Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

“Apollo 11” a feast for the eyes

I’ve seen them all.

“Spaceflight” was a 1984 PBS documentary updated to recall the 1986 Challenger and 2003 Columbia accidents. Countless documentaries about the Apollo moon program have followed, including “For All Mankind” and too many others to list here.

I even have Spacecraft Films’ DVD set of the Apollo 11 mission, including pre-launch films, TV coverage and, of course, that magical moment on the “Sea of Tranquillity (sic).”

So why bother with another movie about Apollo 11? Because this one actually does have scenes you’ve never seen before. Scenes from the National Archives that were shot for an unmade documentary of the behind-the-scenes work to get Apollo 11 to the moon were hidden in film often undeveloped. The project was canceled, but MGM, with whom NASA contracted, shot the film anyway.

The result is stunning. The scenes are amazing. Not just the shots of the Saturn V rolling to the launch pad on the crawler as engineers and technicians watch closely or walk alongside, but the shots of people. Real people, gathered to watch a rocket launch.

People grab coffee and Krispy Kremes, snap film pictures with Kodak cameras, shoot movies with those little cartridge-filled movie cameras and generally don’t look like people from 50 years ago. There’s the old cars, though, and the high-tech of those days.

Did you ever notice in those old videos that when the three astronauts are done suiting up and are leaving for the van to go to the launch pad that there’s a guy holding a fire extinguisher following close by? Why? In case the suits catch fire?

There’s no narration, no talking heads, no interviews with Gene Kranz. Just some commentary from back then by Walter Cronkite, some diagrams to explain the mission and the amazing shots that told the story.

The movie looked amazing on an IMAX screen. It should be just as good on a regular movie screen. I might buy a new TV and the 4K DVD version when it comes out.

I highly recommend “Apollo 11,” especially for the young folks who think we’re making up stories about these men who went to the moon and rode monstrous rockets into the sky. You won’t feel like you’ve seen it before, that’s for sure.


March 1, 2019 Posted by | Living in the modern age, Observations with Vinny | , , | Leave a comment

It’s time to save local journalism, not do more useless studies

I’m going to say this, and I know it’s probably not a good idea, but I’m beyond caring.

The announcement below is all well and good, but while the reports and research are done and the meetings are held and the speeches are given, newspapers and websites are being destroyed by their owners.

Experienced, knowledgeable people are taking buyouts; skilled reporters, editors and researchers are being laid off; and the very people who make local news local are heading out the door of what’s left of the newspapers because they’re afraid of what’s next.

Every round of layoffs and cutbacks is pitched as “a pathway to growth.” Look, if there’s no one to write the stories, it doesn’t matter what you put on the website. Many local news websites are full of out–of-town stories that really belong under the “state” or “national” or “world” tag, but we pretend they’re local so the website doesn’t look empty.

In Manatee County, you know that the school district blew a computer upgrade out its rear end because we at the Bradenton Herald told you. The school district wasn’t about to tell you on their own about the Indians whose visas expired and that the company they hired was bankrupt. The Bradenton Herald told you that.

If we don’t have any reporters left, what’s the point of putting out a website with no local news or an online Xtra edition? I ache for newspapers around the country and for the residents who see their local newspaper shrinking as far-off corporate masters wreak havoc and destruction. Some of these papers once terrorized local government officials, and now the officials laugh at them.

I love journalism, and I love the news. We need the news. We’ll end up like Venezuela, not in the way President Trump says we will, but in the way of other countries where journalists are arrested, jailed, tortured and killed. You may hate the free press, but you’ll hate it more when the sole source of news is government press releases.

If Facebook, Google, Craigslist and the Knight Foundation want to do local journalism a favor, give all that money — that’s going to be wasted on local worthies to study local journalism — to local newspapers so they can keep their reporting and editing staffs intact.

Ecosystems, collaboration, partnerships. Knight Foundation, can’t you see that these newspapers are dying? Are you that blind? There are none so blind as those who will not see. You aren’t seeing the little picture that illustrates the big picture. Edward R. Murrow, who wasn’t a trained journalist, knew that and worked accordingly, and look at what he accomplished.

I know my career is doomed. I had a good run, and I wish I could do more. I hang on by my fingernails and hope for the best while fearing the worst. My community is being turned into a news desert, and if the feared merger takes place, you might as well stick a fork in Florida journalism, because it’ll mostly be over.

I will visit the grave, leave flowers and shed tears, but then I’ll have to move on.

For goodness’ sake, don’t waste this money. Give it to papers so we don’t end up an eight-page, one section sheet with five pages of ads for hearing aids. Please, do something good with the money. Please.

Or there will be nothing left to rebuild.

Knight Foundation putting $300 million toward rebuilding local news

On Tuesday, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced a $300 million commitment toward rebuilding local news ecosystems during the next five years, with details on where the first $100 million of that money would go.

“We’ve all been on the ropes for the past 15 years as news organizations are battered by declining revenue and declining trust,” said Andrew Sherry, Knight’s vice president of communications. “We and other foundations and news organizations have tried a lot of different things.”

What Knight sees now, he said, are both the greatest need to help local news and the greatest opportunity with strong, scalable organizations that can best transform the landscape.

(Disclosure: My coverage of local news is funded in part by Knight, and Poynter is a partner with the Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative, also known as Table Stakes.)

Since 2007, Knight has spent about $30 million a year on journalism initiatives. They’re now ramping that up, Sherry said.

Today’s announcement and the direction Knight’s heading was hinted at in an end-of-year Nieman Lab prediction by the Knight team entitled “A year of local collaboration.” The prediction noted many of the organizations getting funds today and the themes their work includes: local news ecosystems, national-local partnerships, multidisciplinary partnerships and collaboration among media funders.

“In 2019, we’ll see an increase in multidisciplinary collaboration among sectors, institutions, and news organizations working to better serve local audiences.”

Organizations aimed at strengthening and rebuilding local news are getting some of those funds. They are:

American Journalism Project: $20 million for this venture philanthropy initiative that will, according to the press release “provide transformative grants and support to local, nonprofit civic news organizations to ensure their long-term sustainability.”
ProPublica: $5 million to create more partnerships with local newsrooms and expand the Local Reporting Network.
Report for America: $5 million to grow the program that pairs young journalists with newsrooms that share the cost with the community to cover underreported issues.
Frontline: $3 million to help establish five geographic hubs in partnership with local newsrooms.
NewsMatch: $1.5 million toward a matching campaign supporting nonprofit newsrooms. Last year, NewsMatch raised more than $7 million for local news and investigative journalism.
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press: $10 million toward helping local newsrooms defend reporting.
Knight-Lenfest Local News Transformation Fund: $10 million, previously reported, toward helping newspapers transform for the digital age.

Knight is also putting money toward news literacy initiatives ($5 million for the News Literacy Project); the expansion of solutions journalism ($5 million for the Solutions Journalism Network) and community listening at the local level ($2 million for Cortico.) It’s investing $35 million into researching and research centers that “will study the changing nature of an informed society in America and will help build an emerging field of study to address pressing questions about the health of an informed society and citizenry in the digital age,” according to the press release. Universities participating in that project will be announced mid-year, Sherry said.

Want more on the transformation of local news? Join the conversation in our weekly newsletter, Local Edition.

In January, Facebook announced $300 million over three years toward stabilizing local news. Partners include Report for America, the American Journalism Project and Table Stakes.

The Knight funding should be a boost to help programs working to rebuild local news scale, Sherry said, and a signal to individuals and foundations of where to contribute money to help local news.

Knight is concerned about declines in trust for media and other democratic institutions, he said, “but we think that local news is actually the best place to start rebuilding it.”

February 20, 2019 Posted by | Living in the modern age, The news business | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The greatest adventure of them all

When I was a kid growing up, a big part of what was going on when I became aware of the world around me was the space program.

To me, it seemed like this great, wonderful TV show that had everything a little boy loved: big rockets, heroic men (not enough women, though some made major contributions and only now are being recognized), very limited TV coverage that made every mission into a big deal, and a feeling that you could be into technology (hey, it was high-tech then, kids) and be cool.

I remember a party at my friend John Komendowski’s house across the street on 80th Street where there were several centerpieces that were paper-folded versions of the lunar module. (One kid at the party stole one, I recall, and John wanted to know who knew what.)

Because “current events” wasn’t really talked about much in school (we were mired in the history of 15th-century martyrs; I went to Catholic school), you had to go beyond school to learn about what was happening. I still remember a book I got from the Our Lady of Hope School library titled “Rockets and Spacecraft of the World.”

Way beyond New York City, I learned, there was a big world and I needed to learn about it, and there were these amazing people doing amazing things.

Sadly, my science education was so lacking. Today, the buzzword in schools is STEM, but I fear that as in my days in school, it’s just an acronym for school administrators to advance their careers. Despite my immediate supervisor’s efforts, in December 2017, I did a story on the Manatee County Library (my paper doesn’t cover the library anymore, as part of our focus on local news) and how it was lending telescopes and binoculars thanks to a program from the Library Foundation.

The library offers all sorts of stuff for teenagers, including Area 52, where it definitely isn’t your grandparents’ library. They can work on robotics, animation and computer technology. I remember one person at the library telling me about a kid from Mexico whose first language was an Indian language no one else knew. But he quickly picked up on the technology and started making drawings, then shooting them with a digital camera, then putting them together for a humorous animated cartoon.

Today, the people who are working for NASA and SpaceX and Blue Origin and those other space efforts look back at the space missions of the 1960s and 1970s, and see inspiration for what they are doing. We will go back to the Moon, to Mars and beyond. Just the other day, the Japanese space agency landed a probe on an asteroid, and it will return a sample to Earth.

In the works are sample return missions to Mars, boosters for new human missions to the Moon and right now little kids of around 10 or 11 are watching YouTube videos, and maybe seeing rockets like the Falcon and the Falcon Heavy, and wondering if that’s their future. Just as I saw the mighty Saturn V and wondered if my future was somewhere in there.

Someone once told me that she thought “Apollo 13” was just a movie and didn’t know that mission and its accident really happened. But there’s a cure for now knowing, and I’ve taken it for years. It’s called going out there on your own and seeking knowledge.

In his famous speech at Rice University in Houston in September 1962, President John F. Kennedy said:

“Those who came before us made certain that this country rode the first waves of the industrial revolutions, the first waves of modern invention, and the first wave of nuclear power, and this generation does not intend to founder in the backwash of the coming age of space. We mean to be a part of it — we mean to lead it. For the eyes of the world now look into space, to the moon and to the planets beyond, and we have vowed that we shall not see it governed by a hostile flag of conquest, but by a banner of freedom and peace.”

I know a lot of people who today are eager to retreat and be ignorant, and wallow in useless arguments and patriotic jingoism. I know the folks who think I’m a moron, a dope, an idiot and more, and you all should know that you’ll be dealt with in due time.

Go ahead, brag about how ignorant you are, how you haven’t read a book or newspaper in 20 years, or how educated people like me are really idiots in disguise.

The space program freed me from the limitations imposed on me by my teachers, parents, siblings and others, and I still dream about doing great things, though my best years are probably behind me. Still, just as those who dreamed of reaching the Moon and beyond never gave up, I will never give up.

Face it, people. You can’t break me. So stop trying. I will achieve.

I remember when I was in the post office and so many people told me to quit college and just give up, admit defeat and be a postal drone. You all were wrong then, and you’re wrong now. And I have a long memory.

On Friday, I will be seeing a movie about a man who never gave up. He led the first manned landing on the moon and opened up the doors to the future.

I, for one, take my inspiration from that “First Man.”

October 9, 2018 Posted by | Living in the modern age, Observations with Vinny | , , , , | 1 Comment

Carl Hiassen tells it like it is

I know no one’s even going to bother to read this, but I present it just in case.

Usually, Carl Hiassen writes columns about the politicians on the make in Florida, the con artists, the bogus nonprofits and a lot more, but this one comes from the heart.

His only brother was murdered in the offices of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Md., with several of his colleagues. While the president talks about how people in the news business are bad and evil, the reality is quite different.

One of the dead was a woman who considered herself a part of the family of the U.S. Naval Academy. Her youngest daughter was getting ready to attend the academy’s prep school and dreamed of joining her siblings in graduating from the academy and serving as officers and leaders in America’s Navy.

I bet you didn’t know that. I bet you didn’t give a f—ing shit, right?

We in the news business keep having to say that we are not the enemy of the American people and this country. I have worn a military uniform and did my extremely small part, and I still remember how people howled and laughed at me and said that I was joining “the Retard Corps.” Yes, I remember that, and more.

Your local newspaper is being killed by the death of a thousand cuts by people on Wall Street and in the corporate offices who wouldn’t know a comma from a semicolon, but wait until the newspaper is gone and no one is covering your city commission, county commission or school board, and keeping an eye on them.

In Manatee County, the Bradenton Herald has put out articles about how a botched software upgrade has created a costly administrative mess. The school district would rather we print their press releases about some new bureaucrat, but we like to dig deeper. Or how about that “guardian” who turns out to have radical anti-government views and believes in all sorts of wild conspiracy theories, including the desirability of shooting SWAT team members in the head?

After our reporter called the district about his social media postings, suddenly action was taken.

Oh, that’s right, that shit-heels rapper just died. Let’s hit our knees and mourn for some guy with more tattoos than brains.

Look, journalists tell you the stuff you might not want to hear. After the government bodies in your community go totally corrupt, who are you going to call? There might not be anyone to answer the phone. And if the CEOs of some major newspaper companies have their way, there won’t be anyone to answer the phone, there won’t be anyone to investigate the story and there won’t be anyone to edit it for publication either online or in print.

I am not an enemy of the people. If you think I am, let me know.

September 9, 2018 Posted by | Living in the modern age, The news business | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The frustrations of having a very drunk rider in the car

Dealing with a very drunken person can be a challenge, as I learned the other day.

I received a ping on Lyft for a passenger named “Dave,” and that he’d be in the parking lot at the “Roo” in Ellenton.

I drove over there and found a man who claimed to be 65 years old, about 6-feet, 2-inches tall, and who staggered over to the car and said he was Dave.

He got in the car in the front seat, and announced that he was a Vietnam veteran of the Marines, and that he was very drunk and wanted to go to another bar.

I started driving and asked him what his MOS (job) was in the Marines. He got really upset and said he didn’t remember and hated when people asked that question, so he probably wasn’t a veteran at all.

Dave was the first passenger I came very close to ejecting from my car, or stopping a law enforcement officer and asking for help. He was very loud, very belligerent and very disrespectful.

He talked about the size of his “thing,” and then said, “You wanna f— me?”

I said I had zero desire to do any such thing. As we neared his destination, he yelled, “You stupid f—, I said I wanted to go to a bar, not home. Take me to Gator’s.”

I said that his destination was the apartment complex off State Road 64, and he said, “I don’t wanna go there. I’m not drunk enough yet. Take me to the bank so I can take out some money.”

At the drive-through, I let him out to use the ATM, and then let him back in the car.

He continued to curse at me and call me stupid. We stopped at a dive bar in the worst part of Bradenton (14th Street West near the Salvation Army) and he finally exited the car, with a final “F— you.”

I complained to Lyft, but the reply I got back was mostly boilerplate and misidentified Dave’s gender. Since I didn’t give Dave enough stars, I’ll never have him in the car again, but the drivers of Lyft and Uber need to know to avoid him and not give him a ride.

Actions have consequences.

July 14, 2018 Posted by | Life lessons, Living in the modern age | , , , | Leave a comment

Is getting hit in school all it’s cracked up to be?

I have had some contact recently with fellow students from my old Catholic elementary school, Our Lady of Hope in Middle Village, Queens, NY, and a recent article in a newspaper made me wonder about how things have changed.

The article noted that a father slapped his children, ages 3 and 5, in front of a police officer who had retrieved them after they had wandered into traffic, and the officer arrested the man.

It made me wonder because I grew up in a time when, supposedly, children were hit regularly by adults, and there are people who swear they are better people for being hit by adults when they were younger.

At our beloved OLH, it was not uncommon for teachers to smack kids around. I was hit by a couple of teachers and was very upset about it all. Mind you, this was a time when you could get into a schoolyard fight and not end up with the police arresting you. Punches were taken and given seemingly without a word.

Look, when the big game before classes was called “Kill the guy with the ball,” getting a shot to the puss wasn’t that big a deal.

The teachers probably didn’t know this, but we students knew who among them tended to resort to hitting when they didn’t get their way. One teacher in particular was feared for her tendency to not only hit but also raise her voice.

The story that went around one year was that at the practice for the veneration of the statue of the Virgin Mary in front of the school, she’d hit all the participants after they kept messing up.

One of the most popular teachers was a fellow who I later met again in 1999, at our 25-year reunion. I couldn’t get out of my mind the thought that one day, I had messed up and he had taken me into the hall, chewed me out and slapped me across the face a couple of times. I do remember coming back into the classroom and crying at my desk, and getting sympathy from a female student.

At one point during the 25-year event, we found ourselves standing together and I called him by his first name and asked how his life had gone. He admitted that in our eighth-grade year he was finishing his law degree, and indeed we were his final class. Maybe teaching was a frustrating option for him, I thought, and that’s why he did what he did.

In any case, I didn’t hold it against him.

One time, I was covering a school board meeting and the topic turned to the late 1960s, when pressure was building in Manatee County to desegregate the high schools. Of course, some people thought it was the end of the world, though the elementary schools were already integrated and working OK.

What stunned me was that some of the African Americans in the audience actually felt some nostalgia for the “black” high school. At the time, and at great cost, students from all over the county were bused to the “black” school, which was in Palmetto.

They remembered it as a place where they were taught by dedicated teachers, and also disciplined very harshly, with even the girls remembering being beaten by teachers for minor offenses.

I was shocked. Then again, in reading the minutes of school board meetings at the time, it seemed to be a more physical era. At one point in a school board meeting, a fight broke out, though a few people did apologize for their behavior.

Someone told me there were race riots at the “white” schools when the black kids arrived, and it took years to sort things out.

I remembered that everyone in my elementary school class was white, but that when I went to public high school I went with people of all different races.

Just going though my high school yearbook revealed the diversity of the class of 1978. Maybe we weren’t perfect, but we also were never hit in high school.

Smacking around kids who are smaller than you is not a good idea if you’re an adult, in my view. Maybe because I have so little contact with kids apart from my great-nephews and great-niece, I prefer to be their “cool” uncle than be a disciplinarian.

I could imagine the hell that would break loose if I tried to discipline those kids, since their parents might see it as interference or judgment.

When I read about kids being hit by adults, I do feel the kids’ pain. Yes, discipline is important and there must be punishments for bad behavior, but I don’t think beatings and abuse are the answer.

Resorting to talk of “the good old days” when kids were beaten is the refuge of those who want to just feel superior, I say.


July 3, 2018 Posted by | Life lessons, Living in the modern age | , , , , | Leave a comment

University of Florida blows millions for new football facilities so players can walk less

A recent story in the Tampa Bay Times described how the University of Florida has decided that it needs a new football facility, and the reason is probably the first time I’ve ever heard such a reason used.

According to Matt Baker’s story (Florida Gators reveal updated plans for $65 million football complex):

“The most expensive component will be the $65 million football-only facility. UF initially announced its plans for the structure in September 2016, but space limitations confined it to a less-than-ideal plot of land just north of the track stadium.
“The new proposal puts it where McKethan Stadium currently stands, allowing it to be larger (130,000 square feet, as opposed to the initial 100,000) and connected to the indoor practice facility. Instead of three stories, it will be compressed into two to make it even more efficient.
”That last point sounds minor, but it’s not. The NCAA limits coaches’ interactions with players to four hours a day, so every second players spend walking down the hall is one they can’t spend on improving. Players waste 20 minutes walking from the locker room to practice; the new facility will drastically cut that transit time.”

In an nutshell, the university is knocking down its baseball stadium, which is in the way of the new facilities for football, so that football players have a shorter walk and can thus get more coaching, leading to more victories on the field.

Or so the theory goes.

It’s better than the plan from several years ago, which was to end several academic programs, fire the staff in those programs, and hand the cash over to the football team. The thing is that in the “arm’s race” that is college football, every university is spending ever more sums of money on new facilities. The story notes, “Don’t expect Alabama-like opulence. Its focus will be on function, and perhaps fitting the campus’ collegiate gothic look.”
And where’s the money coming from?

From the story:

“The Gators have already identified $73 million in funds ($50 million in bonds, $13 million in philanthropic support and $10 million in the University Athletic Association’s investment earnings). UF hopes to complete the rest of its fundraising by the time football construction begins.”

So the gist of the story is this: After having hired and fired all those head coaches (and at one point paying three coaches, two to not coach college football), the key to future success is to spend – in total — $180 million so football players have a shorter walk.

It makes sense in some form of reality, but not in mine.

But that’s college football in this day and age.

March 24, 2018 Posted by | Living in the modern age, The business of sports | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bergdahl’s lack of prison time offensive to veterans

It takes all types of people to make a military, and it’s just a fact of life that if you join the armed forces you’re going to run into a very wide variety of attitudes, from those who believe that the military is perfect to those who believe it’s an abomination they must escape immediately, and everything in between.
The recent sentencing of Pvt. Bowe Bergdahl to a dishonorable discharge is the right punishment for what he did, but the failure to attach at least some prison time is a slap in the face to every man and woman who has served honorably in the U.S. military.
When a service member goes AWOL or UA, it means someone who was scheduled to be off duty has to carry out the assignments of the absent service member.
In addition, Bergdahl’s disappearance triggered a massive and costly search for him, and raised fears that perhaps the enemy had infiltrated his base, abducted him and possibly was torturing him for information on the base’s security set future infiltration missions that could have left many more American troops dead.
The anger felt by those who searched for Bergdahl and were injured — as well as their families — is real and heartfelt. Bergdahl deserted his post in the face of the enemy. It wasn’t like he went AWOL from a stateside base and went home to his family or to Las Vegas.
We are told that he felt his mission was to tell high-ranking officers that the unit was not being run properly. There were countless other ways he could have brought his concerns to higher authority; leaving his post in enemy territory was the worst. The belief that he might not have been in his right mind is no excuse. Bergdahl’s actions exposed the whole base to a possible attack.
Bergdahl’s defense used the fact that the enemy captured him and tormented him to try to persuade that military that he had “suffered enough,” but there are plenty of other people still suffering because of that bad decision.
Bergdahl deserves a much more serious punishment. It upsets me that he probably won’t get it.
I served on active duty in the Marines from August 1978 to August 1982, and I spent the first year and a half going through basic training and the schools for my field of service (aviation maintenance). When I arrived at my squadron in Yuma, Ariz, in early 1979, I knew enough to realize that I wanted to be someone who finished his term of service, then returned to civilian life.
One of the first training films I saw soon after arriving at Naval Air Station Memphis for aviation training was about a young Marine who wishes to go on leave to apologize to his father for some verbal abuse, and is advised by a fellow Marine that with the unit about to leave for a few weeks of field training that the sergeant major is bound to reject his leave request.
“You’re better off just taking off and going UA (Unauthorized Absent),” the fellow tells the story’s protagonist, who leaves but is captured soon after, then brought back for disciplinary action that includes a term in the brig.
Training films in the military tend to not be Hollywood productions in terms of acting and quality, but the message was important. It’s all revealed to be a bad dream. The Marine requests his leave, and gets it, and goes home to apologize to his father.

At Parris Island, the drill instructors of my platoon warned us about being wary of the “‘birds,” who will try to persuade new arrivals that the unit is in disarray and the NCOs and officers in charge are inept and not worthy of respect and obedience.
“You’ll notice that they’re all privates even though they’ve been in the Corps for several years,” one drill instructor said.
“That should be warning enough. They’ve been in trouble and punished for it before. Don’t join in with their negativity.”
One Marine in my squadron was an example of someone whose career had gone off track. He had, over the course of four years, advanced all the way to sergeant (E-5) and re-enlisted for six more years. He got a nice five-figure cash bonus (serious money in 1979), a bump to staff sergeant (E-6) and a room in the Staff NCO barracks. He had a good job without heavy lifting and no more dirty mess duty or boring guard duty details in addition to his regular work.
According to a fellow Marine, this guy then went UA for several months and was caught, demoted and returned to the regular barracks. He kept going UA, kept getting caught, kept getting punished and finally was demoted to private and restricted to barracks all day except for work, worship services, visits to the chow hall or medical, and visits to the PX for health and comfort items.
He had a room to himself to keep his bad attitude from infecting everyone else. I was the Duty NCO on the night when two military police officers and the officer of the day came to the barracks and took him away for good.
No one was sad to see him go.
For when he wasn’t present to do his job, someone else had to pick up the slack. That’s something the media never tells in its stories about a military deserter: the impact on those in the unit who are left behind and have to take on extra duties.
There are two sides to every story, I’ve always been told. Unusually, we’ve been able to hear from those who did their duty and paid the price for Bergdahl’s disloyalty and misbehavior.
It’s time for Bergdahl to pay.

November 8, 2017 Posted by | Life lessons, Living in the modern age | , , , , | Leave a comment

Need a lift? Call me at Lyft

If it’s Thursday or Friday and you’re heading somewhere in the Bradenton-Sarasota-Tampa Bay area, now you can call on me and I’ll give you a “Lyft.”

I recently became a driver for Lyft to make some extra money (not to write a book, though that might happen), and on March 30-31, did my first drives for Lyft.

I’ll share my experiences and the tips I learned the hard way here.

Stay tuned.

April 1, 2017 Posted by | Life lessons, Living in the modern age | , , , , | Leave a comment

The Wildest Times of My Life: Catholic School Bazaars in the 1970s

For many people, Catholic school is nuns, confession, communion, getting rapped on the knuckles and being terrorized into submission by adults who have an all-powerful invisible friend that confers on them the ultimate superiority.

As someone who began to question the whole religion thing early on but kept conforming, I suppose I was part of the problem. Later, I would condemn superiors who I felt “pretended to be religious” out of the desire for personal gain – going to the same church as the boss in order to suck up to him or her – but I have to confess I did it, too, for a while.

Where I grew up on 80th Street in what was then called Elmhurst in the Queens borough of New York City (a Zip code change much later resulted in the area being relocated into Middle Village) there were three big Catholic parishes: Our Lady of Hope (OLH), on Eliot Avenue; Resurrection-Ascension (known to all as RA); at Eliot Avenue and Woodhaven Boulevard; and St. Adalbert’s (known as St. A’s), on 83rd Street in Elmhurst.

I went to OLH, my friend John across the street went to St. A’s and some of the other kids on the block went to RA.

Catholics might have seem repressed, but their fundraising bazaars have to be the stuff of legend. I still recall being taken as a child to the “Feast” in Brooklyn, where you could eat Italian food, bet on horse races (in the days before OTB) and gaze with fear and wonder at the guys in see-through socks on the street corners.

Closer to home, all three parishes mentioned above ran their own fundraising bazaars, and in contrast to the image of the Church as strait-laced and repressive, they could and did literally turn into bacchanals of food, fun and frivolity for all ages.

I didn’t lose my virginity at a Catholic school bazaar, but I bet there are plenty of my peers who did. I did have my first – and last – bad experience with alcohol at the RA bazaar, though, in which I actually blacked out. I experienced fun, disappointment and a lot more, and regret sometimes not being back there to experience them again.

Let’s just say that people really cut loose back then, and maybe the pope wouldn’t have approved.

Fun and games – and a surprise – at OLH
At Our Lady of Hope, the bazaar’s preparations would begin and we students would lose access to the schoolyard, which is where the bazaar’s attractions were located. Workers would assemble the tents’ frames, then put up the tents, and the students in grades one to three who sat in classrooms that overlooked the schoolyard would lose much of their sunlight.

No one cared because the bazaar was coming and that meant seeing friends outside of school, fun food and rides, as well as the possibility of prizes.

Access to the schoolyard had to be severely limited, and security obtained, especially after the prizes for the games of chance were distributed in the tents.

I remember one opening day as a small child, and I was waiting outside and watching as some misguided eighth-grader was dared to climb the fence before the bazaar opened. I recall that he climbed the chain-link fence and came down on the other side, but when he tried to come back his friends kept preventing him. Eventually, he was caught, brought back through the gate and released with a chewing-out.

In addition to the games of chance, there was gambling and kids my age were allowed to bet. There also was a ferris wheel and a couple of other rides.

I still remember that great year when, on the final night of the bazaar, a grand prize drawing was held for a bicycle. My brother Patrick won the bicycle.

The thing was, we thought we’d get the bicycle they showed in the tent, but my father instead received a boxed and disassembled bicycle. I think dad paid a local bicycle store $25 to assemble the bike, and I know Patrick got a lot of use out of it.

Disappointment at St. A’s
St. Adalbert’s had its bazaar after OLH and RA, when it held one, but it was a disappointment. In any case, we were bazaar’d out by this time, and because St. A’s had such a small outside area, nearly all of it was indoors.

Going all the way at RA
There were some wild times at OLH’s bazaars, but the biggest of them all was at Resurrection-Ascension. RA had a huge land footprint, including a gigantic schoolyard, and the rides were pretty extensive. The gambling operation was in a recreation building and down a flight of stairs, which protected it from the elements, and whenever I think of the RA bazaar I can remember it being packed with people.

As a teenager, I can recall some pretty brutal disappointments with girls, including finding out that the girl I had a crush on was a smoker, but there were fun times.

On one occasion, a girl got on this ride where you basically were on the end of a line and spun around. I was standing near her friends and she got on the ride and realized that she was losing her shoes. She was wearing these chunky wooden platform sandals that girls wore back then, and I guess she decided that she’d better take them off and toss them before they landed in traffic in the street.

One shoe landed near her friends, but the other whizzed past my head and hit someone in the crowd behind me.

One of my fondest memories is the walk down the tree-lined Eliot Avenue to the bazaar, and sometimes running into school friends on the way.

But as my crowd got older, we began to get a little crazier. My last memory of the RA bazaar must have been in 1977 when me and my friends went to a liquor store up Woodhaven Boulevard and bought a bottle of some concoction called “Rock and Rye.”

We had beer, and passed around the “Rock,” and were having a great time. My memory starts to fade in and out. I remember being on the Woodhaven Boulevard side, then somehow we were on the Eliot Avenue side.

I was lying on the sidewalk, and I heard one of my friends say, “He’s really drunk. We have to get him home.”

I then sat up and announced, “Let’s go.”

The next thing I knew, I was in my bed and I had a fat lip.

As it turned out, I had tried to bite the curb and my father had not smacked me in the face.

He opened the door to my room, saw me awake, and said, “Boy, you put on one hell of a performance last night.”

I remembered none of it.

Now it’s nearly 40 years later and I live in Florida. But I’ll never forget those times.

I posed a question on the Facebook group “You Must Have Lived in Middle Village if You Remember …” and got a ton of responses. Here they are, unedited:

Frank Nagy OLH had the Bazaars, I remember Puking on the “Tilt a Hurl” ride

Frank Nagy And the rickety Ferris wheel ride..

Vincent F. Safuto At the last RA bazaar I attended (1977, I think), I got so drunk I blacked out. Good thing my friends got me home.

Marty Muller I remember all the fights at the RA bazaar! Every year same shit ! Lol

Lawrence Burns My Dad worked the gambling tent and the poker games in the brothers house on Eliot ave..Those games went on all night till the early morning…..R.A. good times….

Teresa Grogan You could hear the shouts from the other end of the block “UNDER!!!!!” “It’s UNDER!!!!” LOL

Tony Marine My uncle also dealt poker there!

Jay Scahill Remember the ones at RA. Wish I had pictures

Christine Blondel Maddalena Lots of beer pot and fights lol

Maria Puglisi Definitely “Here comes the rollllll …Under!” lol & the Swinging Gym.

Lydia Bellafiore Best times of my life with my gramps

Debbie Hoffman-Silvagni RA bazaars, the best! Looked forward to it every year!

Doris Tavella I took all my allowance savings ($40 +) and gambled it away at over- under tables. Dang… my Dad was annoyed by my irresponsibility! That was odd, however in the 70’s that minors could gamble at RA ?
All good memories and my losses were like tithes to the church 🙏🏻

Vincent F. Safuto Back then I liked to gamble at the tables, but I had slightly better luck. I know that you could gamble at OLH and no one even bothered to stop you.

Doris Tavella Yes, I recall the tables and probably gambled at OLH. Got it out of my system before I turned 18 and as an Adult in Vegas, I usually go to the shows instead. Thanks RA and OLH… you taught me at a young age that I did not like to loose $

Ken Lenczewski Man, I was young but I remember the OLH bazaars. Lots of fighting and I heard someone was stabbed there

Doris Tavella PS…. I also puked after tilt a whirl and told my Mom it was because I ate belly bombers from White Castle on Queens Blvd. uhhh, oops, did I forget to tell her what I drank that night before the rides….LOL !

Vincent F. Safuto I heard about the dances at OLH that ended in fights and drug ODs, etc.

Ken Lenczewski There was some serious gambling going on in the cafeteria.

Vincent F. Safuto I remember at the RA bazaar one year a girl went on one of the rides and realized she was about to lose her shoes, so she reached down and tried to toss them to her friends.

One shoe landed nearby, but the other whizzed past my head and hit someone in the crowd. And remember, this was when teenage girls wore clunky platform sandals, not flip-flops like today.

Doris Tavella Ha ha, those platforms and clogs are back in style … especially the hard wooden ones like Dr. Scholls.

Vincent F. Safuto Doris Tavella All I can say is I was glad I wasn’t the one who stopped the shoe with my head.

Jeannie Opitz Hernandez Always went to RA

Carolyn Specker Cerrito Not the 70s, but the early 80s

Chris Kiernan Sure do
Worked them for years OLH

Tony Marine My family and neighbors worked the RA bazaar for years. My mom and aunt worked the stuffed animal booth, my grandmother used to sell paper chances that you would peel and read to see if you won. My uncle dealt poker. So many great memories. My cousin and I would buy a bag of zeppoli’s (sp?) and eat them behind the booth my mom worked in. I have a special memory too – my friend and I were riding the ferris wheel. It stopped at the top and we had a great view of the whole bazaar. We looked over across Woodhaven blvd, and there was a large, naked young woman walking across the street. She was wasted. She made her way across the street and started to mingle with the crowd until she was finally grabbed by the cops! True story.

Vincent F. Safuto Love these stories and they’re all great. Doesn’t anyone have photos?

Ken Lenczewski I love these stories, brings back so many memories

Joanne Stankovic Sorry, I would go to St. Margaret’s.

Maureen Zahn Scotch OLH bazaars were the best. I was young when we moved but it seemed like we would get a bag of zeppolis??, lots of powdered sugar!!

John Camilleri My Dad ran a lot of the OLH bazaars for years. I would work in the change booth. All everyone has commented is true, the rickety Ferris wheel, the gambling and what not. The big prize in one of the booths was a 12 inch BW TV!

Jeri Calvaruso Knobloch I went to OLH and I remember the carnivals well but don’t have any pics.

Denise Orphal Baietto I went yo the RA bizzare and won a bottle of wine when

Denise Orphal Baietto I was 16 lol

Martha Tambini I went to RA and just remember having to sell those chances for the bazaar.


March 22, 2017 Posted by | Life lessons, Living in the modern age | , , , | 1 Comment