Monday, December 26, 2011

A visit with Chris Farlekas

By Bob Gaydos

At heart, Chris Farlekas, my longtime colleague at the Times Herald-Record, is a producer/director. Through a lifetime of writing articles about thousands of people, many of whom he regards as friends or neighbors or both, what has always stood out to me about Chris is the Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland in him: Let’s put on a show.

Throw in a little Ethel Merman the show must go on stuff and you realize that it takes more than a couple of strokes to shut Chris down. Slow him down, sure, but not totally stop his endless quest to find someone who can sing or dance or deliver a line. New talent. And to hear Chris tell it, there’s going be a show soon -- a music review -- and he’s the producer/director.

Chris is currently living at the Park Manor Rehabilitation Center in the Town of Wallkill, across the road from Orange Plaza, which gives him an excellent view of the holiday traffic crawling by. His room looks like his desk did at the Record -- newspapers and magazines and books everywhere. Also flowers, stuffed animals and sundry other gifts from friends.

But Chris, a rapid two-finger typist who gets around now in a wheel chair, has also embraced technology. He’s got a Nook to read any book he wants. And a laptop is being fitted for voice commands so he can dictate copy into it instead of typing. He confesses that, although he is used to public speaking, he’s not sure he can master this new form of writing. I fully understand his uncertainty. He also misses movies.

What is he up to in this corner room on the second floor? “I’m going to put on a show. There are a lot of talented people here and there was a story the other day about how the food pantries are short on supplies because of the economy. We‘re going to raise money for them.”

This is Chris in a nutshell. He says he’s found all kinds of new talent among staff at Park Manor and on trips outside to church, etc. He also says he’s heard from local show biz friends that they will help and contacts is one thing Chris has.

There’s no date or time or place for this show yet, although Chris says he’d like to do it before winter is over. In the meantime though, he is not at all averse to receiving visitors. He says the staff told him he has broken the record for most cards received. He’s got a phone, but when I was there recently he didn’t know the number, which is typical Chris.

I spent a little time with him just before Christmas right after a party at the center. The candy was still flowing, but Chris told the nurse who escorted me to his room that he probably shouldn’t have any more: “It will probably mess up my sugar.”

“It’s Christmas,” she answered with a smile, “that’s what insulin is for.”

Even in a rehab center, Chris can find people who know how to deliver a great line.
* * *

A footnote
: Lest anyone be concerned about violating Chris’ privacy, I asked Chris if he minded me writing a little something about our visit and he said not at all. And I told him I’d use the nurse’s line before he did.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Republican's lament: 'It's a disgrace'

By Bob Gaydos

I got an unexpected Christmas present the other day. Out of the blue. Unwrapped. Unsolicited.

Well, semi-unsolicited. I ran into a longtime colleague of mine, a veteran journalist and a dyed-in-the-wool, God-bless-Ronald-Reagan Republican. A lifetime red-stater and regular campaign contributor stuck in a mostly blue state.

Not having talked politics in a while, I asked, in total innocence, “What do you think of the presidential candidates your party is offering?”

Well, what to my ears should appear, but a diatribe worthy of Rachel Maddow, my dear: “It is absurd, insulting. None of them is qualified. It’s embarrassing. Obama is going to win in a landslide. I couldn’t vote for any of them.”

“Not even Romney?”


“But how did this happen? How did this become the Republican Party’s best and brightest?”

“They’re not. And all those (tea party) Republicans who got elected last time are going to lose next time. It’s a disgrace. I got phone calls from all the Republican campaign fund-raising committees. I told them not to call me. I’m not giving any of them any money.”

Pleasantly dumbstruck, I ventured on. “But you’re a conservative,” I offered.

“No, I’m a moderate.”

Well, maybe. But only if by moderate you mean I’m not a falling-off-the-edge-of-the-universe conservative. Which should tell you all need to know about the Republican Party today. A lifetime, patriotic party faithful, who keeps the letters from the White House expressing thanks for a generous contribution, a traditional conservative Republican, can’t stand to be linked with the people running the Republican Party today.

That is, if anyone is running it.

Off the weekly free-for-all they call a debate, one would have to wonder if any adults are in charge of trying to salvage the reputation of the party of Lincoln. If they were, how could they stand by silently while a bunch of candidates has demonstrated a collective unworthiness for the right to run for president, never mind be elected? Their flaws have been spotlighted each week -- by the candidates themselves as they attack each other. Inexperience. Inflexibility. Lack of understanding of world affairs. Self-righteousness. Lack of understanding of domestic affairs. Poor communications skills. Hypocrisy. Immorality. Ignorance. Intolerance. Total lack of credibility.

As I digested my colleague’s visceral response to my question, I wondered how many other longtime Republicans felt this way and what they would do when it came election time and, more to the point, why they were letting this happen to their party, the party of Ronald Reagan.

Do they hate Obama that much? I find that hard to believe. Do they hate all immigrants? Do they hate all gays? Do they hate all Muslims? Do they hate all poor people? Some of their candidates speak as if they do.

The latest candidate to be elevated to front-runner status as the Iowa caucus approaches is Ron Paul, a libertarian in everything but party registration. Republicans can’t stand him, and he would be better off running on a third party line, yet there he is, next in line after the rest of the GOP field got through chopping away at Newt Gingrich’s resume. Unpredictable, undisciplined, immoral, untrustworthy, self-consumed and irrational were some of the bouquets they threw at Newt, who modestly asked his fellow candidates to engage in a no-name-calling campaign. Too late for that, Newt.

See, the problem the Republican candidates have is that they all can see their fellow candidates’ flaws all too clearly. They keep quiet about them until it suits them to do otherwise, like when someone starts to pull ahead of the field. Suddenly, honesty is acceptable in assessing Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Rick Santorum. And Newt Gingrich.

No one talks much about the two Mormon candidates, Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney. Again, I think there’s a bit of unconscious honesty at work here. I think they, and a lot of stalwart Republicans, like my colleague, know that Huntsman is the best and brightest of this lot and that he scares all the tea partiers because he believes in science and taxes and making efforts at bipartisan governing and he let Obama appoint him ambassador to China. Oooh, scary.

And Romney, the supposed favorite of traditional Republicans? This the tea party Republicans have got exactly right. You can’t trust a word the man says. He will change his views on a dime, or whatever the going rate is. Some Democrats and independents actually like him because of this -- they think he’ll drop his ultra-conservative views once elected president and that makes him acceptable instead of Obama. Now there’s something we want in a leader, someone who says and does whatever is necessary to advance his own interest on that particular day. John McCain tried that. Didn’t work.

So, who would my colleague like to see run for president?

“Hillary Clinton. And don't use my name.”

Spoken like a true Republican.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

These music lovers go for baroque

(Note: This is a longer version of a story that recently appeared in the Times Herald-Record of Middletown, N.Y.)

By Bob Gaydos
A visit with the Orange County Music Lovers Guild in Howard Garrett’s Montgomery sitting room is a trip to another world. In fact, several other worlds.

Garrett, known for his creation and continued operation of the Grand Montgomery Chamber Music Series (which offers more than chamber music) and the originator of Orange County Days, is also a collector of seemingly anything that strikes his fancy. His collections fill his home and put seating in his tiny sitting room at a premium for the monthly meetings. Those seeking comfort, come early.

What they get is two hours of classical music with informed commentary before and after (and occasionally during) by Garrett. And don’t bet against baroque.

The group was a natural progression from his years of listening to and then assisting the controversial classical music radio disc jockey, Seymour DeKoven, for the last seven years of his life. DeKoven, who never used his first name, played only what he liked and never held back his opinion of it, often expressed in superlatives. After DeKoven’s death, Garrett started the group in Queens, drawing on DeKoven’s address book for members. “I wanted to perpetuate his message,” Garrett explains. What is more routinely (and conveniently) called the Music Group was formed shortly after Garrett and his wife, Judy, moved to Orange County in 1987.

DeKoven loved baroque. Famously and passionately. Garrett carries on that love affair, with a fondness for superlatives of his own. The group’s emphasis is on early music -- never contemporary -- with an occasional foray into romantic. “It’s rare that I ever play anything that anybody has ever heard before,“ says Garrett. “They don’t need me for that. When it’s a well-known composer, I play his unknown works.”

Over the years, choosing from his collection of some 25,000 CDs, tapes and vinyl recordings, Garrett has expanded the offerings of the club and proudly proclaims he tries never to repeat a program. “It is constant discovery,” he says.

And that’s undoubtedly what keeps many of the loosely knit group’s members coming back for more music and conversation. At a recent all-Handel program, Vic Werany, of Middletown, admitted, “I didn’t think I’d like it, but I did.” Werany is no stranger to classical music. “The love of music was instilled in me by my parents from when I was a kid. They loved opera and my mother was a pianist.”

Ed Dubin, of Florida, was a regular listener of DeKoven’s shows and attended many of his lectures, developing his own fondness for baroque over the years. When Dubin and his wife moved to Orange County in 2000, they began attending Garrett’s musical productions. When they learned of the DeKoven connection, they became regular, indeed loyal, group members.

In fact, much of the membership (no dues or fees) has come by word of mouth from people attending local music performances. Jen Parker. a relatively new member was brought to her first meeting by longtime member Melody O’Connor. Parker says she came “as a lover of music written before 1800. But in this group I can laugh through the more recent works.”

There is a fair amount of laughter and gentle kidding at the meetings, but there is also no doubt that everyone is quite serious about the music. They are there to learn about and appreciate a form of music that has largely disappeared from airwaves and is less prominent in schools. For her part, O’Connor, a music teacher at Wallkill High School, uses classical music to teach some basics of music. And Dubin, who is retired, taught science with the music of Handel or Bach as a backdrop.

Elmer Brunsman, on the other hand, says he uses the group to fill a part of his education he ignored through high school and college. For the past eight years, he has been making up for that gap and “now begin every day with Haydn, Bach or others filling my house and have some idea of what I’m listening to.”

Brunsman notwithstanding, at this point Garrett says, if people are thinking about joining that‘s great, but “I’m not looking for casual music lovers. I’m not interested in opera lovers. I’m not interested in people who like 20th century music. I’m interested in people who like baroque music and are passionate about it.”

You might even say he collects them.

Of winners (Aniston) and losers (Putin)

By Bob Gaydos
OK, I know it’s Christmas/Hannukah/Kwanzaa time, but the world refuses to stop turning and enjoy the moment and I feel compelled to comment on it.
So … maybe it’s none of my business, but I don’t know one male -- young, old or in the middle -- who would put Jennifer Aniston at the top of his list of the 100 hottest women ever. Ever? As in even when there was no photography or TV or movies to flash images around the globe? That kind of ever?
Beyond the chutzpah of Men’s Health (Did anyone even know about that magazine before this?) putting together such a list, there is the absurdity of declaring it to be a list of the sexiest women of all time. Maybe it’s just me, but Delilah must have been pretty sexy to steal Samson’s locks and Cleopatra toyed with emperors. That’s pretty hot. And while I will give her cute and maybe even sexy, I can’t see Aniston ever playing the role of Helen of Troy. Or Matahari. Now, Angelina Jolie, that’s another story.
All you really need to know about the list is that Britney Spears and Madonna are in the top five (behind Raquel Welch and Marilyn Monroe, either of whom could claim number one) and Sophia Loren is number 47 -- behind Paris Hilton! Sacre bleu! Brigitte Bardot is number 75.
The magazine, which I suspect was hoping for recognition of any kind, says it was going for a total package of beauty, brains and talent in making its selection. That’s probably why Kim Kardashian made the list, but Ingrid Bergman didn’t. (Yes, your thoughts on this are welcome.)
* * *
Now that I’ve got your attention, I can move on to other, more legitimate, as it were, news. Like the 45-year-old out-of-work textile worker, upset at receiving no unemployment benefits for a year, who threw his shoes at Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during a memorial service. Like the reporter who slung his footwear at President George W. Bush in Baghdad in 2008, the guy missed. Since throwing shoes at someone is a sign of strong disrespect in Arab countries, the shoeing of Bush made sense. But Iran being a Persian nation, the botched assault can only be seen as a poor copycat attempt. The man was beaten and arrested for his efforts and one would assume he will have plenty of time in prison to work on his aim. And while it’s none of my business, it would seem that long-suffering people in the Middle East need a lot more practice in expressing their disappointments.
* * *
Speaking of public protests in unexpected places, what’s with all those angry Russians demonstrating about the results of their last election? Thousands actually gathered in Moscow demanding Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin step down because, they say, the recent parliamentary elections were rigged. A rigged vote in Russia? Really? With a former KGB head running the country? Hard to believe, but not as hard to believe as the fact that tens of thousands of Russians objected publicly across the country and no one was arrested. This would tend to support Time magazine’s selection of The Protestor as the person of the year (see how I wove those stories together?), from the Arab spring to Occupy Wall Street and Red Square. A bit of irony, however, in Russia. It seems that the great democratic hope of the Russian 99 percent is Mikhail D. Prokhorov, a billionaire industrialist and owner of the New Jersey Nets basketball team. Prokhorov says he plans to run against Putin for president next year. It’s none of my business, but as daunting as that may seem, Prokhorov would still seem to have a better shot at winning in Russia than in getting Dwight Howard to agree to leave Orlando and come play for the Nets.
* * *
OK, you knew I couldn’t ignore the Republicans and their ubiquitous campaign forever. In one of my favorites stories of the year, conservative radio host Michael Savage offered Newt Gingrich $1 million to drop out of the Republican primary race. Savage, who hosts the third-highest rated radio talk show in the country (scary, I know) said Mitt Romney was the only candidate capable of beating President Barack Obama. Savage further said Newt, patriot that he is, should drop out “for the sake of the nation."
Why should Newt, who leads in the polls of those actually driving the GOP train, step down? Savage pointed to Gingrich’s serial marital infidelity, his performance as speaker of the House (including shutting down the government because he got a bad seat on Air Force One) and his lucrative and controversial involvement with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Sounding like a Keith Olbermann wannabe, Savage wrote that "compared to Obama" during presidential debates, Gingrich will "look like nothing more than what he is: a fat, old, white man." None of my business, but that doesn’t leave much for Democrats to say about Newt.
* * *
And finally, what would a week be without a proclamation from Donald Trump? The Donald, who famously and ridiculously announced he would host and moderate his own GOP debate later this month, said Tuesday he was dropping out of his own debate. He said he was doing it so that he didn’t have to give up his right to “run as an independent candidate” if he didn’t like any of the remaining GOP candidates. Trump, who was a sort of quasi-candidate earlier this year, said Republican Party officials said he would have to agree to this if he wanted to moderate the debate. He didn’t mention that the only candidates who had agreed to show up for his show were Gingrich and Rick Santorum or that Jon Huntsman, Mr. One Percent in every GOP poll, in essence told him to pound salt. Maybe it’s none of my business, but tell me again why any self-respecting Republican puts up with this lunacy.
Until next news cycle …

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

At last, a Republican world, far, far away

By Bob Gaydos
You say you don’t believe in fate, that there is no grand scheme, that life is not a complex mosaic that connects us all and somehow fits the pieces together when we’re not looking? OK. I get it. I used to be one of you. Life was just a bunch of random occurrences happening to random people at random intervals. When something somehow worked out just the way we would have liked it to, had we even thought of it, it was a happy coincidence.
One thing that always bothered me though, about that randomness explanation was, for want of a better phrase, our emotional human reactions to stuff that happens. If it’s all a crap shoot, who cares? Why get so worked up over things? Why not just count your coincidences and be happy?
But I don’t even care about that anymore. You live long enough, stuff happens, you stop trying to figure out why and sometimes you’re just grateful that it did.
So … a few days ago I wrote an angry piece in which I asked what I thought was a rhetorical question: “In what civilized universe is the field of presidential candidates put forth by the Republican Party considered anything but an insult to the intelligence?”
Well, lo and behold, a few days later, one of those things you call a “coincidence” and I call a sublime alignment of the stars happened. NASA announced it had discovered an “earth-sized” planet orbiting around a star much like our own sun, located in the sweet spot of its constellation where life as we define it could actually exist. NASA scientists hailed the discovery of the planet as a major step in finding Earth’s “twin.”
A civilized universe, as it were, waiting to be claimed.
The message was clear. What a perfect answer, I thought, to the perplexing problem of what to do with all those Republican presidential candidates and the people who actually think any of them is capable of being president of the United States. We could build a fleet of space ships big enough to carry them all and blast off for Kepler-22b, as the planet has been named.
Money, always the major obstacle to space flight, would probably not be a big deal. I figure most Democrats, liberals, progressives and, in truth, any American with a modicum of common sense would be willing to scrap every project in the U.S. space program and direct all the resources to developing the spacecrafts as quickly as possible. They’d probably chip in. If more funding was needed, the Koch brothers and other major contributors to the Republican Party would probably be willing to kick in big bucks, especially if the major donors got to put their names on the space ships.
Tell me Donald Trump wouldn’t drop plans to host a Republican debate in Iowa in a heartbeat if he could put his name on the side of a spaceship bound for a new world. A new world, by the way, where he could settle his own country if he wanted and have first dibs on examining everybody’s birth certificate and passport. He could probably even fire the space crew if they didn’t live up to his standards and fly the ship himself.
But it’s not just Trump who would be happy on Earth’s “twin.” Everybody on those ships would be living in heaven, some probably taking the thought literally. Think of it. A planet with no immigration problem, a West Virginia with its own sun. No need for fences. No messy deportations. Minimum-wage jobs for anyone who wants one.
Not that anyone would, what with a population and government dedicated to the proposition that whoever works the hardest makes the most money and gets to keep it. No IRS. No fussy environmental rules to harass developers and investors looking to reap the benefits of the planet’s abundant supply of resources.
No gays. No abortions. No smarty-pants college professors (except for Newt). No socialists. No welfare. No Medicaid. No Medicare. No Social Security. Probably not a lot of old people. Definitely no poor people.
Lots of guns, though. And churches. As many as they want and plenty of praying in schools. Learning history would be optional (a concession to Michele Bachmann) and so would science (Jon Huntsman would not make the trip). And male politicians could have as many wives and mistresses as they want and lie about it with no fear of negative repercussions, an adaptation of the French model on this planet.
The Earth-twin government would consist mostly of a large army to discourage or repel threats from without and a police force trained to detect and suppress threats from within. The new constitution might have fewer amendments. Everyone would own shares of stock in a new inter-stellar exchange and no one would pay capital gains taxes. Mitt Romney could even decide to stay here if he felt more comfortable.
This, in sum, could be the Utopia for which Republicans have been praying, although they would probably want to change the planet’s name. Kepler-22b is dull even for Republicans. Selling the naming rights would probably bring in a tidy sum, though.
Of course, colonizing a new planet and getting it up to speed to interact with societies on other planets obviously can’t be done overnight. But a lot of the work -- planning, campaigning, law-writing, voting, mating -- could be done on the historic flight. NASA scientists say the new planet is 600 light years away, meaning it would take the only currently operating space vehicle -- the space shuttle -- about 23 million years to get there.
Sounds about right.