick road to follow. My road just happens to be paved with words. And while nothing I’ve ever written has been critically or even uncritically acclaimed, in the end it really doesn’t matter. Because in the end a writer can’t take his words with him, no more than a millionaire can take his money with him, a rock star can take his platinum records, or a super athlete can take his home runs.

We all only have a very limited time to live full lives. The yellow brick road is not only the one we  follow, it’s the one we build. As said, my road is paved with words. What’s your paved with?

Take a moment to listen to the music that defines Forrester. Best to close your eyes while you do.

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