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Posted by on Nov 11, 2020 in Blog, Essays, Personal, What's Left | 2 comments

My Veterans Day Story

 

 

VETERANS DAY STORY

First, allow me to salute the fine men and women who have risked their lives for this nation on a special day intended to remember all those who served, and especially those who sacrificed.

I have two short military-related stories to share, which aren’t anything on the scale of real veterans who served in the armed forces. But the stories, I think, are poignant. At least for me, they still hold meaning all these years later.  I feel the need to write them down and remember.

I.

In high school, I joined a military youth organization called the Civil Air Patrol, which is an active organization within the federal government that closely aligns with the Air Force.

We met and trained weekly at the Dallas Naval Air station, which was a Navy base on the edge of Mountain View Lake, attached to the huge Vought aircraft plant. Vought Industries made Corsairs (I think), which were used in Vietnam. The Vought factory had opened during WW2 and was a huge defense plant. [See the photo below of an actual KENNEDY MOTORCADE in front of the plant, that is now entirely forgotten by history.]

It closed down in the 1980s, but when I was there, it had Navy and Air Force personnel, including my unit of the Civil Air Patrol. I made it all the way to Corporal (about as low as it gets in rank).

I was seriously thinking about a career in the military. We did everything soldiers do so far as training goes. I even got a radio-telephone operator’s license (that was my “specialty”). We marched, saluted, had inspections, and I got a real taste of military life.

One weekend, we got an assignment I will NEVER forget. One weekend per month, we stayed overnight on the military base and did the usual training associated with night security. We had a barracks, just like you see in the movies. Part of the building had not been cleaned in at least 5-10 years.

This was in 1977, and the Vietnam War had ended just a few years earlier (the last American troops left in 1973). There were lots of Vietnam-era hardware around, and that was the basis of our training materials.

As a grunt, that Saturday, I was told to go up to a room in the barracks, one of many, and with my colleagues help to sort through piles, and I mean PILES, of old Air Force uniforms, mostly fatigues, but even a few flight suits. All the fatigues had blue name tags stitched into the green fabric. We were instructed to take knives and REMOVE all the names from the old uniforms. There were hundreds. They were to be sold as scrap to Army-Navy stores as military surplus, which was a thing back then. So, I stick a sharp knife into the cloth and cut the thin threads, and peeled off the last name of a soldier who had served, many in Vietnam.

After you see another Smith, Wallace, Gonzalez, Wilson, Kramer on a uniform, it becomes routine. We were all just dumb 14 and 15-year-old kids, and we began making jokes about some of the last names, especially if they sounded weird. “Hey, look at this one!”

I still remember his name to this day, and it’s been 43 years. His name was Col. Sandbach. He was an Air Force Colonel, retired I think. But he served as our CAP commander. Col. Sandbach was making inspections and heard us laughing. He heard us making a game out of the work we were doing, ripping name tags off of Air Force uniforms.

The colonel walked in and we snapped to attention. Ten-hut!

He asked what we were laughing about, and we told him. Then, Col. Sandbach listened, and then quietly spoke:

“You boys know some of those fatigues you are holding in your hands are from men who didn’t come back, don’t you?”

“Show them some respect.”

With that, he turned and walked out of the room.

I will never, never, never forget the shame of that moment.

 

II.

In 1986, I was out of college and not sure what to do with my life. I actually enlisted in Marine Corps Officer Candidate School, but when they tested me and found out I was colorblind, they removed me from the flight school and told me I had to go to ground school, which was all fine with me.

I took the PFT, passed all the exams, and then was slated to go to basic training, in San Diego, I think. But then, the USMC ground school, which only had two classes for officers per year, was canceled, and I was told I’d have to wait at least 6 mos, and probably a year to get in. So, I went on with my life and moved to other things.

It’s a curious thing to think about forks in the road and forecast where you might have been and the person you might be had you taken a different path. Sometimes, things are just beyond our control.

Who knows? Perhaps I and many others who took different forks on the path of life might have worn uniforms that years later were inventoried by kids in a barracks, laughing and unaware of the sacrifices of the men (and women) who had once worn the cloth

 

My thoughts on this Veterans Day 2020 with a salute to those who actually served and sacrificed, in some cases, everything.

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Posted by on Oct 19, 2020 in Blog, Essays, Music and Concert Reviews, Personal, Politics, Video 1 | 0 comments

My New Song, “Trump People” [Video]

 

Nolan Dalla Song "Trump People"

 

I took Randy Newman’s wonderfully catchy “Short People” off his 1977 album ‘Little Criminals’ and had some fun adding my own lyrics. Recorded as a rough cut with no rehearsal on Oct. 19, 2020.

 

 

“TRUMP PEOPLE”

Trump people got….no reason
Trump people got….no reason
Trump people got….no reason ……….or rhyme.

They got little brains
Tiny little minds
They walk around tellin’ great big lies.
They wave big blue flags
They’re off-a their meds
and red MAGA hats atop their deplorable little heads.

Well, I ….. don’t want no Trump people, no….
Don’t want no Trump people, no, no….
Don’t want no Trump people ‘…..round here!

(I had a dream)
Trump people are just the same — as you and I
(That’s what they say)
We’re all brothers and sisters until we die
(Yeah, but we’ll lead the way)

Trump people got……no vision
Trump people have…no wisdom
Trump people, lookin’ for someone to blame.

They post Russian memes
They hit so low
They think Hunter’s sinkin’
Corn pop Joe.

American government….its “deep state, deep”
Everyone a-around, it’s… “sheep! sheep! sheep!”
Obama’s a Commie
and masks are dumb
They blame ANTIFA
so gonna grab their guns.

Well, I …. don’t want no short-minded people!
Don’t want no Trump people!
Don’t want no Trump people ’round here!

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Posted by on Oct 16, 2020 in Blog, Essays, Music and Concert Reviews, Personal, Video 1 | 0 comments

“Summer’s End” by John Prine (My Cover)

 

 

Today, I’m doing something completely different.

I recorded this short 5-minute song, this morning. It seems most fitting right now and speaks to our time.

“Summer’s End” by the late John Prine.

Since his passing, I’ve become even more of a fan of John Prine and his music. Released in 2018 on “The Tree of Forgiveness” album, “Summer’s End” was a wonderfully moving song written about the opioid addiction crisis. But John Prine’s comforting message of loss and hope could apply to any and all of us in our own times of confusion and conflict. I’m posting my first cover here on YouTube, with special thanks to David Huckfelt & Over The Rhine (Etown Radio) for being my “backing band.” I hope you enjoy it as much as I take away sharing it with you.

“Summer’s end came faster than we wanted….”

That says it all, really. A more brilliant nor more poignant lyric has not been written.

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Posted by on Sep 10, 2020 in Blog, Essays, Personal, Politics, Travel | 0 comments

When They Stood Tall: Remembering the World Trade Center — Before 9/11

 

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Introduction:  It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly two decades.  Today marks the 19th anniversary of 9/11, a fitting time to look back and remember the World Trade Center before they collapsed on that terrible day.  Marieta and I visited the World Trade Center a few times.  We even went to the top of one of the towers about a year before the tragedy.  Today’s essay includes some photos which were taken during those visits.  These photos are all that remains.

 

Note:  For a broader perspective of what I witnessed at the Pentagon on the day of 9/11, read this personal recollection posted at my site a few years ago — REMEMBERING SEPTEMBER 11, 2011 AT THE PENTAGON

 

They were colossal….even by New York standards.

The twin towers.  So utterly unremarkable in design, yet so grandiose by sheer size and scope, weren’t just windows to the world.  They were extensions of our national character and pillars of America’s unequivocal stature as a global superpower.

Within sight of those two towers, the Statue of Liberty is often said to symbolize our national identity.  But the unruffled lady bearing a flaming torch is more of an idea, really.  Perhaps even a myth, given where we are and what we’ve become.  Rooted squarely within the planet’s financial epicenter, the World Trade Center arose as the true manifestation of a nation, an economy, and a people — imposing, bold, excessive, and unapologetic for it all.

Which is precisely why they were such inviting targets on that fateful day no one saw coming.

 

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I took this photo about a year before it happened.

The view from the top of the towers looking east towards Brooklyn was breathtaking.

Visitors rode express elevators from the ground floor to the observation decks.  One was inside.  Another was on the rooftop, outside.

 

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That’s Marieta off to the right of the frame.

Here’s another angle, of the view looking east, but angled more towards the south.  If you look carefully, you can see the tip of Manhattan Island starting to curve around, there off to the right side.  The World Trade Center was only a block or so away from the shore.  In fact, a landfill was added to part of the outer perimeter which allowed traffic to move more easily.  A park was also added near the waterfront.  Of course, that’s all gone now, or at least it’s been transformed.

 

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When we stepped inside Windows on the World, the famous restaurant perched on the 106th and 107th floor of the North Tower, this was the view looking out towards Hudson Bay.  There in the center of the photo where the golden sunset radiates off the water is Liberty Island, which provides the base of the Statue of Liberty.  You can barely see her proudly standing there in the glow of the sunshine.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

The twin towers standing so close side by side meant you could sometimes see people over in the other building.  Those working in offices were on display, but if you fear heights, like me, the view was dizzying.  Company executives with corner offices who by the very definition of where they worked had “made it.”  All strangers.  But in a very real sense, they were our friends and our family, too.

Watching someone over in the other tower, catching their eye, and waving was pretty amazing.  Seeing them wave back was a real joy.

I wonder what happened to some of those nice people who waved.  I wonder how many survived, and how many did not.

 

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The first thing that hits you when you step outside onto the observation deck at the World Trade Center is — the wind.

It’s windy.

Not like a breeze.  Not even gusts.  It just blows…..hard….all the time.

We went outside on a perfect day.  I can’t even imagine the difficulty of what it must have been like to do construction or maintenance work on the roof of these buildings.  The wind was brutal.

Here’s the view from the outer observation deck looking directly north, uptown on Manhattan Island.  Oddly enough, when being up this high it’s so far up one might lose any fear of heights.  It’s almost like flying.

 

After

Just about everyone connected in any way to the events of 9/11 had an opinion on what to do with the now-sacred site.  In the end, rich and powerful financiers do what they always do, which is to tear it all down, haul it away, and rebuild again.  The land beneath the bodies and rubble was far too valuable to be left simply, as is, which would have been the most appropriate tribute.

At the very least, part of the iconic outer skeleton of the World Trade Center should have been left intact, and then other buildings could have been built around it.  Something, at least, should have remained of those fallen towers, to remind us.  Something tangible.  Something people can see, and touch, and remember.

Now that those two platforms of such wonderfully unique perception are gone, we can no longer gaze out, reflect, and enjoy.  The purgatory between earth and sky stands no more.

 

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Posted by on Apr 25, 2020 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Music and Concert Reviews, Personal | 0 comments

An Evening with Al Pacino

 

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Writer’s Note:  Back in January 2017, I penned this article after seeing Al Pacino interviewed onstage in a two-hour career retrospective.  I’m publishing it here for the first time on the occasion of Pacino’s 80th birthday — April 25, 2020.

 

Few can command a room just by being inside it.  Al Pacino is such a man, with an undeniable command presence.

That was my instant takeaway the moment when the spotlight hit the iconic film actor who was introduced to a Saturday night crowd of about 800 loyal fans at the Opaline Theatre inside the Palazzo.

Pacino had arrived in Las Vegas for an exclusive one-hight-only, one-man engagement.  Think Pacino unplugged.  Aside from the somewhat nameless and faceless interviewer who tossed Pacino plenty of softballs to smash out of the theatre, this was Pacino totally in the raw, mostly unrehearsed and unscripted.  While some of the questions asked were repetitive and maybe even a few of the answers were orchestrated for maximum impact, the intimate setting was also loaded with plenty of spontaneous moments and edge-of-your-seat recollections for classic movie lovers.  Most satisfying of all, Pacino seemed to sincerely enjoy the trip down memory lane, with pit-stops where you’d expect them on his 50-year-career.  He was a much better storyteller than one might have anticipated.

Indeed, Pacino personifies what it means to be a movie star.  He made the Godfather’s fictional character Michael Corleone into someone who’s real to millions, forever embalmed into cinema’s collective consciousness.  When we hear Serpico, we think of Pacino.  Sonny, the bisexual bank robber based on a real incident, is Pacino.  Scarface.  Dick Tracy.  Frank Slade.  Carlito.  Lefty Ruggiero.  Shylock.  Richard III.  Phil Spector.  He even played Dr. Kevorkian.

I was surprised by my own reaction, that Pacino’s best moments weren’t the highlights of his superstardom, but rather the low moments and the struggles, both personally and career-wise.  We can forgive but he can’t forget, and Pacino carries the burdens of pain from his childhood, though no amount of talking about his early life could quite remove the lingering sting of loss all these years later.

He talked about growing up in East Harlem (and later the Bronx), born into a lower-class household, raised by a single mother at a time when single mothers were widely viewed social outcasts, especially in Italian-American culture..  Pacino’s father abandoned the family when Al was 2.  Interesting factoid from the show:  Pacino was mostly raised by his grandparents who were immigrants from….Corleone, Italy.

Pacino seemed the most unlikely heir of what was to become his ultimate destiny.  He worked as a messenger, busboy, janitor, and postal clerk in between acting jobs consisting mostly of small roles in stage productions.  There was even a period when he was unemployed and homeless.  Sometimes he slept on the street, in theaters, or at a friend’s house.

In the 1960s, leading men cast in movies did not look and talk like Pacino.  Smallish.  Way too New York.  And way, way too ethnic.  By age 30, even though he’d studied at the famed Actors Studio under the tutelage of mentor Lee Strasberg (who would later play the legendary role of Hyman Roth in Godfather II),  his acting career was going nowhere.

However, everything was about to change, including public tastes and mass audiences’ demands for authenticity combined with Hollywood’s own methods of casting prompted by a new age of writers and directors.  New movies would need smallish actors, with New York accents, who were genuinely ethnic.

Pacino’s role, playing a heroin addict in his first film The Panic in Needle Park (1971) caught the attention of movie director Francis Ford Coppola, who had just won an Oscar for screenwriting Best Picture winner, Patton.  Coppola took a big risk and cast Pacino as Michael Corleone in what became a blockbuster film, The Godfather (1972).  Jack Nicholson, Robert Redford, Warren Beatty, and even Robert De Niro tried out for the part, but Coppola insisted on Pacino, to the dismay of studio executives who wanted someone better known.

The stories of phone calls between Pacino and Coppola during the tense negotiations were told here, presumably, versions heard by the public for the first time.  Neither knew of the monumental tidal wave that was to come engulfing both of their lives, totally reshaping the careers of both men.  Now, Pacino remained every bit as appreciative of that loyalty, noting that no other film director would have gone to bat with such steely determination, especially given that Coppola was also relatively young and didn’t have total control of casting decisions.

As one would expect, there wasn’t nearly enough time to tell all the stories.  Even Pacino’s most obscure film roles elicited some hysterical recollections about on-the-set disasters and even the actor’s own missteps.

Pacino had clearly done this before, and his experience as an amiable storyteller showed onstage.  Yet, the actor’s occasional gaffes were among the most endearing moments.  When absorbed in stories, he’d often get excited and would sometimes even ramble off on tangents.  A few times, the moderator had to steer Pacino back on track.  This wasn’t annoying at all.  It gave the presentation a genuine sense of spontaneity, that we were privileged to be sitting in an audience sharing Pacino’s recollections of what happened when the cameras weren’t rolling.  I should add that not having any film clips, props, or other supporting materials actually helped the format.  Midway into the retrospective, everyone in the audience seemed to feel what a special moment this was and we were lucky to share it.

Las Vegas might be known for gambling, but it usually leaves nothing to chance.  The odds are known.  Most shows are the same, night after night, year after year.  Pacino’s recollections, though imperfect and incomplete, was in a sense the acrobat performing without the net — no notes and no script.  While other celebrities have done one-person stage shows, with mixed results, most of those efforts look way too contrived, even manipulative.  Not so, with Pacino.

Pacino has crafted a reputation based on playing tough guys in movies.  But his first love is stage acting and theatre.  After taking about 25 minutes of questions from the audience (most of which were terrible — thankfully, Pacino was gracious and answered questions he’s undoubtedly been asked hundreds of times and anyone with access to IMDB can lookup), the legend paid homage to Oscar Wilde, Tennessee Williams, Eugene O’Neil, and Noel Coward.  It seemed Pacino wanted to talk more about stagecraft.  Unfortunately, the interviewer cut off some of the evening’s most passionate thoughts from Pacino.

The final few minutes included a short glimpse of what was then Pacino’s next major upcoming film project.  That night, he’d recently signed a deal to play Jimmy Hoffa in Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman.

Was it enough?  Was it worth paying $80 to listen to a film icon talk about his life and career?  Was this a show to recommend?

The answer is simple.  Hey, it was Al Pacino.

Enough said.

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