Thursday, November 27, 2008

My first Thanksgiving in New Jersey

When I was eleven, way back in 1965, my family was invited for Thanksgiving to my cousins’ cousins, a Jewish-Italian family who lived in the southern part of Staten Island. This was the other side of the world to us if you lived in Brooklyn -- but, now, with the completion of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge just a year earlier, Staten Island was more accessible by car. And off we went in the family car, our white 1954 Buick Special.

My mother spent a good portion of the trip, while we sat in traffic on the Belt Parkway, explaining to us why the cousins, Anthony and Dominick Arcamone, of my cousins, Lenny and Robert Novick, were not our cousins, but only cousins to Lenny and Robert -- way on the other side their family. “The Arcamones are only cousins to Lenny and Robert, but not to you,” she told me.

“But how can that be? If Lenny and Robert are my cousins, and Anthony and Dominick are their cousins. That must mean that Anthony and Dominick are my cousins, too,” I retorted, asserting my early understanding of transitive logic. Finally, exasperated, my mother said, “They CAN’T be your cousins. They are not Jewish.”

Jewish/Catholic intermarriage was not a topic my mother wanted to venture into just yet, although Lenny and Robert seemed comfortable with the concept.

Finally, after almost an hour of traffic, we finally made it over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge for the first time -- the longest suspension bridge in the world. We paid our 65-cent toll, and got a great view of the Hudson River, the Statute of Liberty and Manhattan bay.

The Arcamones lived just off the last exit in Staten Island, just before the Outerbridge Crossing. Unfortunately for us, my dad was not the best with directions, and he missed the exit. So, we were treated to two bridges that day, as we crossed over the Outerbridge Crossing into Perth Amboy. If Staten Island was the other side of the world, New Jersey was another planet, if you came from Brooklyn.

Somehow, we got on Route 35 and then onto Route 9 South, my father desperately looking for a way to turn around, by making a U-turn. And, so for almost 2 hours, we were lost in New Jersey. And each time my father got directions to “go up to the next traffic circle, and make a right turn on the jug-handle” proved to be completely unhelpful. Such terms as ‘traffic circle’ and ‘the jug handle’ were foreign to Brooklyn drivers in 1965.

We drove further and further south, and it looked like Thanksgiving with the Arcamones was not going to happen, and we started looking for an alternative place to eat. But this was Thanksgiving, and every restaurant was either closed or booked up.

Finally, we arrived at a gas station somewhere outside of Freehold -- I remember passing the Freehold Raceway. The station was owned by an older Indian couple, who took pity on us, and shared with us half of their own dinner -- cold meatloaf sandwiches. And so, in 1965, we spent Thanksgiving dinner in New Jersey somewhere on Route 9.

Years later, during a family Thanksgiving dinner, we re-told this story of our Thanksgiving in the ‘land of New Jersey’, and how strange it was for us coming from Brooklyn. My ten-year-old nephew, Brandon, noted, “Uncle Joey, you guys had Thanksgiving in a strange land with Indians, just like the Pilgrims.”

This Thanksgiving, be especially thankful for the veterans who are in Iraq and Afghanistan and cannot spend the holiday with their own families. But for their commitment, we would not be enjoying this time with our famiies.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

California Dreamin' ---Connecticut is little in size, but large in civil rights.

On the east-iest of the East Coast, we have Connecticut, ranked 48th in the US in size at just 5,543 square miles. And you can drive from the border of New York to Rhode Island, in just over an hour---depending upon Hartford traffic.

On the west-iest of the West Coast, we have California, ranked 3rd in the US in size at 163,696 square miles. In size, Connecticut is third from the bottom [ahead of Rhode Island and Delaware] and California is third from the top [behind Alaska and Texas]. And that is where the parallel ends.

For in Connecticut, not a bastion of liberalism, has taken a step in the right direction of marriage equality by beginning to marry gay and lesbian couples. Last month, the Connecticut Supreme Court “had ruled, 4 to 3, that the state’s civil unions violated the constitutional guarantees of equal protection under the law…” ---setting the stage for hundreds of gay couples to be hitched.

But marriage equality is now prohibited in California. So, this issue will most assuredly makes its way to the United States Supreme Court with the states in disagreement over this matter. Massachusetts and Connecticut are now the only states allowing same-sex marriage. New Jersey, Vermont and New Hampshire have civil unions, and California has domestic partnerships.

So, Connecticut is little in size, but large in civil rights.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

From BBC World News: Palin hits back at critics by calling them ‘jerks’; They call her a ‘doodyhead’. Then she says, “I’m rubber you’re glue…”

Alaska Governor Sarah Palin has hit back at critics who said she thought Africa was a country not a continent, calling them "jerks".

“Of course, I know that Africa is a continent. Darn it, it’s right next to the continent of SOUTH Africa...everyone knows that!”
said Governor Palin.

Anonymous Republican Party aides cited in a BBC World News report also said she could not name the three member nations of the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

“Why should I name the three member nations of NAFTA? Those nations should be able to name themselves, for sure. A nation’s people choosing their own names is what democracy is all about! After all, we chose the name ‘America’---darn it, we didn’t let some Italian guy name us (giggle) (wink).

Mrs Palin said her comments on Africa and NAFTA were taken out of context. “Those comments were taken out of context, just like this coment will be.”

The Republican National Committee (RNC) spent more than $150,000 on a designer wardrobe and beauty treatments for Mrs. Palin after she was chosen as John McCain's running mate. "Those are the RNC's clothes…I never asked for anything more than a Diet Dr Pepper once in a while."

Larry D. Young, President and CEO of the Dr. Pepper/Snapple Group did not return our calls for comment. However, Joe The Plumber commented, “Sarah’s one hot babe, who does not need a ‘diet’ anything.”

Friday, November 7, 2008

Comedy in Bernardsville

Stand-up comedy in New Jersey started in Bernardsville. Really, they were the first.

Every night on late night talk shows, there is at least one joke about New Jersey. We are tough, and we can take it. But, our much maligned Garden State has something to be really, really proud of when it comes to the world of stand-up comedy: this is the place where audiences so appreciated the talents of people like Jerry Seinfeld, Eddie Murphy, Rosie O’Donnell, Paul Reiser, Chris Rock and dozens of other now-famous comedians that they actually paid to see them.

Yup, while the Comic Strip, the Improv and Catch A Rising Star merely gave these comedians stage time ----and nothing more---there was a bar/restaurant in New Jersey that saw the value of these very talented future stars, and paid them to come and do their shtick. That bar/restaurant was called Freddy’s back then---and it was in Bernardsville. Freddy's is even mentioned in a biography of Seinfeld---on page 180 of "Seinfeld, the Making of an American Icon."

The birthplace of paid stand-up comedy in the New York metropolitan area was in Bernardsville. In New York, these comedians got bupkis. In New Jersey, they got fifty bucks, a dinner, and----respect. In the world of future Rodney Dangerfields, respect was very much appreciated. Sometimes even more than the dinner.

There was a small back room at Freddy’s that held maybe 75 people. The bar was in the back of the room, and the comedians took the stage in the front of the room. The ‘stage’ was only six inches from the floor, and maybe 4 square feet total. But the magic was palpable. Imagine that! A club owner who valued comedians enough to pay them money.

The success of the Sunday nights at Freddy’s were a combination of location ---being across from the New Jersey transit train station, which is how most comedians could get there---no New York acts had cars in those days. Timing---it was 1980, and disco was so over it would make your teeth hurt, and audiences were looking for something different. And baby boomers were laughing hard at Saturday Night Live, and so live comedy had come in to its own.

The owners of Freddy’s had all the comedians sign their 8 x 10 black and white photo---there were shots of Jackie “The Jokeman” Martling, Seinfeld, Gilbert Gottfried, Eddie Murphy, Paul Reiser, Bob Nelson, Rosie O’Donnell ---and countless others less famous all over the walls. Who knows where those pics are now.

Today, that place is a micro-brewery, I think---the Stone Tavern Inn. But back then, the funniest people in the world entertained.

All in Bernardsville.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Breakfast With Republicans

The other morning I ventured where few Democrats have gone before: To a post-Election Day Republican breakfast in Hunterdon County.

With Senator Leonard Lance’s Congressional win a mere 48 hours old, the buzzards have already started circling around his soon to vacated Senate seat. The first bird to buzz his intentions to run: Assemblyman Mike Doherty. Doherty arrived early to the gathering, worked the room, shaking hands, flashing his grin, and being very open about his intentions. “He will definitely be running in the June [2009] State Senate primary, whether he gets chosen by the County Committee members or not,” declared Ed Smith, the Assemblyman’s Chief of Staff.

Doherty has flirted before with running for Senate against Frank Lautenberg, but got out early. Had he run for US Senate, that would have been a debacle for him. Doherty is a West Point grad, and has been given high marks by National Rifle Association, New Jersey Right to Life and several other conservative leaning groups. He is so right-wing, he makes Reagan look like Karl Marx. He does not believe that global warming exists, by the way.

His most likely opponent for Lance’s Senate seat: Assemblywoman Marcia Karrow. Ms. Karrow was insistent on the fact that she has not decided as of yet, and wanted to not steal Senator’s Lance’s victory thunder. A big gamble for both Doherty and Karrow: they both have to give up their Assembly seats to run for Senator.

So, Lance’s win has started an avalanche of Republican candidates in wait and see mode: Hunterdon Freeholders Erik Peterson, Matt Holt, Ron Sworen, along with Warren Freeholder John DeMaio and a menagerie of mayors might get in to the Assembly race, should both Karrow and Doherty run. And then, of course, that move would trigger an equally crowded field for the open freeholder spots, perhaps in both Hunterdon and Warren.

When I arrived at the Republican fest, ---I got questions like “Are you changing parties?” “What are you doing here?” It was all very amusing, and I am confident enough in my Democratic Party membership, that I can be in a room of Rs, and not catch anything. And while everyone was celebrating the victory of Senator Lance, not one mention of Barack Obama or John McCain. Go figure.

Perhaps Tina Fey needs to check her caller ID when she picks up the phone.

AP Newswire:

In a scam that falls under the category of "turnabout is fair play" [or maybe ‘se retourner est jouer franc jeu’ in French], today French President Nicolas Sarkozy called former Saturday Night Live head writer Tina Fey, and pranked her in to thinking he was two Canadian radio comedians from Montreal. “Boy, he sounded just like a French Opie & Anthony. Two different voices and everything. I really had no idea he was the president of France”.

Perhaps she should have realized that something was not kosher when he said,
“We love to watch all the funny shows on NBC, especially ‘My Name is Earl’.” Ms. Fey was on the set of her show, “30 Rock” when she took the call. “I thought that it was actually Canadian comedian Marc-Antoine Audette wanting to get my help as part of a prank call to President Sarkozy, in response to his call to the real Sarah Palin. It is all very confusing.”

The real comedian Audette is part of a radio duo that has made prank calls to a series of world leaders over the years. Fey didn't give away anything of real note – except when ‘Audette’ suggested that perhaps Fey had an ambition to have her own television show herself one day.

"Maybe in eight years,"
she joked doing her best Sarah Palin impression--- thinking that President Sarkozy as Audette was being sarcastic himself, thinking that he must have heard of her show “30 Rock”. “We love you! Thanks you for talking to me!”, Fey is reported to have told ‘Sarkozy’ during the call, thinking she was talking to the real Audette.

In other news, President-Elect Barack Obama made a prank call to the brother of Jeremy Piven, and offered him the Chief of Staff position.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Robo-calls, yet again.

I hear from these people about once a year, always at the end of October. And they never listen to what I have to say, but just talk and talk. Yup, the dreaded Robo-calls.

Bill Clinton. Frank Lautenberg. This year it was Leonard Lance and my good friend from Leadership New Jersey, Michael Hsing.

I cannot wait for this robo-call some day:

“Hello, this is Assemblyman Petey McPeters. I am sponsoring Assembly Bill A-1401, the “Stop Robo-Calls” legislation. These calls, like this one, are annoying and inconvenient, and all too often clog up your phone line at home. Please join me in calling upon the Speaker of the Assembly to move A-1401 out of committee, and post it for an up or down vote. If you do, you may not have to get anymore robo-calls like this one.”

So, here is a column back in July 2007, about Robo calls:

"Hello, this is Bill Clinton. I am supporting Democrat Melvin
Smendrovich for Borough Council in Jerseytown because Melvin shares my values on the 'kitchen table' issues that...."

"Hey folks this is Joe Piscopo. We both know that New Jersey needs Republican Petey McPeters to be the next governor. He'll work hard everyday t

We've all received the dreaded robo-calls come election time. Automated phone canvassing calls that come day and night. They come with increasing frequency as we get closer and closer to the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.

They block our phone service. They are annoying, coming at the most inconvenient time. Dinner. In the shower. During love making. However, they serve a purpose of re-minding voters over and over again to support Melvin in his race for Jerseytown Borough Council. That Melvin is the best person for the job. If Bill Clinton can take the time out of his busy day to call you [albeit automatically], then Melvin is the person you should support.

Unfortunately for the hapless Jerseytown resident, robo-calls are a part of campaigns because they’re cheap and they work to election advantage. So, what if robo-calls tick off a voter or two? If they get your candidate elected, they will be part of the campaign strategy.

Legislative Effort in Trenton

There is an effort in Trenton to curtail robo-calls or ban them altogether. While such legislation may run afoul of the First Amendment, several states have enacted laws impacting the practice.

For guidance in dealing with this issue, perhaps Trenton should turn to science fiction writer Isaac Asimov. In his novels Asimov developed the following Three Laws of Robotics ----[most likely not written by a lawyer from NJ]:
1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
These seem to be clear rules regarding what criteria the state legislature should use in adopting an anti-robo calls bill.

“No harm to a human being?”
Sounds good to me.

“Robots must obey orders”?
This will work just fine.

“A robot must protect its own existence”?
Well, maybe that one will get fixed in committee.

If you and your robot support such a bill, call your legislator's office over and over again----but wait until he or she is eating lunch or in the shower.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The "other" Over Shadowed Senate Race

If you think that the US Senate race in New Jersey is being overshadowed in the press, there is another biggie Senate race being overlooked just south of New Jersey: Senator Joe Biden’s re-election campaign in Delaware.

Yup, that’s right---Joe has another Republican woman in his life, other than Governor Sarah Palin. ---- Christine O’Donnell.

According to O’Donnell’s website, she “is a nationally recognized political commentator and marketing consultant…and she appears weekly, often daily, on national news outlets such as the Fox News Channel, CNN, C-SPAN, FNC's O'Reilly Factor, Hannity & Colmes.” She was also on ABC's Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher way back when.

In the very strange world of elective politics, there are some states that let senators run for vice-president AND senate at the same time. In 1960, Lyndon Johnson did it ---and won both seats. Joe Lieberman did it in 2000, and was one for two; and Lloyd Bentsen did it in 1988 [won his Senate seat, and lost the VP spot to Dan Quayle].

So, of course, this is a major issue for Christine O’Donnell. But she has heard nary a peep from her senatorial opponent. "He doesn't have any signs up, billboards up or stickers," she lamented to the press recently. And while Biden has had one debate with his Republican opponent, Governor Sarah Palin, he has not been in Delaware for more than twenty days total and has not met O’Donnell in a debate. Nor does he have any plans to.

Delaware, in some ways, has more Democratic blue between its borders than New Jersey. The latest registration numbers statewide: Out of 602,726 registered voters, there are 280,347 registered Democrats; 181,789 registered Republicans, and 140,590 independent or unaffiliated voters.

So, Republican senate candidate/Lobbyist Dick Zimmer may lament that Senator Lautenberg has not had many debates [two as of this blogpost]---but at least he has an opponent in the state. Poor Chris O’Donnell is running against Biden and the Democratic blue wave. Prediction: both Lautenberg and Biden will win their Senate seats.

And when Biden wins the Vice Presidency? Most likely his son, Beau Biden -- currently the AG in Delaware, will be appointed by Delaware Governor Ruth Ann Minner to fill the Senate spot---keeping it all in the Biden family.