Category Archives: Kids

Look, Up in the Sky

The great thing about picking cherries and blueberries is that there’s no bending over. Yes, strawberries are wonderful, but the stooping down makes them so tedious to gather.

Last weekend at Samascott Orchards, the fruit was mostly at eye level, but up in the sky was something much more interesting.

High above the farm a biplane was lazily cruising along and performing loops and rolls as it made its way westward. It’s surprising enough to see a biplane, but the stunt flying made it a truly extraordinary sight.

My wife called out to two boys picking cherries from a nearby tree and pointed out the plane. They shrugged and went back to the picking. Their mother, said, “They are not little boys any more.” This surprised me, because actually, the were little boys — and what sort of little boys would not be thrilled by such a thing?

It could be that the stimulation of phones and video games are making real things seem mundane to some kids. In a world where you have endless action at your fingertips, something like an airplane performing acrobatics might not merit even a moment of interest. God, I hope I’m wrong.

Scenic Flights

Driving into Greene County on Route 32 always brings on the nostalgia.

I was at an event in Freehold the other night, not far from places where I’d visited as a child. My parents took us on a number of family trips at resorts in the area; it seems so odd that we used to vacation at places so close to where I live now.

The Borscht Belt may be better known, but the northern Catskills were just as vibrant, with pockets of resorts catering to throngs of downstate Irish, Italians and Germans escaping to the mountains.

You don’t have to look far to see the history. There are a handful of resorts still operating and others have been re-purposed, some by religious groups. Here and there you see abandoned resort buildings making their last stand against decay.

The attractions we’d visit, like the Catskill Game Farm and Carson City, are no more. We never went to the Mystery Spot, but I’m pretty sure that’s gone, too. Also absent is the sense that you were in the middle of nowhere.

One thing I’ll never forget are the signs for Freehold Airport offering “Scenic Flights.” I’d see these signs as we drove from place to place and imagine how incredible that would be, going up in an airplane and seeing it all from the sky. I never dared to ask my father if we could do it, because “Scenic Flights” seemed like something so… extravagant.

My father’s been gone now for more than 25 years. I have nothing but fond memories of him and certainly harbor no regrets, but there is one thing: I really wish I’d asked about those “Scenic Flights.” Maybe he would have surprised me and turned down the road to the airport. I love to imagine being up in the plane, just him and me and the pilot, soaring together over the Catskills.

What Goes Around

It’s November, so that means one thing: SWEEPS!

I watched a sweeps story the other night about kids and video games. Not kids playing video games, but kids watching videos other players made of their exploits in Minecraft.

We used to have stories about kids watching too much TV. Then we had stories about kids playing video games for too long. Now? Kids watching too many videos of people playing video games.

The story didn’t really explain the allure of the virtual world of Minecraft — and most adults probably wouldn’t get it anyway — but, of course, they had the obligatory interview with a child therapist. Dr. Frank Doberman (is that a great name, or what?) says he sees teens who he says, “can’t stop playing the game because they have this irrational belief that the only way they have social commerce is if they play the game.”

So, the blocky world of Minecraft joins the legion of dangerous things we’ve expected to ruin the youth of America. You know, comic books, TV, rock & roll, Dungeons and Dragons, things of that sort. Will it be Minecraft that finally rots the minds of our kids? We shall see.

If you really want to see the story, here you go:

True South

We visited North Carolina last week to see my son graduate from Marine infantry training. He is now qualified as a machine gunner, which means I can probably trust him with the lawnmower.

It’s always interesting to go down south; here are a couple of observations from the trip:

Shark Week

One of the things I enjoyed on Emerald Isle was going for an early morning swim after my run. By early, I mean before 6am, so it was still relatively dark. It was a great way to start the day — and fortunately I enjoyed it before the beginning of shark week on Discovery. Did you know that sharks love to feed at dawn. Neither did I.

Smokes

There’s always been a tiny part of me that still craves a cigarette — and this was never stronger that when I saw that you can get a pack of Marlboros in North Carolina for only $4.50. It’s unfair that New Yorkers pay twice that amount for a pack of cigarettes. Is the cost really a deterrent to smoking? I’m not convinced. The smoking rate in North Carolina is less than three percent higher than in the Empire State.

All Y’all

The people down there are noticeably friendlier and more polite. Even the little children at Waffle House address the waitress with “Yes, ma’am” and “No, ma’am.”  It may not be genuine, just a case of people who have learned better manners, but I’ll take it.

Day of the Dad

Father’s Day. It’s a second-rate holiday compared to Mother’s Day, which is a much grander celebration all around. Shortchange mom on Mother’s Day and you’re in trouble. Dads don’t really care.

So, I was asked the other day what I want for Father’s Day. As usual, I answered, “Nothing.”

And anyway, I’ve already gotten the best gift a father could have: two great sons.

They’re both fine, smart people — and even at their young age, they’ve accomplished important things, especially in the commitment they’ve shown to a purpose bigger than themselves.

My older son took a year off from law school when he was deployed with his infantry company to Afghanistan. There they patrolled a landscape he likens to Tatooine in Star Wars — right down to the troublemakers roaming the desert like Tusken Raiders.

My younger son just graduated from Marine recruit training at Parris Island. We all have a mental image of what that’s like from the movies, but what they were subjected to every day sounds like it was much, much more challenging.

Brothers

I’ll be honest, I tried to talk him out of it, attempting to convince him on going to college first. How about ROTC, I said, or the National Guard? You can serve and go to school at the same time. Nope. And while may of the newly minted Marines he graduated with will now go off to learn skills like repairing helicopters, he’s pursuing a much more traditional skill: that of the infantryman. That’s the job he chose.

When I was that age, what sort of big decisions did I make? Whether to study for an exam or go to dollar pitcher night at Goober’s in Plattsburgh. Yes, I chose Goobers.

So, on Father’s Day I celebrate the boys who made me a father, and who as men, make me proud as hell.

Fright Fest

If you are a fan of Night of the Living Dead, you must see Birth of the Living Dead, a documentary about the making of the iconic horror film and its influence on popular culture.

George Romero’s stories about the ragtag cast and crew, a motley assemblage of friends and business associates, are priceless. It was everyone’s first movie — and as if by magic, they created something completely different. The film also puts Night in the context of its time; they may not have set out to make an allegory for the turbulent late-sixties, but that’s what they ended up with.

One of the interesting things I learned was that Night was originally released in theaters as a matinée feature aimed at kids; it was typical in those days for theaters to run low-budget sci-fi and horror stuff on weekend and holiday afternoons.

Harmless fun — but Night of the Living Dead was like no horror movie ever made.

I vividly remember seeing it at one of those afternoon shows. As my mother dropped us off in front of the movie house in Mineola, a pimply faced teenager with thick glasses accosted us. “I hope you brought a spoon! This movie’s so scary it’ll make you swallow your tongue!”

I was really little, like 7 or 8 years old, along for a fun day out with my older sister and cousins. Swallow my tongue? Bring a spoon? Now I was beginning to worry.

Well, it turns out that spoonboy was correct.

The film was so intensely disturbing and terrifying that several times during the movie we ran from the theater screaming and cowered in the lobby. It was just too much.

Film critic Roger Ebert happened to attend one of these matinée screenings, in a crowd full of children, and wrote this:

The kids in the audience were stunned. There was almost complete silence. The movie had stopped being delightfully scary about halfway through, and had become unexpectedly terrifying. There was a little girl across the aisle from me, maybe nine years old, who was sitting very still in her seat and crying.

A good time was had by all!

Hockey Puck

When I was a kid, I somehow ended up rooting for the Philadelphia Flyers. This was the height of the Broad Street Bullies era, the heady days between 1973 and 1976 when the team made it to the Stanley Cup finals three times and won twice.

I was such a big fan that I once staked out the Island Inn in Westbury to wait for the team as they departed for a game against the Islanders. In the lobby I got autographs from Bobby Clarke, Bernie Parent and The Hammer Dave Schultz, whose number I wore on the back of my Flyers jersey.

Over the years I lost interest in hockey, but now the game seems interesting to me again. A big part of it is TV; brilliant widescreen HD has made hockey a spectacle to watch at home, compared to the awful wide angles and invisible puck that used to dominate hockey coverage.

Watching the Rangers and Canadiens the other night reminded me of this wonderful short film based on made Roch Carrier’s iconic story The Hockey Sweater. If you have ten minutes, it’s really worth the time; it’s a story of boyhood, but also a thinly veiled commentary on the tension between Quebec and English Canada.

The Sweater by Sheldon Cohen, National Film Board of Canada

Tradition

We had a conversation last night about Easter morning. The question? Do we hide eggs.

Hiding the easter eggs is something I’ve done that goes all the way back to when my older son was little. We’re talking decades. Today, one son is in his mid-twenties and the other not even living at home — but the egg thing. It worries me.

Will he be disappointed when he comes over on Easter if there are no eggs to look for?

eggs

Traditions can be important in ways you don’t always realize. The best example of this was Christmas a few years ago when I had the great idea to put the gifts out on Christmas Eve instead of early Christmas morning. It seemed like an insignificant thing to me, but it caused quite an uproar with the kids. What’s going on? Why are the presents out? Presents aren’t supposed to appear UNTIL MORNING!

I never did that again.

Don’t screw around with your traditions, not even the small ones.

For the Record

recordsThis comic somebody posted on Facebook really caught my attention.

I’ve told my kids about the days before iTunes, when you’d have to go to a store to buy music. Yes, there were even stores that sold nothing but vinyl records! Really, it’s true!
Making a special trip made music buying a ritual. From my house you could walk to Korvettes or to Record World at Roosevelt Field Mall.

Korvettes, while it had a smaller selection, always had the best price. Record World was more for connoisseurs — plus, going to the mall meant the compulsory visit to World Imports to see the groovy dayglo posters in the back and gawk at the bongs in the head shop.

Then you’d walk back home. Unseal the package, take out the inner sleeve — it always felt like a bonus when it was a printed inner sleeve — and put your new treasure on the turntable. Was there anything as good as that first perfectly pristine play of a new record?

Don’t get me wrong, I love that anything I want to hear is a click away. Everything is so easy now. Back then nothing was a click away.