Wednesday, June 29, 2011


I was just thinking about one of my favorite comic book characters, Captain Marvel, and how Billy Batson would go into the secret cave and say the word "Shazam!" to be transformed into the red costumed superhero. Shazam was the name of a wizard, and Captain Marvel, launched at the same time as Superman, was far more popular in the 1940s. Through the years, as the franchise moved from Fawcett to DC Comics, which had claimed the character infringed on their Superman image, litigation has prevented Captain Marvel from being portrayed in a major movie, just some television shows and a movie serial in 1941. Because of all the copyright disagreements, DC can't even promote the character under the name Captain Marvel, which is why the comic book was renamed Shazam, also the name of a music website now.

I miss the word as a magical incantation. I used to, as a kid, like to imagine that I could give myself super powers by just saying, "Shazam." All of which got me to thinking we can all use a magic word. And it doesn't matter whether you believe in magic or not. If you made up your own magic word, merely by saying it you would remind yourself of what you would like to have appear if you did have magical powers. All of us have had wonderful things happen as if by magic, but these are often accidental or serendipitous events. Wouldn't it be better to at least make the effort to conjure them up intentionally?

In any event, I am working on a few words for myself to explore this concept. Right now, I'm looking at "Serendigenous." I seem to have a lot of the kind of happy, accidental good luck that is described as serendipity in my life, so that it feels native and natural to me, or I could say "indigenous" to my lifestyle and experience. Thus, serendigenous. But the magic word any of us chooses doesn't have to refer to any actual definition, it can be as nonsensical and make-believe as Shazam or Abracadabra. You might want to check out the book on Magic Words listed in the link below for some creative stimulation to trigger your imagination in this regard.

So whether you believe in magic or miracles or even serendipity, or not, what would you want to add to your life if just saying one word could produce any result you desired?
Happy Conjuring!

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Monday, June 27, 2011


So the word is usually modified with "old", and a codger is defined as usually an elderly man, somewhat eccentric or curmudgeonly. Well, since I was just as eccentric and curmudgeonly when I was a young man, I'm not sure I really mind the title. Curmudgeon is interesting in that it's official definition is "bad-tempered," but in modern times is has usuallly been used in reference to cynical or sarcastic commentators on life's absurdities, like H. L. Mencken, one of my personal heroes.
The film, Grumpy Old Men, starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau has been called a documentary on codgerhood and curmudgeonhood.

The film, Elegy, by Spanish director Isobel Coixet, whom I recently discovered and whose films as masterful epics of human behavior from a passionate perspective, is somewhat a celebration of old codgers. In this case played by Ben Kingsley as a sharp-tongued critic and Dennis Hopper as an outspoken poet. Kingsley's love interest is played by Penelope Cruz--and who wouldn't want to be labeled an "old codger" if she were part of the mix?

At the beginning of the film, Kingsley's character is looking out a window and we hear his inner soliloquy on growing older:

"I think it was Betty Davis who said 'Old age is not for sissies,' but it was Tolstoy who said, 'The biggest surprise in a man's life is old age.' Old age sneaks up on you and the next thing you know you're asking yourself, I'm asking myself, 'Why can't an old man act his real age?' How is it possible for me to still be involved in the carnal aspects of the human comedy? Because, in my head, nothing has changed."

And this pretty well sums up the aging experience for me--in my head, I'm still in my thirties. Maybe if I were a triathlete or involved in any other strenuous physical pursuit, I would notice more of a change. But as a reader, writer, and speaker, I seem to be able to do as much as I could thirty years ago. And I'm actually more disciplined and creatively productive now than I was then. So codger it is, and I'm kind of fond of that title, though instead of "old," I think I'd prefer it prefaced with the adjective, "creative."
Your friendly Creative Codger,

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011


It's sort of sad that so many of the specialty foods created in my hometown of Philadelphia are so diluted and tasteless when attempts are made to duplicate them elsewhere. The ubiquitous cheesesteak is a prime example. For thirty years, I have tried to find one as delicious as Pat's or Geno's or any of dozens of Philly snack emporiums to little avail. Finally, I accidentally discovered Phat Philly on 24th Street near Valencia in San Francisco, as it is on the way to The Marsh Theatre, where I am currently attending a class on solo performance. The rolls and meat are authentic, and they even have my favorite hot cherry pepper slices, very rare on the West Coast where the jalapeno reigns.

But the cheesesteak is just one of the foods originated in Philadelphia--there are four of them altogether. The soft pretzel was invented in Philly, but quickly showed up at New York street vendors. Elsewhere in the nation, not nearly so tasty. In South Philly, the vendors always seemed to have several layers of raggedy clothing and very black palms. To this day, I don't know if this was dirt or some by-product of pretzel baking. But their product seemed to be the most delicious, the small ones selling for 5 cents, the jumbo size a quarter, and always with a splash of mustard.

Next, a sweet treat I've never seen anywhere else except the South Jersey shore, which is practically a suburb of Philly anyway. It's the Italian water ice. This is not a snow cone or shaved ice, it's more liquid, and the authentic version came in two flavors, lemon or cherry, with pieces of the fruit permeating the soft, smooth dessert. It was made in a churning vat quite often standing in the open doorway of corner candy stores throughout South Philadelphia, and served in soft paper cups--2 cents for the smallest. Almost all other versions involve pouring artificial flavors over ice.

And, last but not least, the famed Tastykake snack cakes. My favorites of many varieties were and still are the plain chocolate cupcake (as opposed to the cream-filled) and the chocolate Kandy Kake (which used to be called Tandy Kake). They used to be available more widely, but are largely limited to Philly, New York, and New Jersey.. A few cheesesteak shops have them shopped in, but at exorbitant prices. They have no preservatives, so just a two or three week shelf life, unless frozen. I now have a freezer full of the chocolate Kandy Kakes, as you have to order them by the case from the company, but they're pretty reasonable at $68 for the case of 18 boxes, each containing six packages with two cookie-sized cakes in each. So that's 216 actual Kandy Kakes.
Many online reviews compared Tastykake products to other snack foods, and I like one typical review that says Tastykake is to Hostess products as a premium prime rib is to McDonald's McRib.

Of course, we're all attached to the favorite snacks of our childhood years, and if still available, this is often our first choice for comfort food. Even though the four food items above make Philadelphia probably the leader in specialty treats that originated in any city in the world, there are still more. I've never tasted an Italian hoagie more delicious than at almost any Philly hoagie shop, and Nick's roast beef sandwiches put Arby's to shame, and the old Horn & Hardart retail shops had a chocolate chip loaf cake to die for. H&H also invented the automat in 1902 in Philadelphia, and it also quickly spread to New York. As a kid in Philly, I fondly remember getting a table full of food for a dollar's worth of nickels popped into the slots and then pulling out the dishes like fantastic beef pot pie when the little door flipped open. And chocolate covered frozen bananas were a favorite at many candy stores. They actually have traveled the best, as it is pretty hard to screw them up. Trader Joe's has them sliced in their Gone Bananas version.

On the way to class tonight, I'm stopping at Phat Philly's. And here's a guilty confession--all my life, I have ordered my cheesesteaks without the cheese, just steak and onions and perhaps a few hot cherry pepper slices. So while an ardent addict for this hometown treat, I am far from a purist.

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Sunday, June 12, 2011


Congressman Weiner was on a roll
until he suddenly fell down a hole.
Instead, he should have been on a bun,
not exposing his weird sense of fun.

The congressman from New York certainly has given punsters and comics (including me) a gift that keeps on giving. Us amateur psychologists could well ponder whether childhood teasing about his name led him to express suppressed anger in the form of that specific male body part, which he photographed and distributed to a number of women online.

Certainly, despite some apparently intelligent policy position papers (which I now suspect staffers wrote), the guy is definitely two or three condiments short of a good hotdog sandwich. Some of the evidence for this:

1. He went to a technical high school after failing by one point to gain admission to regular high school in Brooklyn.
2. He chose to chase media coverage relentlessly despite having an embarrassing fetish.
3. He used his real name.
4. He failed to understand the nature of the Internet, and particularly Facebook's almost non-existent privacy protection.
5. He made major denials when he knew there were at least six witnesses plus photographic evidence of his transgression.
6. He kept his own face on the photos, a face that only a mother could love, but anyone could recognize.

There's been lots of discussion lately about sex and politics amidst a number of such scandalous revelations. It is true that male politicians seem to have a sense of sexual entitlement. But I think it is more a sign of our still-repressed culture. They act like naughty little boys because in terms of sexual knowledge and maturity, they are little boys. Remember Bill Clinton? He made clumsy attempts at seduction that any grown woman would be likely to reject, or if dumb enough to accept, run straight to the tabloids and/or lawyers.

And then there are the self-righteous colleagues pointing their dirty fingers at the shame of it all. I suspect anyone who protests Weiner's actions too much. Also remember than many of Clinton's accusers, including Newt Gingrich, turned out to have much more serious marital transgressions going on.

My provocative solution for all this? Adopt the practice often observed in primitive cultures of having the tribe's elder women train boys in the arts of love and sex. Women are much more knowledgeable on this subject, and there are always more women surviving to a ripe old age than men--can anyone think of a better reason for this to be so?

I've learned over the years that the secret to success with women is to give them what they want--and that certainly isn't the kind of silly photos sent out by this sad congressman.

He used to be hot
but now he's cold
Let's hope the story
soon gets old
Weiner on a roll
Weiner on a bun
Came out too raw,
Now he's more than done.

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Monday, June 6, 2011


Let me say first of all that this comment is more speculation than declaration on my part. I'm not really in favor of any kind of censorship, and think Freedom of Speech is one of our most treasured bastions of liberty and justice for all. That being said, however, I am getting more and more concerned at the coarseness and scurrilous nature of attacks against the policies, especially the economic policies of the current U.S. administration. At this point in time, I am not certain whether Obama will be considered a good President or a bad one. Too many results of his policies are still to be played out. But the non-stop attacks from the opposition sometimes make me cringe.

Just this past weekend, on Fox News Sunday, Maybe/Maybe Not Republican candidate Sarah Palin used so many sinking ship analogies in her interview that it could have been a promotion trailer for Titanic. Not exactly words to inspire confidence in our foreign allies and creditors. When does appropriate criticism of a president by the opposition party cross the line into sedition? Well, the dictionary definition of sedition is speech or writing that incites discontent or rebellion. Does constant reference to the U.S. economy as being bankrupt, in collapse, or a sinking ship incite discontent? I certainly think there are fair criticisms of Obama's policies, and room for some alternative proposals, but the continuing avalanche of attacks that create lack of confidence in the markets and the world are hardly productive.

Check out this item from Wikipedia:

The Sedition Act of 1918 was an Act of the United States Congress signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson on May 16, 1918.[1] It forbade the use of "disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language" about the United States government, its flag, or its armed forces or that caused others to view the American government or its institutions with contempt.

Disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language. If you have any doubts that political discourse has descended to these levels, check out Fox or talk radio or the blogosphere. The temporary Sedition Acts of 1798 put it this way:
That if any person shall write, print, utter. Or publish, or shall cause or procure to be written, printed, uttered or published, or shall knowingly and willingly assist or aid in writing, printing, uttering or publishing any false, scandalous and malicious writing or writings against the government of the United States, or either house of the Congress of the United States, or the President of the United States, with intent to defame the said government, or either house of the said Congress, or the said President, or to bring them. or either of them, into contempt or disrepute; or to excite against them, or either or any of them, the hatred of the good people of the United States, or to excite any unlawful combinations therein, for opposing or resisting any law of the United States, or any act of the President of the United States, done in pursuance of any such law, or of the powers in him vested by the constitution of the United States, or to resist, oppose, or defeat any such law or act, or to aid, encourage or abet any hostile designs of any foreign nation against the United States, their people or government, then such person, being thereof convicted before any court of the United States having jurisdiction thereof, shall be punished by a fine not exceeding two thousand dollars, and by imprisonment not exceeding two years
One man arrested under the 1918 act was one of the richest men in America, who held a patent on a new way of manufacturing barbed wire and held 75% of the barbed wire market, as well as being head of the Louisiana Railroad. William Edenborn was a German-born naturalized U.S. citizen who was accused of trying to calm American fears about the threat of Germany. The statement that got him in trouble seems pretty mild compared to some of the outrageous commentary from the right today:
There has been much talk about Germany coming over here and attacking the United States. We need have no fear that Germany will ever attack the United States. It would take a maritime nation to do that, because America is surrounded by water. America can look to other countries for any attacks in the future.
When does some of the current language rise to the level of the time-honored exception to Freedom of Speech, yelling "Fire" in a crowded theatre? I don't claim to have the answer, but I do think we need to ask the question.

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