Saturday, September 16, 2017

Today's MOZEN: BE LIKE NAT

Photo: NY Times/Words: F LoBuono

Many years ago I produced and wrote a documentary on the legendary Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist, Nat Fein. We used a quote excerpted from one of the expert interviews that we conducted for it as the title: Nat Fein: A Talent for Living.

I choose that particular quote to describe him because it fit him to a "T". He was so much more than a great photographer. His sketches with pencil and crayon (which he gave freely to others just for fun) were often of sufficient quality as to rival those in the Saturday Evening Post. He told jokes - most of them pretty bad - but, he could sure entertain a room. And, man, he could sing! Fein's father was a vaudvillian who toured with Iriving Berlin, so it was in his genes. Nat inherited not only his love for entertaining but his sense of timing from his father which, I believe, he used not only with his singing but in his photography, too. And, these were just some of his skills - he loved to cook, too!

Another interview we conducted to tell our story of Fein's life was with the musician, Loren Korevec. Korevec was the the consumate "piano man", having earned his stripes providing the entertainment for over 15 years at New York's legendary speakeasy, Elaine's. During that time, Korevec played host to the Hollywood royality on whose map Elaine's was clearly marked as a must-go spot in New York.

While playing a local gig at a spot closer to his home in Rockland County, NY, Korevec was approached by a charming, older man who asked if he could sit in and sing a song or two with him. That gentleman turned out to be Nat Fein. Korevec figured "what harm could it do" and said, "sure". Korevec was not so much blown away by Fein's skill as a singer but more by his energy - he put everything he had into every song. Nothing was held back. The collaboration between the two lasted for years until Nat's death in 2000.

During our interview with Korevec about his collaboration, he had this to say:

"Nat was like this huge fountain - creativity was just constantly pouring out of him. He simply could not turn off the spicket. When I think about Nat, I have to remember to be like him".

Well, Loren, we all need to remember to be like Nat - everyday. I think that he may have been what Buddhists call a bodhisatva, or spirit guide - someone to light the way. Whenever I feel myself down, like no one cares, I think of this. It can be as if we were so busy giving, we don't have the time to think of what might be dragging us down. The path is clear. We have been shown the way. All we need do is follow.






Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Today's Mostly True Short Story: A Big Person

F LoBuono
Man, I was down. I mean I was lower than whale shit. The woman I had every intention of spending my life with had seen the light, changed her mind, and left me. It wasn't the first time and, unfortunately, it wouldn't be the last, either. I suppose that I'm a glutton for punishment. Be that as it may, I was a hurtin' cowboy. And, it showed. I walked around wearing my sorrow like an old, cheap, wrinkled suit.

At the time, I was working as a producer/reporter for the local cable company in West Nyack, N.Y. It was my first job in television and provided me with the necessary experience to build my career. But, it was small potatoes. I mean you couldn't get more basic for production facilities. We didn't even have our own space. We shared a garage-type building with a company called Tidy Car that undercoated vehicles to prevent rusting.

You can imagine the type of chemicals they were using for their product. I think it would be safe to call many of the ingredients toxic. On days that they were very busy, the noxious orders would get so bad that we would have to evacuate our side of the building. But, hey, it was living!

One of the men who worked for Tidy Car was a middle-aged black man named Henry. Henry always had a good word whenever you encountered him. He had a deep voice that had a hint of Southern molasses mixed in. It gave me the impression that he had probably grown up there, although I didn't know for sure. But, whatever his circumstances, he was a jovial fellow.

Another thing that I remember about Henry were his eyes. They were always terribly blood shot. I mean it looked like you could train a pint of blood out of each one! Perhaps, Henry was a "hard liver" and drank too much on his down time. But, I always attributed it to the fact that he was exposed so directly to those toxic fumes. If it was harsh enough for us to evacuate from the other side of the building, one can only imagine the deleterious effects on someone right on top of them - hour after hour, day after day. One thing was for certain, it didn't get Henry down. He always had something positive to say.

One day, in the midst of my misery, I needed a short break from work. I just wanted a few minutes away from my office to go into the fresh air where I could collect my thoughts and, quite frankly, get my shit together. There was a little patch of woods adjacent to our parking lot where I found a little shade and a rock to sit on. As I sat there alone, contemplating the depth of my misery, Henry noticed and walked over. When I saw him coming my way, I hopped up, hoping that he wouldn't notice what bad shape I was in. Well, he did. And, then he said something strange to me:

Young man, you are going to be SO BIG someday, whoo hee, yes sir!

It took me completely by surprise and I had no idea what he meant.

Hello, Henry. Waz up? I replied.

Then he said: you don't know it now. In fact, you won't believe it NOW. But, someday, you are going to be a BIG PERSON.

I looked at him in disbelief: Henry, that's just crazy. I just could be any lower than I am right now. I may never get over this!, I cried.

That's the point, my friend. You are being tested. Everyone gets tested in their lives. Those people of character who survive use that experience to grow into more complete humans, capable of tremendous compassion. If you can just hang in there, you will be one of those people.

Henry didn't say another word. He patted me on the back and just walked away.

At first, I just kind of dismissed it as the ramblings of some crazy, old black man. I mean, after all, he was inhaling all of that toxic junk all day long. Maybe, it had gone to his brain.  I dragged my sorry ass back into the building.

But, I just keeping hearing his words, over and over again: someday, you are going to be a BIG PERSON. Eventually, they started to sink in. Henry didn't mean BIG is a physical or economic way. He meant it in an emotional way. If I could overcome the pain associated with that tremendous sense of loss, it would put me in a position of REAL power - as a person who leads with the compassion that only comes with perseverance based on personal experience. In times of trouble, people would look to me to guide them through their own wilderness. And, you can't get any BIGGER than that.

Eventually, our studio moved into swanky new digs and, I believe, that Tidy Car went out of business. After our move, I never saw Henry again. But, I'll never forget him, or the words of encouragement that he gave me when I need them so desperately. I could only imagine the indignities he suffered before becoming a BIG PERSON himself. I honor him by returning the favor to others.


Sunday, September 3, 2017

Today's MOZEN: Absolute Power

F LoBuono

When I was a kid of about 10 or 11, my father switched careers. He and his brother had inherited the family business - delicatessen in Cliffside Park, NJ. However, despite working 7 days/week for most of their adult lives, the business was failing. So, they sold the store and moved on with their lives. My uncle bought into a food delivery route and my father decided to become a Bergen County Deputy Sheriff.

I remember how hard he studied for both the written and physical portions of the Civil Service exam. I even learned how to stay physically fit for my entire life by doing push ups next to him as he drove himself to get in shape. When he passed the exam and finally became a Deputy Sheriff, it was one of the greatest moments of his (and, my) life.

He was so proud of his uniform and his STATUS. The career he was now about to embark on was, at least in his mind, far more important than slicing baloney for a living. And, being important was just about everything to my father. He was, in his own way and time, a brilliant man who never had the good fortune to develop his enormous potential. His life's circumstance always seemed to conspire against him: his father died when he was 12. Then came the depression and then WWII where he served with honor for 4 years. He just never seemed to have the chance to pursue his education and fulfill his destiny.

So, when he was given a badge and a gun, my father knew that his life would take on new meaning. And, he loved it. He relished the responsibility and he loved the authority that came with it. But, he may have loved it too much. In fact, he became obsessed with it.
Deputy Sheriff Joseph LoBuono
My father, to this day, was one of the most gentle and fair-minded men I have ever known. Despite his difficult early life, he had a mostly easy-going disposition. He loved his family (especially his children), his few, close friends and, especially, animals. He liked to sing (although not well!), dance, tell ridiculous jokes, and sports. I have very similar interests because of him. However, once he got that badge and gun, he could also be difficult. NO ONE was to challenge his authority. Whether he was actually wearing his uniform or not, he always saw himself as an officer of the law and, therefore, was to be respected and, yes, even feared for it.

NO ONE.

He was like a different man. If we were in the car and someone cut him off, they were going to get pulled over. It didn't matter if he had the whole family in the car with him and we were on our way to church. If someone did something HE deemed inappropriate they were going to know about it. He would flash his lights, pursue them, and cut them off if necessary to get the offender to stop. Now, remember, he was NOT in uniform. But, if he could get their attention, he would flash them his badge. It would drive my mother absolutely crazy. She would implore him, "please, Joe, stop! This is not right. You are not on duty! And, you are putting yourself and the rest of us at risk". Didn't matter - they challenged him and his authority and they would have to pay for it with a good tongue lashing. This behavior lasted for his entire career in law enforcement. He would claim it was his duty to do so. That may have been true but, in reality, I believe a lot of it was simply ego driven. He had the power with that gun and badge and he was going to use his authority when he felt he was wronged. It was if he believed that those objects gave him the moral ground to act that way.

Now, I loved my old man without question. Still, he was flawed like all of us. And, because he was SO human he was not immune to the emotions that affect everyone. With this in mind, I say POWER CORRUPTS and ABSOLUTE POWER CORRUPTS ABSOLUTELY. If a man as gentle and fair-minded as my father ultimately was, it can definitely influence anyone.

So, when you see videos like the one in Salt Lake of a detective allegedly abusing and illegally arresting a nurse, understand that it's not just about the law - it's about human nature. That nurse was not breaking the law. He saw it as her simply breaking his balls. She challenged his AUTHORITY. And, in the world of absolute power, that gets you busted. That's why it is important that we hold the police to a higher standard. They must be TRAINED (and, that includes psychological training) WHEN and HOW to exercise their awesome power and authority.



Saturday, September 2, 2017

Today's MOSTLY TRUE SHORT STORY: A Metaphor

F LoBuono

It was a rare Saturday afternoon - at least in terms of the traffic - there wasn't much! A holiday weekend, Memorial Day and the end of summer lie just ahead. And, most of the cool people must have already arrived at their wonderful holiday destinations down the shore or up in the mountains. I happened to be going to work.

On a normal Saturday, one of the main roads I take from my apartment and eventually into the City is Route 9W. A single lane in each direction, it clings to the side of the Palisades, high above the Hudson River. It certainly is a picturesque byway. But, some of the things that make it so pleasing are also things that can make it difficult to navigate - it's windy, narrow, and often clogged with bicyclists (who love it for THOSE reasons) riding on a virtually non-existent shoulder. There are also a series of traffic lights to negotiate. So, speeding is NOT recommended.

But, on THIS particular day, the road was wide open. There were not many other motorists to contend with and, much to my surprise, there weren't many bicycle riders either. It was almost eerie - like I missed the instructions to stay home! And, if that wasn't positive enough, I caught every traffic light in my favor. I mean I was making great time - so much so that I decided to make a quick detour and visit my mother in a nearby town. Again, I couldn't believe my good fortune - NO traffic and NO red lights!

I was almost at Stella's place when it happened. There is only one railroad crossing to pass on my way there. Well, guess what? Just as I was approaching the crossing, lights started flashing, bells began clanging, and, before I could sneak through, the gates came down. Now, all I could do was wait as a freight train that seemed to contain about 10,000 cars started to pass. I rolled down my car window, turned off the ignition and resigned myself to my fate. All the time that I had saved up to that point would now be "given back" at that rail crossing.

While I waited, I began to think that the whole trip was becoming a metaphor for life itself: things can be going so smoothly in our lives. We're livin' in the fast land and the future is clear and open. Then, without warning, we hit some type of roadblock, like that train crossing, that is beyond our control and all we can do is wait for it to pass. There is no other option.

After 5 or 10 minutes (I'm sure that it was closer to 5 but it felt like 50) the train passed, the lights stopped flashing, the bells clanging, and the gate lifted. Then, I was on my way to continue my journey.


Thursday, August 31, 2017

Today's MOZEN: The Simple Things

F LoBuono

The only thing really special about the day was the weather. It was dry and mild - rare for late August. Otherwise, there was nothing particularly remarkable about it. Bored simply watching the boob-tube, I decided to take the dog for a walk into town. We usually make the "loop", walking on one side of the street into town and on the other for the return trip. I really wasn't expecting much but a simple walk on a beautiful afternoon.

The first part of our sojourn was as uneventful as the day itself. We made our rounds - down Broadway and up Main. We met a few friends, paid our respects, turned around and started making our way home.

We must have been just a few blocks from my apartment when I spotted her. I couldn't believe my luck. Circling just above me, no more than 50 feet or so in the sky, was a magnificent Peregrine Falcon! They are not wholly uncommon to the area (there is a nesting pair on the old TZ bridge) but not so readily observed. They are not large birds and they are fast - the fastest animals on the planet. So, it is indeed a rare treat to see one so close.

Then, a few blocks later and just before I reached my apartment, I spotted a woman walking with a double stroller. Obviously, she was either walking twins or 2 young ones of a similar age. When I got close enough to look inside the stroller I noticed that they were indeed twins - identical, as a matter of fact. They were SO much so that not only were they wearing the same clothes, they had the EXACT same smiling expression of their faces - and, I mean EXACT!! I couldn't help but smile.

It once again reminded me that, if you keep an mind and heart, and lower you expectations, you'll always find something to smile about.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Today's MOZEN: In The Eye of the Storm.

F LoBuono

In my 35 year career in television and TV News, I have covered my share of hurricanes. Katrina and Sandy certainly proved the most memorable. Here are my most vivid memories of those historic and destructive storms. I present them in honor of those risking their safety covering the disaster in Texas caused by Hurricane Harvey.

I received the assignment to cover Hurricane Katrina the afternoon after it initially made landfall. I was told to fly, alone, with my camera gear to Mobile, Alabama, rent a car, and then drive down Rte. 10 and join the crew the was already stationed in Biloxi, Mississippi. When I got to Mobile, it was late in the afternoon. I had to rent a car with just a half tank of gas because the pumps had stopped working after the storm. No matter. I was pretty sure that I would have enough to make it. I loaded the car with my camera gear and started heading south on Rte. 10 towards my final destination.

I had only heard of Biloxi, Mississippi because of the play by Neil Simon. Now, I would have to find it, alone, in the midst of one of the greatest natural disasters to ever hit this Country. I left the local roads and hit the highway to find my way. It was then that it struct me: I was driving completely alone to a place I had barely heard of with tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment and virtually no directions! And, just to reinforce my trepidation, I noticed thousands of car headlights leaving the area and absolutely NO taillights going in. Indeed, I would have to make it there completely on my own.

When I finally reached Biloxi (I couldn't miss it, Rte. 10 runs right through it), it was pitch black and found that the city was smashed! People were like zombies, walking around in a complete daze. That small city was just devastated.  Nothing appeared unscathed by the maelstrom. Debris from the storm surge was everywhere. But, I could see lights in the distance which I knew would be both rescuers AND news crews - if I could only get there! It took hours, backing out of impassable street after street, but. with great difficulty, I eventually reached our crew. I spent weeks there covering the aftermath of Katrina. But, THOSE stories are for another day.

Hurricane Sandy was just as dramatic except that instead of traveling to put myself at risk, I could do so right here at home. I was assigned to go with reporter Vanita Niar to cover the storm from Battery Park on Manhattan's Lower West Side. We took up a position at the sea wall and near the ferry terminal to wait for the eye of the storm to arrive. Over the course of a few hours while we doing our "live" shots, the ferocity of the storm continually increased, threatening to breech the sea wall. Well, eventually the water of the Hudson River did its thing and came pouring over which sent us scrambling to get to higher ground.

With the water rapidly rising, we retreated to a higher point in the park and finished our shift around 2 a.m. The water had risen so much we were not sure how we would ever be able to leave our little, safe "island".  In fact, it had gotten so bad that the Westside Highway which separated us from greater Manhattan had turned from a road to a raging river! I had never seen anything like it. There must have been 3-4 feet of turbulent water coursing down the highway. It may have been more prudent to wait out the storm in the relatively safety of the park but circumstance dictated that we had to try to get back into the City - Vanita had recently given birth to a baby boy and it was essential that she get back to him at their apartment in midtown.

So, we devised a plan: Vanita would take my hand and together we would wade across the river/highway, moving slowly and cautiously. We stepped off from the relatively safety our "live" position and began to make our way across. It was pitch black (the storm had whiped out the power) as we felt our way through the dark water and fierce current. Vanita would occasionally touch something with her feet and cry out in distress. But, she never let go of my hand and we made steady progress. After what felt like an hour, but was probably only a few minutes, we had made it across.

It was then that we realized that only half the battle had been won. We still needed to find our way uptown, a distance of about 3 or 4 miles. And, because that part of the City had been mostly evacuated and the power was out, there was no transportation going ANYWHERE. At that hour, after a VERY long and trying day, the thought of walking 3 or 4 miles just didn't seem to be a viable option. But, what were we to do?

I felt that our only chance might be to find a police car and beg for mercy!! Unfortunately, the few that we found could not leave their posts to aid a couple of pathetic, wet, and miserable news people. We were just about to give up hope when we spotted a police van. I ran up to the police officer who was driving and asked if he could help us. He said, "sure, hop in". You should have seen the smile on my face! Vanita and I climbed in to find that we were not alone. Apparently, the van was assigned to drive through lower Manhattan and find homeless people who might be in distress. Perfect! So, we joined a van load of vagrants for our trip back uptown. But, the van was warm and dry and the company, under the circumstances, was just fine.

Vanita made it back to her son and me to a hotel room for a meal and some much needed sleep. The next day, we were at it again - this time I was assigned another reporter and off to Atlantic City we went to continue our coverage. I wound up traveling over 1300 miles covering the storm and its aftermath before it was all over. Again, that's a story for another day.

I don't cover hurricanes like I used. Lately, I do so from the comfort of the studio. And, you know what? That's just fine. I'll always have my memories.


Thursday, August 24, 2017

WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT IT: Columbus Must Go

F LoBuono

I'm pretty much as Italian-American as they come - all of my ancestors come from there (Sicily mostly). And, I damned proud of it, too. But, I'm not blind or stupid. So, despite the stern objections by many Italian-American organizations who see him as a great hero, I still support the logic behind the current efforts to remove statues dedicated to Christopher Columbus.

Please follow my logic.

BACK STORY: In light of the violence that surrounded the proposed removal of memorial statues dedicated to Confederate Civil War heroes in Charlottesville, Va., awareness has been raised as to exactly WHOM we choose to honor with these statues. Many argue that those who supported slavery and oppression are certainly not worthy. Columbus, a hero to many, is also acknowledged as a slaver and oppressor of the indigenous people he encountered on his journeys of discovery and would fall into this category. Others claim that we cannot erase history and his accomplishments.

First, for those Italian-American organizations who see Columbus as intrepid navigator and the discoverer of the Americas. Wekk, he may have been born in (or, near) Genoa, Italy, as Cristoforo Colombo, but that, in a sense, was simply an accident of birth. At that time, there was no Italy as we know it today. It was a series of independent city statues or republics, of which Genoa was one. AND, it was controlled by the Kingdom of Spain. When Columbus attempted to secure funding, he originally went to the Kingdom of Portugal. When he failed there, he then successfully petitioned Spain. So, he sailed under a SPANISH FLAG with the majority of his crew being SPANISH sailors. In fact, judging his writings, scholars believe that Columbus probably spoke Spanish more than Italian (or, even its Genovese dialect)! He was even given a Spanish name; Cristobal Colon. Why do you think most of South and Central America speaks Spanish?! Columbus' descendents have served with distinction in the Spanish navy every since. Well, there goes your Italian pride.

Second, Columbus NEVER set foot in what we know call North America. He landed on the island of modern Haiti and they called Hispaniola. He never made landfall anywhere near what is now America (which, by the way, is named after the cartographer Amerigo Vespucci - NOT Columbus). So, it really is a stretch to say that Columbus actually discovered America. In fact, it is believed that the Vikings actually reached NORTH America hundreds of years before Columbus.

Third, Columbus was a brilliant navigatorr but a shitty leader. No one can question his skills as a sailor. In fact, they are legendary. However, his lack of leadership qualities haunted him. His crews were almost always on the verge of mutiny. And, his brutal treatment of indigenous people was abhorrent. He used and abused them, solely for the advancement of his own fame and fortune. He was personally responsible for the deaths and enslavement of tens of thousands. This is hardly laudatory behavior!

So, When You Think About It, what's to memorialize - a man credited with discovering a country that he did not - an Italian who was more Spanish than Italian - and, a man who, for his own fame and fortune, caused immeasurable suffering among millions?

No, my friends, I would have no problem with the statues gone and Columbus relegated to where he belongs - in museums and history books. In this way, we can preserve history and still the honor the truth of what really happened.





Saturday, August 19, 2017

Today's MOZEN: A Confession

F LoBuono

There are certainly days when I feel like I'm simply wasting my time doing this. No one really reads anymore. Or, more accurately, they don't seem to be reading MY stuff anyway. And, for some who actually do participate in this forum, there are those who simply don't like me - not just my writing but, me, personally! I've been called an arrogant dick on more than one occasion. I'm suppose that there is at least some validity to that statement.

Be that as it may, the question remains: WHY BOTHER?

Well, I guess it's because I've had FAR more people tell me to "not give up" and "we need your voice" than those who say "you're such and arrogant dick".

So, as long as I can make a difference in someone's life, I'm here to stay.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT IT: US Grant was Right

US Grant/ Words by F LoBuono

It's an understatement to claim that the removal of Confederate memorial statues from public spaces, primarily in the South, has become a devisive issue. And, it's understandable. Many Southerns have ancestors that fought in the war and died for what they believed was a just cause. Again, remember, most Southern soldiers were NOT slave holders. So, it's hard to tell someone that not only did their ancestor die in vain, they did so for a cause not worth memorializing.

It's also reasonable for the rest of America to want them gone. To the majority of Americans, especially those who do not live in the South, the statues are symbols of not only hate and bigotry, but treason, as well.

While I do see both points of view, I cannot support the former. Although I sympathize with the South's sense of history, their is NO place in contemporary America to memorialize such a flawed sense of duty. In other words, its damned difficult for Southerners to rap their heads around the idea that the fought so valiently against such difficult odds only to have their sacrifice wind up on the trash heap of history.

Many people consider General Ulysses S. Grant the savior of the Union. Working with President Lincoln, they devised a brilliant plan that, with GREAT sacrifice, would bring the South to its knees and preserve the Union. And, it worked. The South was defeated and reflecting Grant's terms of surrender, he became know as Unconditional Surrender Grant.

Near the end of his life, Mark Twain encouraged Grant to write his memiors and wound up publishing them - to great critical success. Within the memoir, he wrote this about his Southern opponents. WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT IT, he couldn't have been more right!

“As time passes, people, even of the South, will begin to wonder how it was possible that their ancestors ever fought for or justified institutions which acknowledged the right of property in man.” 
― Ulysses S. GrantPersonal Memoirs of U.S. Grant: All Volumes

Kind of says it all, don't you think? We're just waiting for the day it finally happens.