Hugs not Hate

The hug seen ‘round the world.  Why are so many people reacting to the scene at a little league game the other day of a boy who was accidently plunked in his helmet calmly walking from first base to the pitching mound to hug the pitcher who was crying over his errant throw?

Because so many of us are starved for a glimpse of humanity no matter where it comes from; in this case, a child.

We all want to believe we are capable of doing what 12-year-old Isaiah “Zay” Jarvis of Poteau, Oklahoma did.   His act of forgiveness came from the heart, a gesture exhibiting empathy though both boys are on opposing teams.

A hug is a simple yet powerful gesture.  It conveys warmth, care and respect for another person.

Earlier this year CBS Sunday Morning aired a video about a man in Arkansas whose left side remained paralyzed after a stroke.  While he learned to get around life using just his right arm, the one thing that he craved but could not do was give two-arm hugs around his grandsons.  Then some industrious occupational therapy students at his daughter’s college developed a device called a hugger.  With it wrapped around his left wrist, he could use his right arm to move it around so that he could hug them.  The emotional moment was captured on this link.

Another heartwarming hug happened in a market between an 82-year-old widower depressed over the loss of his wife and a 4-year-old girl who demanded a hug from who she called an “old person.”  Thus began weekly visits between the two.  The man calls the girl an angel since she rescued him out of his gloomy state of mind.

Finally, watch this innocent story about two little girls—one black, one white—who viewed themselves as twins.  And when an older child pointed out to one of the girls why they couldn’t possibly be twins due to their different race, the child burst into tears then came up with an inspirational reply.

It would be simple-minded to believe that if people of different races, religions, ages, or politics would hug each other instead of yell at each other, the world’s troubles would go away.

It is simple, however, that a preschool child can find healing words that grown-ups can’t seem to conjure:   “We are twins because we share the same soul.”  May that be the credo we all listen to in our hearts.

Vinny is Gone

Whenever an unbelievable major news event occurs, I absorb all readings and viewings of the event so that the reality finally registers.  And so it is with the passing of Hall of Fame Dodger announcer Vin Scully.

Even though I never met him (a wish that never came true), Vin Scully’s death at age 94 hits me hard.

Vin Scully outlived my father and my mother during my lifetime.

I was 14 when my father died.

I was 47 when my mother died.

I am 64 when Vin Scully died.

The year 1958 is very precious to me.  It was the year I was born.  And it was the year the Dodgers moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles.

Perhaps that explains why I am a lifetime Dodger fan.  However, the person responsible for that love for baseball and the Dodgers is Vinny.

He was always Vinny to me because he was talking to me on my transistor radio, describing what he was seeing on the field.

I held on to each precious word he broadcast from the time he greeted us with “Hi everybody and a very pleasant good evening to you wherever you may be” to signing off with a “Good night, everybody.” His dulcet tones were soothing, comforting.  He was our security blanket from April to September.

If I was driving home and putting away my car in the garage, I wouldn’t turn off the radio until Vinny finished the half-inning.

It is why whenever Vinny would do a playoff game on the radio, I would turn off the TV volume so I could hear his unique depictions of the game, always adding personal stories of baseball players he knew that spanned much of the 20th century.

I always looked forward to his history lessons on Memorial Day and Independence Day.  He was a true patriot, a lover of this country as when he remarked “Can you imagine that?”

when two spectators at Dodger Stadium ran onto the field to burn an American flag (then Chicago Cub outfielder Rick Monday famously rescued it).

His calming but firm words at the start of the first Dodger game after the Sept. 11th attacks in 2001 were the appropriate way to soothe all of us shaken from that dastardly terrorist attack on U.S. soil.

All of us were truly fortunate that he had such a long life and broadcast for 67 years working for the same employer. 

There will never be another Vin Scully.  Besides the gentlemanly traits that he imbued—decency, kindness, class—he broadcasted in an era where only one announcer was in the booth meaning that he had a personal connection to the listener or viewer.  Even when it became fashionable to have one or two analysts sit with the play-by-play announcer, Vinny held his ground that he didn’t want to lose that attachment with the fans and so the Dodgers never forced him to change his ways.

That is why the Dodger games haven’t been the same since he retired in 2016.  Hearing two people talk to one another instead of talking to the fans feels remote as if we are eavesdropping on buddies joking with each other in the broadcast booth, instead of a person who we feel is a friend or a member of the family.

Here is just a small sample of the type of calls I will forever remember Vinny making:

On using poetry:  “Deuces wild.  Second inning, two on, two out, two and two count, tied at two.”

On a home run:  “Away back, she is gone!”

On a bases clearing double:  “In comes Buckner, in comes Russell, here comes Cey on a double by Garvey!”

Eerily, the very day before his passing, I emailed Los Angeles Times sports columnist Bill Plaschke about his health.  I noticed that the last post on his Twitter account was from May 6.

“I find this odd considering normally he would comment on the Sandy Koufax statue ceremony last month,” I wrote.  “Is he doing okay?”

“Good catch Brian,” Plaschke wrote back. “I haven’t spoken to him in a while…no idea how he’s doing…but as always, it’s worth monitoring.”

Twenty-four hours later he was gone.

This is a difficult column to write, not just because of Vinny’s passing, but it means that this will be the final time I will write about him.

There are few people we encounter in life that we wish would live forever.  For me, Vin Scully would be on that short list.

Saying Goodbye to Old Bertha

When a person goes through life stages, from single to married to parenthood, one’s car choices mirror that stage.  For example, a teenager or twentysomething is more likely to choose a two-door sporty car, while a parent will gravitate toward a minivan that maximizes passenger and storage capacity.

In the summer of 1999, my wife and I along with our three-month old moved into a larger house.  We were planning to have another child, so besides going from a 2-bedroom to a 3-bedroom home, we knew our twin Toyota Corollas were not enough.

So, with the proceeds of the sale of our first house, we were able to do something that we had never done before nor have we done since—pay cash for a car.  It was one of those fantasies that people like us rarely realize.

That is why we immediately became attached to the 2000 Volvo V70 GLT in blue.  It wasn’t just a station wagon.  It was a companion that would be with us throughout our parenthood as we raised our kids.

My wife and I are the type of people who like to buy new cars, then keep them for more than 10 years.  As I approach 50 years of driving, I have only had five cars.

As the years went on, and our first son got his driver’s license, we gave him the keys to the Volvo affectionately nicknamed Old Bertha.  Though 16 years old, it still looked good, but more importantly its steel cage protected our son just in case of an accident. 

Once he drove to college, Old Bertha was showing her age.  Interior plastic parts were beginning to fall apart, and the rear gate was wonky.  On top of that, her clear coat was disintegrating on the roof and the hood which made the car look unsightly.

When my wife purchased a new car, it meant that our son could now drive her used car that was a 2010 model year instead of 2000.  It was an upgrade. 

However, we still held on to Old Bertha because in a few years our other son would need a car.

We were fortunate that neither of our sons were attracted to status symbols.  They didn’t care if this old luxury wagon didn’t look cool.  They were pleased just to have a running, safe car.

In holding on to Old Bertha for 23 years, my wife and I were able to “afford” to give her to each of our sons as their first car.  We had no payments ever on that car so why should we go into debt in getting them a new Smart car that could never match up with the safety of a Volvo?

Some parents buy their teenagers brand new cars.  I don’t think that’s a bright idea.  Young people especially males are the worst drivers causing the most accidents of any age group ergo the high insurance premiums.  Why give them an expensive new car?  And since the most affordable new cars tend to be sub-compact size, they are the least safe to be on the road against the massive three-passenger row SUVs that clog the highways.

Also, it is important for young people to learn the value of material items.  To hand over the keys to a six-figure luxury car is to ensure the child will never learn that lesson.

In the last couple of years, Old Bertha really began showing her age.  More dilapidated moldings coming off, the radio and CD player inoperable and, most alarming, the car doors could never be locked despite fixes in a repair shop.  Still, she did her job of transporting our youngest.

Now that our oldest son has moved out and bought his very first car, we were left with four cars for three people.  Clearly, Old Bertha was the odd girl out due to her age.

We decided to donate her to a charity where her parts such as tires and battery would hold more value than the 181,000-mile whole car would.  It’s like people who have donor cards; upon their death, their organs can be harvested to give life to others. Not a bad way to go.

Still, as my wife and I stood outside our home watching the tow truck driver hitch up Old Bertha, clearly the oldest of the four cars he had collected that day, we couldn’t help but feel sad to see her slowly fade away down the street. 

She was a good girl for 23 years, with us on all our road trips to national parks, from Yosemite to Zion to Yellowstone.  She was there for all the boys as they grew up, from baby seat to toddler seat, from soccer to baseball games, as well as providing rides for our dogs Buster and Noble.  She was part of our family. 

If we are lucky to live long enough, we will eventually have to say goodbye to loved ones: parents, siblings and pets.  It is never easy letting go.  But, oh, how our lives were enriched with a 2000 Volvo V70 GLT named Old Bertha.  Our family history would never be complete without her.

The Cost of Being Middle Class

My son who recently graduated high school was not a star athlete.  But he was in the music program for four years, participating in Marching Band, Jazz Band and Wind Ensemble.

My son was never ASB president.  But he was in the top 6% of his class earning enough credits based on his Advanced Placement scores that he enters college as a sophomore.

My son is a quiet kid who always had teacher comments on his report cards such as “hard worker” and “pleasure to have in class.”

And for all of his achievements and dedication to education, he was not awarded one dollar in scholarship money.  Why not?

Because my wife and I make too much money for him to qualify for most scholarships.

A sad reality of college scholarships is that the vast majority are needs-based not merit-based.

Outstanding high school athletes have several scholarship opportunities; those at the top of their game in college even get paid for playing.

The few academic scholarships are highly competitive.  His college didn’t even award him work-study which is an on-campus job to help pay for his expenses.

In other words, he is invisible. 

There are plenty of other children like my son.  But you don’t hear about them.  No banquets or banners for them, no room in social media or news websites for them to be spotlighted.

Often you hear of stories about a child with one or no parents who graduates with straight A’s and receives a free ride to an Ivy League school.   It’s wonderful that those disadvantaged children have a financial advantage.  But there is something wrong when a child equally talented brought up with both parents in a middle-class neighborhood is overlooked.  There should be some scholarship money earmarked for them as well.

Because my wife and I don’t quality for government assistance, we are expected to fully fund the $120,000 for our son to attend four years of college.  We can only do that because during most of the nearly 28 years my wife and I have been married, we sacrificed each month so that over time we would have a nest egg.  However, that modest nest egg is for not just college, but retirement, vacations, and home improvement emergencies.

God forbid my wife or I need a skilled nursing facility.  At $10,000 a month, our whole savings would be wiped out within a year.

The monthly $2,500 for our son’s expenses surpasses our mortgage payment.  Don’t get me wrong, we are not struggling; however, we are not awash in funds either.

We were able to build savings by keeping our cars for at least 10 years (we have one that’s lasted 23), not being tempted to add on to our house despite limited space, rarely buying new clothes, and limiting expensive vacation trips.

In America, it is better to be poor or independently wealthy.  If you’re poor, the government will pay for your welfare, from full college scholarships to skilled nursing facilities. If you’re rich, well, you can take care of yourself.

The lesson?  For those whose income is too high for handouts yet not enough to pay for large expenses such as four years of college or a second home, working hard to achieve the American Dream comes with a financial penalty.

Turning Back the Clock on Women

For the first time in its 233-year history, the U.S. Supreme Court revoked a right that it sanctioned a half a century ago:  a woman’s right to an abortion.

Never before has the Court done such a thing.

Suddenly, mothers and grandmothers who lived through the legal abortion era now have daughters and granddaughters who do not have as much freedom as they did.  Isn’t that the reverse of how our culture is supposed to advance, granting more freedoms as the years go on, not taking them away?

At a time when our country is divided over so many issues, this is the last thing we need to happen.  It is time to recognize that we have been living in a cold civil war period for the past few decades and not protecting a woman’s right what she does with her body will further exacerbate the situation.

Now, each state will be fighting against each other because the states who will have the strictest anti-abortion laws plan to block women who seek out those states that allow abortion, thus generating tension among the states.

If a woman from Alabama where abortion is not legal travels into the neighboring state of Florida where it remains legal, who is going to enforce what that woman does?  Will a Florida doctor be arrested for giving pills to that woman?  Will the woman upon returning to Alabama be jailed?

This creates such a mess.  And aren’t they more pressing issues that we as a country need to face such as inflation, gun control and climate change?

You know what I have always found odd about those who oppose abortion is that they tend to be the same people who oppose affordable child care.  In other words, they won’t allow a woman who makes a mistake getting pregnant to terminate a pregnancy so that she is not burdened with financial difficulties, but in forcing the woman to have the baby, will not provide care for that baby.   That single woman and child end up using welfare and other social services which affects all of our paychecks.

And, by the way, what business is it of anyone if a citizen has an abortion?  How does that personal decision negatively impact anyone but that woman?    

Those who oppose abortion strongly are the same people who refuse to wear a mask declaring to mandate one is an infringement on their personal freedom; in other words, it is one’s personal choice to wear or not wear a mask.  Likewise, to tell women they do not have a choice is to take away their personal freedom. The hypocrisy is overwhelming.

Another hypocritical matter is that President Obama with 8 months left before the 2016 presidential election was blocked from filling a Supreme Court opening, yet President Trump was allowed to appoint a justice with 8 days left before the 2020 election.   

Amazing that one president, in office for just 4 years without winning the popular vote, could have such an impact on the Supreme Court by appointing three justices over another president in office for 8 years who won the popular vote both times who only appointed two.

Fifty years ago, conservative judges appointed by President Nixon helped pass Roe v. Wade by a 7 to 2 vote, granting women the freedom to choose, proving that no matter the political bent of individual judges, when it came to making a decision, both sides were considered. 

Today’s Supreme Court justices stuck to their political persuasions, not ruling on what is right or wrong, demonstrating how politicized the court has become.  The proof?  All three of Trump’s justices voted against Roe v. Wade.

Let’s hope the Court doesn’t consider revoking a woman’s right to vote. After all, just like abortion, women were not mentioned in the 1789 U.S. Constitution.

One More Father’s Day

This Father’s Day will be my 24th one.  I only had 15 Father’s Days with my dad so I’m aware not to take any one of them for granted.  But this Father’s Day will hold extra meaning for this may well be the last one my two sons will be home to celebrate with me in person.  Son Number One leaves in 3 weeks for Salt Lake City, while Son Number Two leaves in 3 months for San Luis Obispo.

As s child, I still recall being super excited to celebrate both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.  After Christmas and my birthday, those were my two favorite special days of the year because it provided me an opportunity to thank my parents and show them how much I loved them. 

Following in the footsteps of my older brother and sister, we would make our own greeting cards, and decorate the walls with oversized signs before they woke up in the morning.  The highlight of the day, however, was watching them react to our cards, most often tearing up.

We weren’t the type of family who hugged a lot or said “I Love You” so the cards quietly, deeply exuded our feelings.

The greatest gift my parents gave to us three kids was in teaching us to be decent people.  None of us kids ever got involved in serious trouble or drug use or unexpected pregnancies.  To this day, the three of us remain close and much of it has to do with Mom and Dad.

Likewise, all my wife and I wanted in rearing our children was for them to be happy and successful people who contributed positively to society, knowing right from wrong. 

We wanted our kids to be aware of the world’s wonders which is why so many of our family vacations were at national parks. 

We also wanted our kids to have an interest in what was happening in the world so that they would be good citizens.

That’s why I would enthusiastically share with them a newspaper story or a “60 Minutes” segment of compassionate individuals such as the athlete who visited sick children in hospitals without publicity, or of the centenarian lawyer who helped defeat the Nazis and who still gets emotional thinking of the horrors that he saw.

As the days grow short before their departures, is there anything else I can do as a father or words of wisdom to pass on that I overlooked?  Any old movies or songs that I need to play for them before they forever go out of my influence?  One more Sinatra song?  One more Astaire dance?

As each of them embark on a new journey—one to start a career, the other to start college—all my wife and I can do now is be observers.  We had our two decades’ worth of bringing them up; now they are on their own.

Last Father’s Day, we traveled up to Montecito to eat breakfast at a favorite restaurant, an activity I normally abhor due to the crowds.  But we hadn’t done much traveling for the previous two years so we made the nearly two-hour drive north to Lucky’s. 

We asked the waitress to take a photo of us which has now become my desktop’s wallpaper, an image I see each morning I turn on the computer.  And we will make the same venture up north this Father’s Day, and sit at the same exact table as we did last year, and have a new photo to memorialize the day.  Just the four of us.  And always have a memory of how happy our little family was before the little birdies left the nest.

Moving Pieces

[Note to Readers: If you were wondering what happened to my bi-weekly posts, my life got incredibly busy the past several weeks as you will read.]

I will always remember this week in May for the rest of my life.  One day, my son has his college commencement, and by the end of the week, my other son will have his high school commencement.  And I am a nervous wreck.  Because not only are they both graduating, they both will be leaving home within a couple of months of each other, leaving my wife and I empty nesters.

The oldest just got his first job in his career after graduating college.  However, he will have to move to Salt Lake City. 

The youngest just accepted admission to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.  However, he will have to move to the Central Coast.

All of this is positive, good stuff for sure.

So why the stomach aches and sleepless nights?

Because I am a parent.

Since I’m the world’s worst worry wart, I lay there in bed each night wondering:  Is there anything else that I should teach my sons about life before my parenting influence expires?

Lately at birthday dinners and Mother’s day, I have made it a point to inform my family that “this may be the last time we four are all together.”

It sounds melancholy, but I want every one of us to absorb and appreciate the final moments as the lifespan of the four-member Crosby household comes to a close.

Of course, hopefully our sons will add to the mix partners and grandchildren.

In the meantime, my wife and I will play our version of Back to the Future as we return to the early years of marriage, just the two of us.

I knew this day was going to come, but I didn’t expect it to happen so quickly.

I’ve spent so much time preparing my children for their independent life that I paid little attention to how we will live our life without them.

A Lot Can Happen in Two Years

Two years ago, life was life.  People went to work, children went to school.  Folks went out to eat, attended sporting events and concerts, and traveled.

Two and a half months into 2020, the main news story was the presidential campaign between Trump and the crowd of Democratic candidates who were running against him.

Otherwise, life was humming normally.

Then, life stopped. 

People didn’t go into the office, children stayed home from school.  Restaurants closed, athletes played games without fans.  Technology through streaming entertainment and Zoom sessions was all that connected us to the outside world.

The world was hunkered down inside because an invisible intruder was right outside our front doors.  Covid-19.

By the time February 2022 rolled in, finally people started to feel more normal.  The majority of us were vaccinated and we all grew to accept that Covid would be part of our lives though in a less lethal way.  Going outside our homes and back into our normal routines without masks and gloves were not going to kill us.

Sure, consumer goods now cost more money and many items such as car parts and furniture are still taking much longer to arrive, but kids are back in school and many people have returned to their offices.

Then just as the world was regaining its footing, normalcy stopped again a few weeks ago when Russia invaded Ukraine, a massive war effort that had not been seen since the end of World War II.  Suddenly, world peace was shattered and the threat of World War III has re-appeared.

Those of us 77 years old and younger have been very lucky to have lived during a time in human history when war on this scale was nonexistent.  Oh sure, the fear of nuclear war hung in the air during the Cold War.  And the Korean, Vietnam and middle east wars happened, but they paled in comparison to a world war.

But what we are witnessing in Europe, an aggressive Russia blindly invading another country, is disturbing.

Just when the nearly two-year feeling of unsettledness began to dissipate, the world seems shaky once again.  It is one thing to fear a despot like North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un; quite another when it is Putin who has tanks rolling down city streets, bombing apartment buildings and hospitals.

Why does the world have villains like Putin?

One hopeful thing to keep in mind is this.  No matter the challenges that have faced humans during crises, people have gone on with their personal lives.  They continue to graduate school, get married, have children and find enjoyment within their own small existence even if it seems the whole world around them is crumbling.

A word that is used too often these days but worth embracing is compartmentalization.  Yes, people need to be informed what is going on in the world, but that doesn’t mean one’s own life needs to be consumed with those troubles.  You have to put away in your mind war and climate change and all the inequities that exist in society and not have it negatively impact the joy you can find in living your life.

Each of us may be lucky enough to live 70, 80, 90 years on this earth.  We can’t control 99.99% of what goes on during our lifespan.  However, that other 00.01% is in our hands.  It is that infinitesimal part where we build beautiful memories of friends and places, holidays and babies. 

Yes, get involved with making the world a better place by donating time and/or money.  But if each person only put forth the effort to live their lives with decency and dignity, that bright light will shine on others. Just look at the courage of the Ukrainian people, standing up to evil no matter how mighty Russia may be.

How lucky most of us are that we don’t have to wake up to bombs exploding, seeing our neighborhoods in pieces.

Somehow those people, many with young children, are continuing with their lives even if it means leaving their homeland and husbands behind, traveling on crowded train cars to Poland.  They have learned the hard way that they must persevere, must find an existence for their children that is safe so that they will live a full life.

This is eerily reminiscent of what other Ukrainians had to do over 100 years ago when the Cossacks were murdering the Jewish people.  My maternal grandparents grew up in Kiev, and despite losing loved ones, they made their own treacherous trek westwardly through Europe traveling on a crowded ship across the Atlantic Ocean to Ellis Island.  They, too, had the survival skills to go someplace where their remaining children could live their lives in peace.

No matter what my problems may be in my life, they don’t compare to what horrors my grandparents witnessed.

If it wasn’t for their survival and perseverance, I would not be sitting here today writing about their story. In a way, my grandparents conquered the Russians without using any weapons.  And so shall the Ukrainians.

Hearing Dad’s Voice–After 50 Years

“Good morning my three lovely children.

I trust you all slept well?

There is plenty of food to eat so eat well.

Greg, you eat well, but according to your diet.

And please, no fights!

[said with a sigh] Now, I guess I’ll put some gas in that Plymouth.

So listen:  I’ll leave the key in the sewing machine.

Greg, if you’ll drive Debbie to the car, she can drive it home.

I guess I’ll have to go to Hemet today, but I’ll try to be home before six, as Mom wants to go to the May Company.

I love you all very, very much so please take care of one another.

Dad.”

This was an audio recorded message my Dad left behind one morning in June of 1970.

109 words.

It’s only 43 seconds long.

That is all us three kids have of our father’s voice.

A voice we haven’t heard for nearly 50 years.  That is when our father died on Jan. 27, 1973 from lung cancer one month after reaching 60 years of life.

Dad often left handwritten notes behind on the dining room table whenever he left the house and all three of us were still asleep, our mother already gone to her 7:00 a.m. hospital job.  His fatherly instinct to reassure his children that nothing has happened to him illustrates the type of loving dad he was.

I vividly recalled that Dad had left behind a vocal “note” to us kids one time.  That morning, he must have been in a rush and decided recording a message would have saved time.

That recorded message of Dad’s was the impetus to get the old Columbia reel-to-reel tape machine repaired.

The 60-year-old tape recorder has been in my family since I was a small child.  After my brother and sister moved away, it has always traveled with me, the youngest child, as I have moved.  The last time the machine worked was 30 years ago.

When I went through cleaning my garage last summer, I was looking forward to plugging the old machine in to hear all 36 reels of tape again, each lasting an hour.  I especially was interested in finding the few snatches of my Dad’s voice.

The tape recorder with the capacity for 7-inch reels has a twin auxiliary speaker with the same dimensions as the main machine: 16”x15”, 10” high.

The big difference between the two black boxes was the weight.  I need to use both hands to pick up the main machine which weighs 35 pounds.  The surface has a tacky feel to it, and the smell of the machine is one of childhood.  A persistent hum like a heartbeat can be heard when turning it on.

So when I brought it out from the bottom compartment of a worn stereo cabinet that’s against the back wall of my garage, I set it up on the backyard patio where I have an electric outlet to plug it in.

To my major disappointment, the machine did not turn on.  I looked at the thick gray power cord and noticed how the outside rubber had worn away.  The machine had always worked reliably before, but time had finally taken its toll.

Imagine trying to find a store that would fix a reel-to-reel machine from the early1960’s.  I might as well be looking for a blacksmith.

The internet did not provide me with much help.  I could not find an image of my machine let alone any information that the Columbia company, famously known for recording music, ever manufactured their own machines.

Maybe I could find a place to rent a reel-to-reel machine especially in a media market such as Los Angeles?

Well, I did locate one place in North Hollywood which rents them out.  However, when I saw the machine, it was a professional grade rather than a home consumer version, too complicated for a non-sound engineer like me to operate.

Surely, there would be a library which had reel-to-reel equipment for visitors to play audio recordings.

The Los Angeles Central Library in downtown does have such a room, but due to the pandemic, it has remained closed for two years.

Finally, at my local camera store (another relic from the past), the owner located a man who would repair the machine at the princely sum of $600.

What could I do?  It was my only option to ever hear these tapes again, the only option to ever hear my father’s voice again.

Most people alive today have a hard time grasping that once upon a time there weren’t any recording devices except for audio tape.

Home video didn’t become common until the 1970’s; digital formats arrived in the late 1980’s.

So having a home audio recording device was a major deal.  That is why so much of what us kids recorded 60 years ago sounds silly to hear today, inconsequential nonsense just because we had the ability to place a microphone in front of a TV speaker to record a whole movie that we could at least hear again.

In the 1960’s, if there was any movie or TV show you wanted to view again, you had to wait until it reappeared either on the big screen or the boob tube.

Other recordings were of us three kids pretending to be a DJ on the radio.  We would introduce current songs playing on Top 40 radio stations and introduce them.  The only worthwhile thing from these tapes is that it provides a time stamp when they were made.  I was able to look up a song and find its released date.  After all, oldies radio stations did not exist back then so all the popular music being played was new.

When 8-millimeter home movies became popular in the 1950’s and 1960’s, people could permanently record their loved ones on film, though without sound.

However, not until consumers had video camcorders in the late 70’s was it possible to record both sound and picture.

And that is what makes those 43 seconds of audio tape of my Dad so precious.  Yes, we do have home movies in which he appears, but they are silent.  And he is the one family member who was the least filmed of all five of us because he was the primary cameraman.

Once I picked up the repaired machine, I anxiously started playing each reel.  Unfortunately, most of the tapes have incorrect labeling requiring me to listen to each 30-minute side.

Since so much of the taped material is not worth archiving, I quickly tired of listening to every bit and began fast-forwarding a few minutes at a time so that I didn’t go past any important recording.

On the third day I hit pay dirt.   I was fast forwarding a tape, then stopped it.  When I pressed “play” again, I heard my Dad talking to me—for the first time in half of a century.  It was chilling and thrilling.

There was his gravelly fatherly voice, full of emotion, recorded with the microphone quite close to his mouth giving it an intimacy and aliveness.

His voice sounded older than the late 50’s chronological age that he was.  The cancer may have already begun growing inside of him.  But nothing could diminish the love that he always had for his children.

Immediately I had both my brother and sister on two separate phones and told them, “Listen to this,” then played Dad’s recording.

It was a special moment for all three of us.  There was Dad alive again speaking directly to us.

It was as if he was talking to us from beyond especially the last part where he firmly reminds us to “please take care of one another,” emphasizing “please.”  He didn’t like it whenever us kids fought one another; he loved us too much to have to come home with reports about our behavior that day.

He would have been pleased how close all three of us have remained in the decades since his death.  Perhaps the void he left tightened the bond.

My sister pointed out that it wasn’t just a coincidence that as I was scanning this audio tapes, I happened to stop at one point in fast-forwarding, pressed play, and there was our father’s message to us from a half of a century ago.

Dad wanted to talk to us one more time.

The Columbia High Fidelity reel-to-reel tape recorder circa 1962.

Did We Really Need a Remake of “West Side Story”?

Over 60 years ago, the film “West Side Story” was released to much acclaim, earning 10 Oscars including for Best Picture.

Now, famed director Steven Spielberg has made a remake of the classic Jerome Robbins/Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim musical, directed by Robert Wise, and one of the finest movies ever done based on a popular Broadway musical.

If any other filmmaker did this, I would have shunned the film.  But I can’t not see a Spielberg movie so I went ahead and saw it.

Overall, I liked it and thought Spielberg did a wonderful job.  He has the rare gift of knowing how to photograph a musical, a job often botched by modern film directors, by framing the full length of the dancers so the audience can take in all the movements.  And I loved the way the opening and closing credits were designed using cityscapes.

Still, as I exited the theater, I was left with the same question I had when I first read he was doing this:  why do it?

Several changes have been made for the 2021 version:  all actors are cast based on their ethnicity, the scenes with solely Puerto Rican actors are spoken in Spanish, the role of Doc has been replaced with his wife Valentina, and the backstories of Tony and Bernardo have been changed. 

Some of these changes are fine while others aren’t.  For example, the idea of casting 89-year-old Rita Moreno (who won Best Supporting Actress in 1961 as Anita) as the new character Valentina was inspired.  First, it makes a beautiful connection to the original film.  Second, giving her “Somewhere” to sing instead of Maria and Tony deepens the call for tolerance, not only for the main characters but for all couples who have mixed heritage including her late husband, a beautiful coda to Moreno’s film career.  It is the emotional epicenter of the film.

Less successful was the new information that Tony was in a jail for a year for almost killing a man.  And now Bernardo is a boxer.  Both of these backstories muddle the plot.

While the dancing in the new film is quite good, it doesn’t match the Jerome Robbins’ choreography of the original.  I was most disappointed with how much critics have raved about the 2021’s dancing.  It made me wonder when was the last time these critics saw the Jerome Robbins’ choreography or the athleticism of many of the dancers especially Russ Tamblyn?  Critics should know their history.

While I thought the dancing in the new version was good overall, the “America” number being a highlight, I was more impressed with Spielberg’s use of intimate tracking shots which made the dances more exhilarating than they were.

The weakest scene in the new version is the most critical scene in the musical:  the student dance where Tony and Maria first meet.  In Wise’s version it is quite magical and dreamlike, with vibrant colors.  In Spielberg’s version it is unremarkable behind the bleachers with too much talking.

Neither version casted Tony with an actor that is memorable which I found odd since that was usually the one blemish often mentioned (besides the fact that Natalie Wood’s singing was dubbed) was Richard Beymer’s blandness.  For me, Ansel Elgort is too slight of an improvement to make much of an impact.

And while in today’s times a major deal is made about casting Maria with a Puerto Rican actress, to me nothing compares to the charm of Wood.

If there was no earlier version of this musical until now, I would be more enthusiastic about this version.  I wish Spielberg would try his hand at another musical, but one that wasn’t already made into a movie.