February 2014


Playing Games in Mother Nature



I have always maintained half facetiously—or maybe even a third facetiously—that bad weather builds character. And in addition to testing our ability to react to adversity, it makes us appreciate the sunny days of life even more—literally and figuratively. A POV when repeated over time, has invariably elicited eye rolls from the kids. But in having to work through, or overcome tough conditions, one gets to learn something about oneself. Which suggests that the folks of Fargo, might be geniuses in self knowledge.


All of that said, and while it has been sung that “life is just a bowl of cherries,” it will not be a Super Bowl of cherries this year. For the first time ever, this one, XLVIII (“48” for the Roman-numerically challenged), will be played outdoors in winter weather. While not exactly North Dakota (a stunning -1º there as I write), the “Christified” state of New Jersey is no day at the beach either, unless you’re a member of the Polar Bear Club.


Forecasts as of this writing, are for a night low of 31º with a 60% chance of rain/snow showers, for this game to be played on Groundhog’s Day. (Wonder if Punxsutawney Phil will make an appearance at halftime?). And for good measure, it will take place at one of the ugliest sports venues I have ever been in, MetLife Stadium, at which I found myself at Jets-Giants game on Christmas Eve two years ago. It was a balmy 33º that afternoon.


Anyway, as Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News has noted, “If this is such a great idea, how come it took 48 Super Bowls to put this theory into play?” It makes one wonder if this one should be called the Stupid Bowl. We’ll see.


In another sport, the National Hockey League’s “Winter Classic” played in Michigan on New Year’s Day this year, 105,000 fans sat in a snowy 13º day, to watch the Maple Leafs beat the Red Wings 3-2. It was the largest crowd in history at a hockey game. NHL games are usually played indoors in 18-20,000 seating capacity arenas (for those who don’t follow the puck). But a few years ago, someone thought it would be cool to take the game outside as a novelty, and it has since caught on. And TV ratings have gone through the roof….or the un-roof in this case. Given their growing popularity, more outdoor hockey games have been added to the schedule, with two recent ones being played at Yankee Stadium late last month.


Overcoming adversity, in whatever form it might come our way, is one thing. But to willingly and passively subject ourselves to it? To sit there in sub freezing temperatures and wind chill factors off the charts for several hours, to watch grown men playing mini-war games? Especially in those cases where the element of bad weather could have been avoided altogether by playing them in warmer climates or in domed stadia?


But the king of all bad weather games occurred in what came to be called the Ice Bowl, played in Green Bay in which the Packers defeated the Cowboys for the NFL title on December 31, 1967.



It was -15 degrees at game time with a wind chill of -48, a “Polar Vortex,” though no one had ever heard of that term until about yesterday. Yet 50,861 fans were on hand that day.


What is our specie trying to prove? That we are made of the right stuff? And perhaps trying to overcome a latent insecurity that we really might not be? That even though we can’t play the game, we are in the game all the same, so to speak? That we’ve achieved something by showing up in the face, not only of adversity, but of absurdity? Are we there to root for our team… or to root for ourselves? Just asking.







Quote of the Month

"The deeper sources of happiness usually involve a state of going somewhere, becoming better at something, learning more about something, overcoming difficulty and experiencing a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment."


—David Brooks
                                  The New York Times, January 3, 2014




Lads from Liverpool Arriving in Our Living Room

On Sunday February 9, 1964, 73 million viewers, one-third of the U.S. population at the time, would tune in to the Ed Sullivan Show to watch four lads from Liverpool kick off a “British Invasion” of Rock ‘n Roll in America. With the first line of “Close your eyes and I’ll kiss you…” from “All My Loving,” and through the four more songs they would sing that night, the screaming was non-stop. Shades of the Bobby Soxers’ adulation of Sinatra at the Paramount, we were told by our elders.


I would get to witness this phenomenon live at the peak of “Beatlemania” a year and a half later at Shea Stadium in August of ’65. The crowd noise was so deafening, that none of the 55,000 of us there that night, could hear anything for the entire 35 minutes The Beatles were on stage. It was just about the being there, I realized, one song in.


Later of course would come the dramatic metamorphosis in their music and lifestyle, which as legend has it, actually began when they met Bob Dylan and he introduced them to cannabis six months after that first Sullivan appearance. Of course we didn’t know where this would all go at the time, as not even The Beatles themselves would have any idea where their journey would take them.


Ah, but that Sunday night.


The tease had come about a month or so prior when radio stations began to play “I Wanna’ Hold Your Hand,” by these guys with long hair (they were referred to as “mop tops,” so shockingly unstylish were they to a previous crew-cut generation), who had taken England by storm. They were due to land at the recently renamed JFK airport on February 7th, with an unabashed intent to do the same thing here. Yeah, right, we alpha male teens thought.


Yet, hearing that rather simple song for the first time —while in a pool hall not far from where the New York World Trade Center would come to be built—I remember thinking it was unlike anything I’d heard before. It had an “other-terrestrialness” about it, for want of a better descriptive. What with their odd sounding voices and harmonic blending, it could not be compared with anything rock ‘n roll—only about ten years old itself at that point—had produced. At least not to this ear weaned on the testosterone driven sounds of Elvis, Bill Haley and the Comets and various black and doo wop groups, or on the other end the spectrum, even the falsettos of Frankie Valle and the like.


Watching the show that evening and seeing all these teenage girls screaming (there were only about 700 people in the audience though it seemed like thousands what with all the frenzy), a young man dare not admit that he got caught up in any of that female silliness. And in an Economics class that following Monday morning, when the professor at this all male college opened up a discussion on the Beatles’ performance of the previous night, the roomful of twenty or so students, was unanimous in its scoffing and dismissal of their talent. The Beatles were a novelty that would quickly fade was the unanimous consensus. Unanimous that is, save for one guy who had the cojones to proclaim them “Great!” Fifty years later, he lives in Virginia, we are still in touch, and had dinner not all that long ago.


There are few things about which one can say: “We will never see the likes of that again.” Though we seem to say that very thing all the time. We say it whenever we experience something new and astonishing often relating to the various miracles of technology (only to see them get trumped by “Miracles 2.0” soon after), we say it in the face of some remarkable singular achievement in some field of endeavor, or we say it when something or someone so celebrated, passes from the scene. But I think it is safe to say, we will never see, in its totality, and on that night in particular, the likes of The Beatles again. And it’s hard to imagine an American TV variety show with anything approaching the magnitude and impact that Ed Sullivan had on the culture back in the day. We are much too fragmented in our tastes, lifestyles and media choices to sit around a TV set as a family watching an allegedly “second coming” from some entertainment act blowing in from somewhere around the world.


The Rolling Stones who are still together and going strong after 50 years, and who are often reference points of comparison, in that pop psych question often posed: “Are you a Beatles person or a Stones person?” (akin to the question regarding cat vs. dog lovers), are still essentially a rock band. Beginning on that February night 50 years ago, The Beatles were, and still continue to be, something much more than that. Yeah, yeah, yeah!




Mourning Coffee

Where is that thought
so searing with insight
that it burns a hole in the paper?
That causes some smoke alarm
to go off somewhere
in this place in which we live?


Where are the words
so exacting to describe it?
That start out so hot to the touch
                                     then simmer
                   then cool
then get crumpled and tossed
into some recycling bin?
That is if lucky enough to have reached
the nirvana of hard copy—
that ancient proof of existence.


Has anyone actually ever witnessed
something in the process of getting recycled?
                                              We take it on faith


that the tan coffee filter
through which I’m about to let water flow
has been here before.
A journey in Hinduism
that keeps coming back in one form or another
‘til it gets it right?
                                 But I live but once


compelled to go on in search of words
I never had in mind
to describe a mind for which there are no words.
Perhaps I should take to finger paints
to attempt what to make of this cup of time?
Let clocks drip as Dali did?
Or simply sit and smell the coffee
having run out of free verse
or reason to rhyme.


                                                          Ron Vazzano






Malibu Wedding


Editor’s note: It is very infrequent when something by a guest writer or poet has been reproduced in this Muse-Letter in its entirety. Poems by the likes of Seamus Heaney and Pope John Paul II have appeared here before, as well as an essay by a fellow writer. The following piece was written by Almie Rose, and used with her permission, it is taken from her current book “I Forgot to be Famous,” which is available through Amazon, Kindle, and her popular blog which is ranked within the top one half of one percent of all blogs read in the U.S.


Once, I accidently went to a Malibu wedding. Sort of. My friends and I decided to spend a day at the beach. Living in Los Angeles, one gets spoiled and treats the beach as though it were another Starbucks; a sort of “Oh, yeah, it’s everywhere, it will always be there.” At least my friends and I do, not being surfer types and not having beach houses of our own. So one day we thought, right, this exists, let’s hang out there. We sat on a Harry Potter blanket and discreetly drank wine coolers while we watched a fat man play volley ball with another fat man. They seemed to be having a good time.

After that, we all got stuck on the idea that we simply had to go to Moonshadows. Moonshadows is the restaurant where Mel Gibson famously got arrested and let a beautifully horrendous tirade spew forth. The infamous, “The Jews are responsible for all the wars of the world” and “What are you looking at, Sugar Tits—the greatest hits of Gibson all happened just down the beach from us. We thought perhaps we’d get a drink from their lounge, but be responsible about it, because we are not Mel Gibson, and if you are around Mel Gibson and he is around alcohol, you should just save everybody time and call the police. By the time you hang up the phone he’s going to be cursing Jews and stomping on house plants like he’s King Kong, all the while panting and screaming.

We made it into Moonshadows, feeling very grown-up, which is very different from feeling adult. We didn’t feel, “Ugh I wonder how much valet is going to cost, and how much these drinks are going to cost” or anything of that nature. We felt, “Man we look so cool. Are we allowed to even be in here? This is like being in a Bret Easton Ellis novel.”

And then it really went into Bret Easton Ellis territory. We’re sitting at a small booth, and to the left of me is a very cool old woman. Cool in a different cool than we were. She was an established, kooky, Fuck it, I’m old cool. I noticed the owl pendant hanging around her neck. I told her how much I liked it. She seemed thrilled by this. I really adored her.

Then it started. That beautiful pop, new wave sound with bittersweet undertones, all in earnest, of “The Promise” by When In Rome. And a bride and groom were dancing. It all happened very suddenly. The song, perhaps a dimming of lights, the swelling of joy—this was their moment, they must have planned it. And they’re dancing in the middle of the lounge, mouthing the words to each other, blissed out of their minds. I stared at them, respectfully, slightly confused but quietly enthusiastic. They saw me and smiled.

The groom looked into my eyes and said, with more joy in one sentence than I’ve heard in hundreds, “I’m marrying my best friend.” My cynicism halted. I smiled back. I promise you, I promise you I will was all I heard and saw.

Ever since that night, I’ve fallen in love with that song. I hear it and even though I’ve forgotten what the couple looks like, I see them dancing, laughing, holding on to each other, having an occasional goofy moment, lip-synching, smiling endlessly.

I was so full of joy that I asked the kooky old woman next to me if we could take a photo with her. She seemed shocked and said, “Really?!” I said definitely. “Let’s go outside,” she said. She had a friend with her. “Do you know who that is?” she asked me. I paused. Yes, I knew now. “Phyliss Diller?”


And yes she was.

“You made her night,” her friend told us.

“She made ours,” I said.

We took more photos, got into the car, and drove with the windows down, back to where we once belonged. I looked out at the ocean and in my head, over and over, If you need a friend, don’t look to a stranger. You know in the end. I’ll always be there…I promise you. I promise you I will.

And that’s how I accidently went to a Malibu wedding. Sort of.


Almie Rose and Phyliss Diller 2009







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