Posts Tagged ‘Middletown’

Predictably Pre-conditioned Police

Tuesday, June 9th, 2020

By Bob Gaydos

The lead pre-cog in “Minority Report.”

The lead pre-cog in “Minority Report.”

     Most recent lockdown movie watched was “Minority Report,“ starring Tom Cruise. Talk about synchronicity.

     Cruise plays a police officer in the mid-21st century who is part of a special unit that arrests people for “pre-crimes.“ That is, crimes they were about to commit. Usually, the “pre-crime“ is murder.

     The “pre-crimes“ are predicted by pre-cogs — three drugged human beings floating in a pool of warm water who are wired to a computer system that allows others (the police) to monitor what is going on in the pre-cogs‘ minds. Precognition. The three, one female and two males, can see the future. They predict pre-murder victim and pre-murderer, as well as date and time. Cruise has to figure out where and get there in time to stop the crime and make an arrest, even though no crime has been committed. The pre-cogs are supposed to be infallible. It turns out they’re not. Cruise finds this out when he himself is named as a pre-murderer and has to prove his innocence before any crime is committed. 

       By now, the police in the film have become pre-conditioned to believe in precognition: This is what the precogs say, so it must be true. You did intend to kill this person. You are under arrest for the pre-crime of homicide. It’s kind of like some police today have become preconditioned to believe that if a male is black, he must be guilty of something and is dangerous to boot, so use whatever force is necessary in making an arrest. And the system says it’s justified.

        Just as the pre-cogs’ reputation for accuracy was based on a lie, so the preconditioning of some of today’s real-life police officers is based on generations of lies. George Floyd’s death in the custody of police in Minneapolis is the latest in a dismal series of similar incidents that entered my consciousness in Middletown, N.Y., in 1986. That the country and, in fact, much of the world has risen up to protest Floyd’s death is encouraging, but tragically long overdue.

       I was writing editorials for The Times Herald-Record, the local paper, when Jimmy Lee Bruce, a 20-year-old black man, died in the back of a patrol car near Middletown on Dec. 13, 1986. He and a group of friends from Ellenville, N.Y., had gone to a movie theater in a mall outside Middletown. The group became rowdy. There was drinking involved. Two white, off-duty Middletown police officers, acting as security guards, escorted the group out of the theater. A scuffle ensued. An officer applied a chokehold to Bruce and tossed him in the back of a police car, which had brought two on-duty Town of Wallkill police officers to the scene.

       The police then drove around for 7½ minutes looking for Bruce’s friends. When they returned to the theater, a state trooper, who had also arrived on the scene, shined a flashlight in the back of the patrol car and noticed the young man was not responding to the light. Police rushed him to a nearby hospital, but attempts to revive him failed.

       In my previous experience as a reporter talking to plenty of lawyers I had been told that any district attorney worth his salt could indict a ham sandwich. Apparently this was baloney. A grand jury considering the case ruled that Bruce’s death was an accident because the officers had used a technique – the chokehold (they called it a “sleeper”) — for which they had not been trained and which actually was prohibited by their department.

        There have since been too many similar stories between Bruce and Floyd, including Eric Garner, a victim of a chokehold applied by police on Staten Island in 2015. Excessive force used by a police officer resulting in the death of a black male and, most of the time, no action taken against the officer. You could almost predict it. Preconditioning.

         Following Bruce’s death, I wrote an editorial (later read into The Congressional Record on March 25, 1987 by Rep. Matthew F. McHugh) that said the grand jury that cleared the four police officers had actually indicted a system that had failed to properly train its police in handling such situations and for being slow to investigate the case, “raising suspicions of bigotry.” Would that I had the pre-cogs available to me then.

         The same factors, predictably, applied to the Eric Garner case 18 years later. Precognition? No. Preconditioning. Little had happened in the ensuing years to change the way most police departments recruit, train and discipline police officers. In fact, the situation was worsened by the giveaway of all kinds of military grade weapons to police departments. Without the proper training and handling of civil disturbances, such weapons will be used. And they were.

          So now, in the face of massive demonstrations including in front of the White House where a cowering Donald Trump fled to the bunker in the basement, politicians and police officials are finally recognizing what needed to be done more than 30 years ago: Diversify police recruiting. Weed out applicants with sketchy records. Give recruits more training on how to talk to the public, how to de-escalate tense situations and how to use force properly. Make it their duty to speak out about improper use of force. Get rid of that military hardware. Stop dressing like storm troopers. Become involved in the community. Act swiftly and surely to punish officers who abuse their position. Reestablish justice department review of police departments whose behavior is challenged by the public. Educate all officers on the First Amendment rights of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of peaceful assembly. Make the entire community part of this reconditioning process.

      It’s not impossible, not even difficult. It just needs a unified commitment to doing so. There have been moderately successful efforts in cities across the country to reform police departments in the wake of public outcry over the deaths, usually, of black males at the hands of police. Here in Middletown, police actually joined demonstrators recently in marching peacefully for reform. 

      “Black Lives Matter“ has now made this a national priority. In fact, the House of Representatives and the New York State Legislature have introduced legislation to ban the use of chokeholds by police — 34 years too late for Jimmy Lee Bruce, but perhaps just in time for future generations of black males.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Bob Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.

Country Life (and more) Midst COVID-19

Sunday, May 17th, 2020

Bob Gaydos

THE REPORT … emus, swans, secrecy and third parties

A couple of new neighbors. RJ photography

A couple of new neighbors.
RJ photography

  I’m a city boy. Bayonne, Binghamton, Annapolis, Middletown. Not big cities, but places where most stuff you need was in walking distance, there were downtowns, buses (in varying degrees), lots of kids, stickball, cats, dogs, and people you might nod and wave to. No emus.

      Today, I’m a country boy. Pine Bush. Burlingham actually. Slightly upstate New York (about 75 miles from the city), but definitely not urban or even suburban. It’s nice, except for the stuff you need not being in walking distance. The pandemic has made even that less of a nuisance since we’ve discovered that you can order anything online to be delivered to your door. It eliminates the human connection, but society has been working on that for some time now.

       Back to the emus. One of the pleasures of country living is the abundance of non-human neighbors. In the past I’ve commented on eagles, coyotes, owls, woodpeckers and the variety of visitors to our bird feeders (still just two cardinals). But that’s chicken feed compared to the menagerie we’ve seen on just one local road over the past few months.

       In the four-and-a-half miles under discussion, we have seen: Two stunning black swans, two emus, flocks of chickens, one beautiful white swan, one peacock (please get off the road)  a pig, two score of horses, herds of cows, four white, domesticated geese, Canada geese galore, a llama, several sheep (please stay off the road!), a blue heron, grazing herds of deer, a bull and one outspoken burro. A recent addition — a mare and her foal. Most of these are permanent residents we look forward to seeing regularly. Toto, we’re not in Bayonne anymore. By the way, I’ll give a shout out here to any reader who can identify this road.

       Hint: It’s in Orange County.

      — By the way … speaking of shouting out. Mitch McConnell is probably wishing he’d kept his mouth shut last week. The Senate majority leader first said that Barack Obama “should’ve kept his mouth shut” instead of criticizing the Dotard’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Classless,” McConnell suggested. He got mocked all over Twitter and Facebook for this absurd comment, given the lack of class demonstrated by the person he was defending. Then, McConnell had to eat crow by admitting that, contrary to what he and Dotard were saying, the Obama administration had indeed left a detailed playbook on how to handle future pandemics. Dotard got rid of it. That’s what happens when lying becomes so automatic you do it as naturally as breathing. McConnell is a disgrace.

       — By the way … Kentucky, the state represented by Republicans McConnell and the foolish Rand Paul, both of whom have objected to further stimulus funds for people who have lost their jobs because of COVID-19, is one of the states most economically impacted by the pandemic. This from the Lexington Herald-Leader: “Figures released Thursday show that another 103,548 Kentuckians filed for unemployment last week, bringing the total number of initial claims since the beginning of the novel coronavirus outbreak in mid-March to nearly 500,000, or 24 percent of the state’s total civilian workforce. Two analyses from financial technology companies show Kentucky is one of the most-impacted states when measuring the number of claims as a percentage of the workforce, and when measuring the percentage increase in unemployment claims from the start of the COVID-19 crisis.” But hey, Kentuckians, keep electing these yohos because, you know, they’re poking fingers in the eyes of The Man.  And you’re about to lose your old Kentucky home. 

        — By the way … A lot of state and local governments have used the pandemic as an excuse to make it difficult or impossible to get access to public records. Many are routinely denying Freedom of Information requests. Of course, at the same time, these governments are making major decisions and spending billions fighting COVID-19. Not a time when government secrecy should be encouraged. David Snyder, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, a California-based nonprofit fighting this trend, says, “It’s just essential that the press and the public be able to dig in and see records that relate to how the government has responded to the crisis. That’s the only way really to avoid waste, fraud, abuse and to ensure that governments aren’t overstepping their bounds.” Or to find out if they even have a clue as to what they’re doing.

        — By the way … Rep. Justin Amash, an independent Michigan congressman who had the guts and good sense to quit the Republican Party, has again come to his senses and given up his foolhardy and potentially damaging bid to run for president as a Libertarian. (You didn’t know?) Amash blamed COVID-19 (it’s become a handy multi-purpose excuse) for making it so difficult to campaign. Call it a mercy killing. He didn’t mention that maybe he had no shot at winning and the effort would mostly be an exercise in ego and spreading routinely rejected Libertarian views. He was running because of his dislike for Drumpf, which is commendable, but his candidacy would also have gotten votes from Republicans and others who don’t like Drumpf, but can’t find themselves voting for Joe Biden or another Democrat. Shades of Ralph Nader and Al Gore and Hillary Clinton and Jill Stein. This is no year for symbolic votes, people.

Bob Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

 

I Finally Got to Woodstock. Peace.

Thursday, August 22nd, 2019

By Bob Gaydos

Turning on the lights at the Woodstock 50 celebration.

Turning on the lights at the Woodstock 50 celebration.

By the time I got to Woodstock, I was 78 years old and walking with a cane. I fit right in.

And it was fun.

Unlike the ill-fated Woodstock 50 concert that was apparently planned with the same “whatever-I-think-of-next” model Michael Lang used 50 years ago, the Woodstock 50 celebration at Bethel Woods, site of the original festival in 1969, was a well-organized, enjoyable tribute that attracted fans of all ages, although it definitely trended geriatric. The gray-haired easily outnumbered the tie-dyed, although some were both.

I missed the original festival of peace and love, even though I was within striking distance, working as city editor for The Sun-Bulletin in Binghamton at the time. It was about an hours’ drive away and I’ve kind of regretted the missed opportunity as the Woodstock mystique grew. As I vaguely recall, we didn’t think it was worth the time (and money) to send someone to a hippie fest on a farm for three days.

Anyhow, the Middletown paper had it covered and, as the fates would have it, I wound up working for that paper (for 29 years), living and retiring in Sullivan County, not far from Bethel and Yasgur’s farm and available as an emergency fill-in for a friend with an extra ticket who called and said, “Want to see Santana at Bethel Saturday?”

Which is a run-on sentence on how I got to Woodstock.

I said yes. Honestly, not because I’m a big Santana fan, but because of the history and the quiet hope that it would be an event to remember in the spirit of the original. It was

The Doobie Brothers as an opening act did a great job of loosening the crowd of 15,000. Women danced, beach balls bounced, the Doobies rocked and everyone sang. The early rain stopped, the later lightning went away. No rain.

Also no arguing. No loud drunks. No fights. A faint aroma of pot from time to time. “A mellow Woodstock,” a tie-dyed Social Security recipient strolling by said to no in particular.

Which was what I was hoping for. We are not a mellow nation at the moment. Nor were we 50 years ago when nearly half a million mostly young, many stoned individuals brought traffic to a standstill, then enjoyed and eventually survived an utterly unprepared event thanks to the kindness of countless strangers. Peace and love.

It’s what Santana talked about when he come to the front of the stage to welcome the crowd: “Unconditional love. Compassion. Peace.”

3739CADA-6E0A-4831-BC48-EDE613FDD2A5That’s what this anniversary concert was about, he said, and in my mind I agreed with him that, at least that’s what this concert ought to be about.

He had only gotten a few bars into “Turn Your Lights On,” when the hillside came alive with thousands of swaying lights, as cell phones added a new dimension to the song, which for me had a message of hope for trying times: “There’s a monster living under my bed, whispering in my ear.” But also: “There’s an angel with a hand on my head. She says I’ve got nothing to fear.” I used to doubt angels.

The moment was special, but it was his version of John Lennon’s “Imagine” that cinched the deal for me:

“You may say that I’m a dreamer 

But I’m not the only one 

I hope someday you’ll join us 

And the world will be as one …”

The words came easily and knowingly from thousands of voices, young and old, across the Bethel landscape and I uttered a silent, “Please” to myself.

Santana rocked on quite a bit longer, there was more dancing and there were fireworks to seal the deal, but my (good!) friend and I left early, more than satisfied with Woodstock’s golden birthday. Many others came early and stayed late, also happy to have been there. The people who run Bethel Woods had the event planned to the smallest detail. Traffic control, the biggest concern, was no problem.

Also no anger. No fighting. No name-calling. Just music, dancing, singing, peace, love and respect for all, for one night at least, on a hillside in Upstate New York. Just what I hoped it would be. Sure, you may say I’m a dreamer, but I did finally get to Woodstock.

Bob Gaydos is a freelance writer. rjgaydos@gmail.com

Once There Was a Place …

Sunday, March 5th, 2017

(A news obit, written & filed to Facebook  on June 25, 2016).

By Jeremiah Horrigan

Jeremiah Horrrigan

Jeremiah Horrrigan

A desk. A phone. A computer. A place to hang your hat, or just a place to hang. It doesn’t sound very glamorous. Certainly not romantic. Until it all disappears.

I’m going to a wake tomorrow. Not a wake for a person. A wake for what most people would call an office. Those of us who worked there called it “the bureau.” It was a place where news was discovered, reported and written about. My connection to it ended a little more than a year ago. Everybody else’s connection to it — the list is long — ended on yesterday. After more than 20 years, the Ulster County bureau of the Middletown Times Herald-Record was officially shuttered. Killed off by the usual suspects — greedy owners, inept managers, the internet, the times. Dead and dying newspapers like The Record have such a rich variety of villains to blame for their demise, it hardly seems worth reporting the cause of death, it’s become so mundane.

Over its 20 years, the bureau occupied several offices across the county, all of them bare-bones, usually situated on the cheap side of town. Or even out of town. I’ve been a reporter who worked out of all the county’s bureaus, almost from the day the paper waded into the county. When I worked there, I thought of the bureau, when I thought of it at all, as a place. A place where I went to do my job. That meant sitting at a desk and working the phone and kibitzing with colleagues and writing stories and cursing editors I never saw and officials I saw too often, usually at night in drafty town halls or, less often, at some sweltering murder scene or worst of all, at a cemetery where a solitary bugler played Taps and young men wept bitter tears.

No one’s going to weep at tomorrow’s wake. We’ll drink beer and curse managers who wouldn’t dare set foot on the premises, the owner/ investors who see us as cogs in their money-making machine. We’ll toast each other and praise absent friends. And we’ll tell stories on and about each other and those friends, stories being the point of it all.

And then we’ll all go home. And once there, we’ll be alone with our thoughts and at least one of us will wonder where the time went and he’ll look for comfort in the usual direction he turns to. He’ll look to the past because he’s an old newspaperman and a sentimental fool who knows in his bones there’s no longer a place — a bureau — where what was best about newspapers can ever happen again.

Jeremiah Horrigan is an award-winning newspaper reporter, now retired, who has spent his professional life telling other people’s stories  Over the years, his freelance essays, columns and features have appeared in The New York Times, Sports Illustrated  and the Miami Herald. These days, he tells his story in Salon, Memoir Journal, narratively.com and in several national anthologies, including Woodstock Revisited and Pulse: Voices from the Heart of Medicine. He writes a bylined blog for the Huffington Post and is the author of a memoir, Fortunate Son: A Dying Father, an Angry Son and the War on the Home Front.

Ali, Me and Two Guys Named Frank

Sunday, June 5th, 2016

By Bob Gaydos

Frank Giannino (left) and Frank Shorter

               Frank Giannino (left) and Frank Shorter                                                                  photo by Bob Gaydos

Muhammad Ali was the most famous person on the planet for much of his life and mine. It’s possible that, even in death, he still held that distinction, even though he had long ago lost the physical skills that originally brought him to the world’s attention as Cassius Clay. He was young, brash and, in his own immodest opinion, “the greatest” at what he did.

What he did, of course, was “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee,” while making his opponents in the most brutal of sports, boxing, look foolish. As Clay, he was unquestionably the best — the heavyweight champion of the world. The title itself conveyed a measure of fame. But it was as Ali that he became most famous and, eventually, beloved and respected by millions.

Not by all, of course. He was human, with faults and flaws. But also, as it turned out, he was a man with deep-rooted convictions. He demonstrated them as Cassius Clay by refusing to report for the draft during the Vietnam War, declaring that he had no argument with the Vietnamese people and would not kill them on the orders of a government — his own — that had denied, and continued to deny, him and other blacks basic rights from the very founding of this nation.

He was threatened with arrest and imprisonment, with the loss of his boxing crown and, as he well recognized, with the loss of millions of dollars. “Lock me up,” he said. In the end, as Muhammad Ali, a Muslim, he won his battle in the courts, reclaimed his boxing title in the ring, continued to speak out against bigotry and became a symbol of courage and respect worldwide.

Ali died last week, at 74, largely the result of the punishment he took in the boxing ring by coming back to prove he was still the greatest. Having just turned 75 myself a few days earlier, I was thinking about Ali and what we do with our lives after a certain point, but more specifically, about people who achieve something special, something unique, something that, if you really think about it, should make you stop and say, “Wow.”

As fate would have it (pay attention, fate is always having it), I found myself at an event in my area that offered up two men in one high school sports arena who’d had their own “wow” moments — Frank Shorter and Frank Giannino.

To say they are both former long-distance runners would be like saying Ali had good footwork in the ring. Shorter started running to school as a young teenager every day, from one side of the City of Middletown to the other, and wound up winning the gold medal in the Olympics marathon in Munich in 1972, a feat credited by many with sparking the running boom in the United States. He followed up with a silver medal four years later.

Giannino, who, despite success, described himself as a “no-talent ultra-marathoner” in high school, went a little farther. Actually, a lot farther. In 1980, he completed what remains to this day, the fastest run across the United States: 3,100 miles in 46 days, 8 hours and 36 minutes. It’s still listed in Guinness; you can look it up.

Both men were in Middletown, N.Y., on a warm Saturday morning, encouraging young runners, the men’s mere presence a testament that special achievements can be as close as your next-door neighbor. Hey, if Frank could do it … Unlike Ali, both Franks excelled in a sport that allows its participants to age more gracefully and sometimes still enjoy it. But they have not rested on their laurels.

Giannino, 64, owns a running store and has shown that determination and discipline that took him across the country 36 years ago in organizing and promoting local running events for years. In fact, he was instrumental in resurrecting the popular running event at which we were all present. 

Shorter, 68, appears at running events and is a motivational speaker. But he has also served as chairman of the United States Anti Doping Agency, the independent agency which has a stated mission of being “the guardian of the values and life lessons learned through true sport.”

Shorter stepped down as USADA chairman in 2003. He has testified before Congress and written articles about drugs in sports. He says he is still involved “unofficially” in keeping sports clean. “I don’t want to sound mysterious,” he said, “but I’m still involved. What’s going on with the Olympics today is that they’re finally doing what they said they were doing years ago. … They told us they couldn’t keep samples for any length of time. Now look. …”

“I don’t do this for the recognition,” he added.

No kidding. Rooting out cheaters in sports is as popular in some areas (Lance Armstrong fan clubs for example) as refusing to report for the draft on moral grounds.

I guess my lesson learned here is that, whatever you do, whatever you may have accomplished, for as long you can, you keep showing up for life. You lace up your running shoes and stay true to your principles. And don’t forget to acknowledge people who do special things. It never hurts to hear a little “wow” once in a while.

I think I may have read that before. I may have even written it before. But wasn’t this much more enjoyable than politics?

rjgaydos@gmail.com

 

Memorable Moments in Sports, for Me

Monday, February 9th, 2015

By Bob Gaydos

Frank Shorter, left, and Bill Rodgers, racing to the finish line in the first Orange Classic.

Frank Shorter, left, and Bill Rodgers, racing to the finish line.

The Super Bowl has been lost, baseball has yet to begin. The basketball and hockey professionals are passing the time until June, when their championships will be decided. lt has snowed three Mondays in a row. It must be February, the time of year when a lot of sports fans turn their attention to another favorite pastime — talking about sports.

Forget the dropped passes and ground balls that rolled through an infielder’s legs; this is the time of year I like to remember the good stuff, the memorable stuff, the stuff that makes someone a sports fan in the first place.

I found myself wandering into such a conversation the other day. What was the best single athletic feat ever? The greatest athletic accomplishment? Too arbitrary and prone to record-book chasing, I decided. For my February reminiscence, I’m going with the moments in sports that left an indelible mark on me — the tImes when I experienced something in person or on TV and went, “Wow!,” if just to myself.

The hope here is that you readers will share your own special moments in sports so that we can have an old-fashioned Hot Stove League discussion. Mantle-Mays-Snider? Montana-Unitas-Brady? The “Immaculate Reception?” Willis Reed’s entrance? What special moments in sports are still with you?

  • I’m starting my list of most memorable moments with an effort I have often called the best single performance by any athlete — Secretariat’s 31-length victory in the Belmont Stakes in 1973. In winning the Triple Crown and dominating the best of the rest of the three-year-olds, he set a world record time for the 1 1/2 miles distance – 2 minutes 24 seconds. Awesome. Check it out on YouTube.
  • Also in the category of “can you believe it?” was a more recent display of excellence in the moment — Derek Jeter’s 3,000th hit on July 9, 2011. With all the baseball world waiting for the hit that would guarantee the Yankee captain a plaque in Cooperstown, Jeter just wanted it to not be an infield grounder that he beat out. No worry. He laced a home run into the left field seats at Yankee Stadium, trotted around the bases with a big smile on his face and proceeded to go five-for-five, including hitting the game-winning single in the eighth inning. Then there were the dives and the flips, the final hit, etc. A memorable career in toto.
  • Willie Mays, another New Yorker, of earlier vintage, was also a player who rose to the moment. I have plenty of special memories of Willie, including a day at the Polo Grounds in the 1950s when the Giants’ center fielder hit three triples in a double-header (they used to play them for the price of one game). I can’t find anything on Google to confirm this, but that’s how I remember it and I’m sticking to my memory.
  • Since this is just my personal recounting of memorable sports moments, I have never seen anyone better than Mickey Mantle at dragging a bunt past the pitcher and getting to first base before the second baseman got to the ball. Every single time.
  • When it comes to pure excellence, for me the performance by 14-year-old Nadia Comaneci at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal is in a class of its own. The tiny Romanian gymnast scored the first perfect 10 for a gymnastic event at the Olympics and added four more perfect scores that year while winning three gold medals and dazzling the world TV audience. Since the scoreboard makers didn’t think a 10 was possible, they only allowed for a 9.9. Four years later, there were updated scoreboards in Moscow.
  • The fastest I ever ran was in 1956, sprinting home six blocks from Bayonne High School, where we had been listening to the game on transistor radios, to see the final outs of the Yankees’ Don Larsen’s perfect game against the Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series. On our black and white TV. It’s the highest Yogi ever leapt, too, I think.
  • In 1981, the Times Herald-Record newspaper sponsored the first Orange Classic, a 10K race around the City of Middletown. It invited local hero Frank Shorter, 1972 Olympic gold medal winner and 1976 silver medal winner, and his chief rival, Bill Rodgers, Boston and New York CIty marathon champion, to headline the event. They did not fail to deliver. The two turned the corner on the final stretch of the race well ahead of the field, running neck and neck for more than a quarter mile as the crowd cheered. Shorter edged Rodgers out at the end. It was as perfect a finish as the crowd could hope for and, no, I’ve never thought Rodgers held back because it was Shorter’s hometown. A truly classic moment.
  • The Miracle on Ice. I admit it. I was swept up with the rest of the crowd chanting, “USA! USA!” when a team of American college all-stars defeated a team of Russian professionals, 4-3, in ice hockey at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid. Winning the gold medal that year was almost an after-thought for the American team following that emotional upset. An unforgettable moment.
  • Finally, a purely personal moment that came far from any athletic venue. In 1973, while covering a sports-related conference in Binghamton, N.Y., I shook hands with Jackie Robinson and told him what a pleasure it was to meet him. It was more than that. It was memorable.

***

That’s it. Just a few moments that have nourished my love of sports over the years. I’d really like to hear some of yours. C’mon, folks, it’s February. The Knicks are dismal, it’s snowing and the Stanley Cup final is months away. Reminisce with me.

 rjgaydos@gmail.com

 

The Measure of the Man, II

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

By Bob Gaydos

John F. Kennedy

John F. Kennedy

The first editorial I wrote for the Times Herald-Record in Middletown, N.Y., appeared on the 20th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. I wrote the headline, too: “The measure of the man.”

Trying to “measure” the meaning of the life of a man who was literally loved and idolized by millions of people is no easy task, especially for a rookie editorial writer’s debut effort. But that’s what newspapers do and, in truth, I took it as a good omen that remembering JFK was my first assignment. He was a hero to me as to many young men my age when he was elected president. It was a combination of things: his youth, his wit, his easy-going style, his intelligence, his words, his sense of justice. Plus, we shared the same birthdate: May 29.

As fate would have it, JFK would come to be remembered, not on his birthday, but on the anniversary of his death. And not so much for what Americans received for having him as president for 1,000 days, but rather for what we lost by not having him much longer.

That first editorial said, in essence, that it would take more than 20 years to measure the meaning of the man. It acknowledged the things we had learned about JFK in the years since the shooting in Dallas — the flaws that made him human — as well as what I felt were his positive contributions.

Thirty years later, no longer a rookie editorial writer — indeed, retired after 23 years of writing editorials — with Nov. 22 approaching, I realized I had to write about JFK 50 years after his death (because that’s what old newspaper guys do). Before I started, I asked one of my reliable sounding boards, my son, Zack, what he knew about JFK. Zack is 19 and better informed than a lot of young people his age, so I figured his answer would provide me with a fair sense of what our education system had been telling kids about Kennedy.

“He was the first Catholic president,” Zack said. Correct. “He had an affair with Marilyn Monroe.” Uh, correct. ‘There’s still some theories that there was more than one shooter.” Right. “Do you think the Kevin Costner movie (“JFK,” directed by Oliver Stone) was true?” Well, the people portrayed were real. “The Bay of Pigs didn’t go too well.” No, it didn’t.

I took the opportunity to point out that Cuba was the site, not only of Kennedy’s biggest failure in global affairs, but also his biggest success. I was a little older than Zack is now when the world stood at the brink of a nuclear war over the presence of Soviet missile-launching sites in Cuba, aimed at the United States. I was a senior in college and knew full well, as did all my classmates, than no 2-S deferment was going to exempt me from what might happen if the Soviets did not — as Kennedy demanded — remove their missiles.

Kennedy ordered the U.S. Navy to blockade Cuba to prevent the shipment of Soviet missiles and equipment. Nikita Khrushchev, Soviet president, who had initially denied the existence of the missile sites, sent a naval fleet to Cuba, loaded with supplies and armed for battle. As the world watched and waited and prayed, Kennedy and Khrushchev exchanged messages. Kennedy prevailed. The Soviet fleet stopped short of Cuba and turned around. I lived to write this remembrance. Kennedy was dead not long after.

So here I am 50 years later, still looking to take the measure of the man and still wondering how that is possible. Kennedy had the gift of engagement. He appeared to be comfortable with whomever he was speaking. He had tremendous appeal to young people, being so different from the older, stodgier presidents who preceded him. He created the Peace Corps — a legacy that continues to this day with not enough fanfare. He made many Americans — and this is not a small thing — truly proud to be Americans. Not in an arrogant, flag-waving, we-know-better-than-you way. Just proud.

And he cheated on his wife and kept his serious health problems a secret from us and sometimes needed to be prodded by his brother, Bobby (another tragic loss) to take the proper (courageous) stand on issues. So the question I still ask myself is, what might JFK have done, what might he have meant to America and the world, if he had lived longer? What did we lose at Dealey Plaza?

Certainly, whatever innocence we still possessed. The wind was sucked from our sails as a nation and our domestic politics have slowly and steadily deteriorated into such partisanship that is virtually impossible for any president to speak to the minds and hearts of a majority of Americans the way Kennedy did. Maybe it would have happened even if Kennedy had lived a longer life and gone on to be an ambassador to the world of what America stands for. Or maybe not.

It dawns on me in writing this that it is an ultimately frustrating task to try to take the measure of another man or woman. I know what JFK meant to me personally. I know a lot of others feel similarly and others do not. I know what history has recorded (he was also the youngest man to be elected president) and what the tabloids have told us. I have a sense of what I would like to think Kennedy would ultimately have meant had he not died so young. But it’s only speculation.

The only man I can truly take the measure of is myself. It is 50 years since that morning when I was waiting at home to go to Fort Dix, N.J., to begin six months of active duty training. How do I measure up today? That’s a question I work on every day. It wasn’t always thus, but the years have a way of insisting on perspective. Maybe the answer will appear in some other writing. I have neither the space nor the inclination to do so here. I will say that, on balance, I’ll probably give myself a passing grade, but there’s still some stuff I’m learning.

For now, I’m through trying to take the measure of JFK, as man or president. Let the historians have at it. I’m going to try to take his advice and ask not what life can do for me, but what I can contribute to life. And I’m also going to remember to honor him not on the date he died, but on the date we both were born.

bob@zestoforange.com

What’s It All About, Faust?

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013

faustBy Bob Gaydos

I was privileged recently to enjoy a local opera company’s production of “Faust,” by Charles Gounod. Based on Goethe’s legendary German tale, this is no easy opera to tackle and the Hudson Opera Theatre in Middletown, N.Y., more than did it justice.

I also came away from the production with a renewed awareness of what a cad Faust was. Or was he a rake? A rapscallion perhaps? Good words all, and yet each with a slightly different take on what kind of scoundrel the opera’s title character was. They are also words that, unfortunately, have pretty much disappeared from use in American conversation.

What would Faust be called today, in everyday American English? I wondered. Hmm, a disillusioned old man, a scholar no less, who makes a deal with the Devil to provide Faust with youth and the unquestioning love, adoration and physical pleasures of young women. In return, Faust agrees to give his soul to the Devil forever, in Hell. Faust even identifies the object of his desires — a young, teenaged virgin, Marguerite, who is impressed with his seeming sophistication and his attention to her — and the Devil helps him woo and win her with a dazzling array of jewels. In the process of his “conquest,” Faust gives the girl a sleeping potion (provided by the Devil) to give to her mother so that she will not disturb their night of, let’s call it love-making. The potion kills the mother, leaving Marguerite guilt-racked and further vulnerable to the attentions of Faust, who promptly abandons her.

Long story short: Marguerite gets pregnant, is ostracized by a society that doesn’t look kindly on young, unmarried mothers and is brutally condemned by her brother, a soldier returned from the wars. In utter depression, with nowhere seemingly to turn, she kills her baby, is arrested, thrown in prison and condemned to death. At this point, Faust, the lout, returns with an offer to help her escape (again, courtesy of the Devil).

Clearly, the man is an a–hole.

At least, that’s what he’d be called today, I concluded. That’s it. One overused obscenity providing not the slightest clue as to the true nature of the man’s churlish behavior. It seems to me that when words lose their precision they eventually lose their meaning. Communication gets fuzzy. And so, Congress is a bunch of a___s. The president is an a____. The guy who cut me off in traffic is an a____. My boss is an a______. My brother-in-law is a flaming a______. Rush Limbaugh is an a______. (Well, sometimes it works.)

In the spirit of the late Bill Safire, I have compiled a list of words that could be used — once upon a time were used — to describe men of questionable, if not dubious, character. You may have noticed a few sprinkled throughout this piece. In the process, I have become impressed with the diversity of choices the English language once offered to describe insensitive blaggards like Faust.

There’s a good one. Blaggard, or blackguard. It’s derived from

Old English usage, meaning a “black-hearted” person. Like Faust. It can mean a villain, a rogue (another rarely used good word), an evil person or someone with dubious morals. Faust personified.

Let’s go back to “cad.” It is defined in one dictionary as “an ill-bred man, especially one who behaves in a dishonorable or irresponsible way toward women.” Perfect.

For the record, my list thus far includes: scoundrel; wastrel; ne’er-do-well; rogue; cad; lout; laggard; reprobate; scalawag; rapscallion; rascal; bounder; oaf; blackguard; boor; and dolt

The French, of course, always have a word for anything. In this case, considering it’s a French opera, the perfect word for Faust is roue. A roue is defined as a dissolute person. That is, someone devoid of most moral value, especially one who places values on sensual pleasures. Think Michael Caine in “Alfie” and Warren Beatty in “Shampoo.” Matthew Mcconaughey in most anything today. The word roue comes from rouer, meaning to break on the wheel, the feeling being that such a person deserves to be punished in this manner.

A roue is the French version of a favorite of mine, a rake, which leads to the exquisite lothario and libertine and, eventually, to perhaps the one commonly used modern word that accurately fits the young-teenager-loving Faust: lech.

I’m open to further suggestions for my list. Indeed, if we weren’t such a nation of language lay-abouts and if we weren’t in such apparent denial about the variety of villains in society today, we could revive some of these perfectly usable and descriptive words. And we could give the A-word a much-needed rest.

bob@zestoforange.com

 

Years Later, the Pain Remains

Wednesday, October 10th, 2012

A protest in Boston on Mothers Day, 2002. Reuter's photo by Jim Bourg.

By Bob Gaydos

This is going to be personal. Not just online blog personal, but in your gut, or should I say, in my gut personal. If you’re looking for politics, you won’t find it here. Our political institutions are a sham, self-serving and deceitful. This is about that other major institution you’re not supposed to talk about at polite dinner parties: religion.

Well, one religion. Catholicism. The one I was born into and eventually left. My intent here is not to offend or anger anyone who practices the faith or to challenge its teachings. In a sense, it’s not really about Catholicism at all. As religions go, I think it’s as good as any other if it fulfills one’s spiritual needs.

This is really about the people — the men — who control the Roman Catholic Church and who are, I believe, supposed to be spiritual role models. Instead, like politicians, many Church leaders, I also believe, are largely self-serving and deceitful. Driven by ego. Unlike politicians, they have the benefit of confessing their sins to each other and being forgiven.

This uncomfortable feeling about some of the good fathers of the Roman Catholic Church is not new. It has, however, been dormant. It was awakened with suddenness and surprising force for me recently as I read a story in the Middletown (N.Y.) Times Herald-Record written by my colleague, Steve Israel. It concerned two predators who had sexually abused many young boys while serving as Roman Catholic priests in local parishes in the mid-Hudson.

Steve had written about these men years ago when, no thanks to the Church, their behavior became public knowledge. Likewise, as editorial page editor of The Record at the time, I had written opinions about the priests and the manner in which the Church mishandled their cases. Yet as I read Steve’s recent article (prompted by the impending sentencing of Penn State sex predator Jerry Sandusky), I found my eyes welling up with tears and feeling a profound sadness and anger bordering on rage. I felt personally offended.

The sadness was for the victims and their families who, as they told Steve, must carry the hurt and humiliation, the angry memories, with them every day of their lives.

The rage was not for Edward Pipala or Francis Stinner, the local priests who betrayed their positions of trust. They are what they are. Pray for them, or not, as you choose. Rather, it was for their superiors, those bishops. monsignors and cardinals who knew what the priests were, what they had done, what they would continue to do if not stopped, and still let them do it, for no reason other than to protect the name of the Roman Catholic Church and, not so coincidentally, their positions of influence within it.

Thanks to someone’s merciful god, Pipala, Stinner, and dozens of other sexual predators in the priesthood around the globe, were eventually exposed. Some, including Pipala, served prison time. But this only happened after many years of the church paying millions of dollars in hush money to victims for their promise to remain silent, of moving predatory priests from one parish to another, often to positions that involved mentoring teenaged boys, and of refusing to report the sexual assaults as crimes to local police. Many years, many more victims. And many denials by Church spokesmen.

Where, in any testament or gospel or papal edict — never mind universal, common decency — is such collusion and conspiracy to conceal thousands of sexual assaults against young boys not to be considered the gravest of mortal sins as well as a crime? How in any god’s name do church leaders continue to preach against such perceived “evils” as homosexuality or contraception — both of which are widely accepted by Catholics — while they are still cleaning up the very real mess of decades of priests having sex with young boys and the Church doing nothing about it? Is hypocrisy not in the Vatican’s dictionary? Shame? Sorrow? Repentance?

I was an altar boy in my youth, but our church was of the Byzantine rite. When that church merged with the Roman Catholic, priests who were married, like ours, were allowed to remain married. Some suggest that allowing priests to marry or allowing women to become priests would reduce the number of sexual predators in the priesthood. Certainly diminish the tendency to cover up their crimes. But when the nuns who do the in-person works of faith of the Church have dared to encourage discussion of these topics, as well as same-sex marriage or contraception, they have been threatened with punishment by the Vatican. Still, the heavy veil of silence rules. The mere discussion of important social issues is seen as a threat to the Church and its all-male leadership.

One thing politicians do find out is that credibility is an invaluable commodity. Lose it and you lose the voters. The Church is losing parishioners in droves and few young men are flocking to join the priesthood. The reasons for this are right in front of their eyes, but many of the leaders of the Church continue to ignore them and to act as if all will be well if they do so.

The sex scandal will remain a sordid, unfathomable chapter in the history of the Roman Catholic Church, certainly as long as the victims are alive and, one hopes, so long as people of good conscience are around to make sure history is not rewritten.

Sincere acts of contrition by those responsible for committing and perpetuating this crime against humanity would certainly be welcome. As for those men of the cloth who see no need for such displays of humility, fortunately, their religion is one that believes in Hell. Personally, an eternity there seems fair.