NJ DISCOVER SPOTLIGHT: MEET BECKY LYNE MASTERSON ; A Lifetime of Caring and Meaning by Calvin Schwartz March 8, 2017(0)
NJ DISCOVER SPOTLIGHT: MEET BECKY LYNE MASTERSON ; A Lifetime of Caring and Meaning by Calvin Schwartz March 8, 2017
Before I jump into the spotlight verbiage of this article and talk about Becky Lyne Masterson, I just got one of those epiphanies preceded by a wondrous incandescent cerebral light bulb getting turned-on. I need to tell you about the etiology of these spotlight articles; a history lesson of sorts. It makes this article about Becky Lyne more salient and relevant.
Six years ago I met Tara-Jean McDonald Vitale, my co-host now on NJ Discover Live TV Show. Shortly thereafter, she introduced me to NJ Discover, a full service amazing production company nestled here in Monmouth County. Then the two of us went on the road and brought news features, personalities and special places to the world of NJ Discover. Our mantra was quickly illuminated. We would focus our energies and resources on elevating people and places of New Jersey; after all, NJ Discover is all about discovering those aspects of New Jersey which CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS and even News 12 can’t begin to devote appropriate time. We can and do. It’s who we are.
There are seven million stories in the naked (city) New Jersey. There are people who give of themselves, are dedicated, driven, motivated and out there, often invisible, beneath the radar but part of the machinery of caring and sharing. It’s easy to interview Meryl Streep, a Senator or a bestselling author. It’s harder to fit into a yellow or pastel submarine and get below the surface to substantive Jersey lives. The people “who do the real living and dying” (a line from “It’s a Wonderful Life”). I had to get that favorite movie in here somehow.
Often in my writing, I bring in aspects of synchronicity, journeys and things meant to be. It’s part of who I am and a very long story. A few weeks ago, I was asked by Laura Madsen, publicist and “a lady in red who writes,” to be an extra in Sean Guess’ new film ‘That’s Life,’ shooting a scene down the Jersey shore. I love the roar of the crowd and smell of greasepaint. A few minutes before the shoot, I met another extra in the film, Becky Lyne. Within a few synchronistic moments, we were talking about mental health, giving back, autism and relevance. Her exuberance and devotion captured me as did that alluring smile. We kept talking. They were shooting in the next room. We kept hearing, “Quiet on the set.” I love that line. But there it all was in that one brief shining moment. I wanted to learn more about her life and work with Developmentally Disabled Adults. Becky was the embodiment of all that NJ Discover Spotlight articles should be; a road on a journey to discover. I asked to interview her.
Cut to America’s Cup on Cookman Avenue in Asbury Park on a Saturday morning, two weeks later. Firstly, Becky started working for the MENTOR Network (thementornetwork.com) in January. “The MENTOR Network is a national network of local health and human services providers in 35 states offering an array of quality, community-based services to adults and children with intellectual and developmental disabilities, brain and spinal cord injuries and other catastrophic injuries and illnesses; to youth with emotional, behavioral and medically complex challenges, as well as their families; and to elders in need of support.” When I researched MENTOR, I was kind of amazed by all they do, and the fact I’d never really known about them upset me; my lack of awareness. I apologized to Becky for not knowing.
I asked when this passion and need to care for special people began. She absolutely blew me away and totally surprised. “Ever since I was five years old, I’ve been volunteering with my parents at functions with the Elks.” She worked Camp Discovery for ten summers through high school. I was beginning to grasp that all of Becky’s life in caring and helping special people was an event of destiny. I thought of the movie, ‘Heaven Can Wait’ with Warren Beatty. As in the movie, she was destined from the early beginning to give back and care.
She talked about running the Special Children’s Committee at Tom Rivers Elks which gave out three scholarships. Part of her background expertise was also an employment specialist where she would teach and guide through the real world. In 1993 she graduated high school and college in 2009. Then in 2009, 2010, 2011 she taught basic skills Math and Language Arts in the Toms River school district. In September, 2012, they removed the basic skills program from the schools and two weeks later she found out she had cervical cancer and went ahead and beat it. “Once Sandy hit, I stayed busy with collecting donations and helping others even through my own surgeries.” Listening to Becky, for me, was an experience of being Jersey tough, resilience and a belief system that I rarely run into it. I was savoring every moment of our time together.
“I got involved right away in raising money for Sandy relief. We got eight planes of donations and ten trucks as well. The relief center was run by myself, my mom, and one other.” Becky ran the relief center at the Elks until March, 2013. There was a party at the Elks where she met Caregivers of New Jersey and started working with them. “They deal with life plans and life skills. They got a grant and I became Disaster Case Manager where 75% had to have a disability. That was the grant.”
When the grant ended in May, 2013, she went to the Salvation Army in Toms River and did an 18-month gig “advocating for the victims of Hurricane Sandy, in every aspect of getting them back to their “new normal” into a safe, sanitary and secure home and assisted with the completion of county grants and helping them to receive monies through the unmet needs table.”
In January, 2016 she went back to Caregivers and became Support Coordinator. This past July, Becky went to ARC and became an employment specialist. Of course I asked what it all entailed. “I have to help them gain confidence, respect and teach them what the real world is like. All of them are 21 and over and must have a high school degree.” All the while I’m listening to Becky, I’m trying to jump into her shoes. Can I even comprehend the devotion it takes to do this? There are no marching bands, testimonial dinners, or basically anyone out there in Jersey land, including myself, who fathom and grasp this incredible devotion to people who are in need.
Now I really got blown away. In January, Becky started with MENTOR. Talk about unsung heroes. She became program coordinator for a residential house. “What is that,” I asked. “There are four individuals that live there. Two are wheel chair bound and two are ambulatory. There are three houses like this in Ocean County. I run the house. There are three shifts. We manage their lives. Some can’t talk. Some are blind.” I was quiet for a moment, digesting and absorbing. “But there are only four people you care for. There are no big groups, or activities, or softball or parties or lots of aides and helpers. This is serious intensive care. There is no aspect of anything close to fun.”
Becky smiled, understanding my response. “You have to want to work here. It is a colorful world. Yes, there is always something happening. We do go to outings. They leave the house from 9 to 4pm. Go to day programs sometimes with arts and crafts.” What she said was so powerful to me. I have to repeat it again. “You have to want to work here.” Like the folk song from the sixties, this was my reason to believe in the value of epiphanies and why I’m writing an article about Becky Lyne Masterson. This is a discovery for me, meeting this kind of devotion and life’s work. Nearing the end of our time together, she talked about her young daughter and son and how they’ve already expressed to her that when they grow up, they want to be just like her. I smiled thinking all about circles of life and continuity. I also thought about my work with discovery spotlights. Meeting Becky was spotlight right on and extending thanks to my friend, ‘synchronicity in the universe’, for meeting her on a film set.
“There’s No Place Like the Food Bank” 2017 Humanitarian Gala March 24th 40,000 Monmouth & Ocean County Children Are Hungry by Calvin Schwartz 2-8-17(0)
“There’s No Place Like the Food Bank” 2017 Humanitarian Gala March 24th 40,000 Monmouth & Ocean County Children Are Hungry by Calvin Schwartz 2-8-17
I’m looking at the title of this article with hesitation. Have I committed ‘dichotomy’? On one hand, announcing and promoting a Humanitarian Gala at a Country Club and on the other hand, promulgating a disturbing statistic; an obscene amount of children are hungry here in Monmouth and Ocean County. My being here is to support and spread the word of the amazing work done by the Food Bank of Monmouth and Ocean County and the special honorees at the Gala who give of themselves tirelessly and endlessly to the cause of fighting hunger here at home. A Gala is a wonderful vehicle to raise desperately needed funds to do the work of feeding the hungry. Soon I’ll lay down some hard money facts.
Those honorees are: Rena Levine Levy and Steven Levine from the WindMill Restaurants, Members of United Teletech Financial, Board Chairs Emeritus, Junior Humanitarian, Dominic Esposito, and Agency Partner, King of Kings Food Pantry.
I’m not new to the work of the Food Bank nor honorees, Rena Levine Levy and Steven Levine. All of my writing and journalism comes from living and learning first hand. There is no other real way. Five years ago, I learned about homelessness, spending time in a homeless tent encampment 22 miles from Monmouth County. (Tent City in Lakewood) Frankly, having never seen this side of life, I was changed forever. How people (over 100) survived (not lived), in tents for up to 12 years without running water or heat or electricity is horrifying.
Concomitant with being homeless is being hungry. I soon discovered the Food Bank of Monmouth and Ocean County. I did spend several days there actually after Hurricane Sandy, learning, feeling, absorbing. To augment my understanding of hunger (in America too), I attended a program at Count Basie Theater in Red Bank called the ‘The Soul of Hunger’ which was a lengthy community dialogue about Hunger in New Jersey. The afternoon began with a screening of the film “A Place at the Table,” and later Governor Christie and restaurateur Tom Colicchio joined moderator Willie Geist from ‘The Today Show.’ Point being, (my son uses this expression all the time) talking about hunger is a good process but the FoodBank needs you all year. Again, I was changed forever as I learned about the insidious nature of hunger. Yes, our very neighbors could be hungry but would never reach out or say anything for fear of embarrassment which means their children are also hungry
“I’m walking here,” Ratzo said, (remember I’m a stream of consciousness writer). I just visualized Dustin Hoffman playing the role of Ratzo Rizzo in ‘Midnight Cowboy,’ a riveting film; it still bothers me. Rizzo was terribly hungry as he walked the city streets scrounging for food. Jon Voight (Joe Buck) in the movie crushed a cracker into a cup of ketchup and water for sustenance; just one of my images of hunger. I remember Charles Dickens ‘A Christmas Carol’ when the ‘Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come’ opens his coat to reveal two children who symbolize ignorance and want(hunger). And not much has changed since 1843. Actually things are even worse ergo part of the title of this article, 40, 000 children in Monmouth and Ocean County are hungry.
I know that honoree Steven Levine helped with food for people in the tents or after disasters as well as giving dinners in Asbury Park for the many needy. I’ve been to the WindMill in Long Branch when Rena and Steven fed a large number of needy kids from nearby towns. But it’s their life commitment to giving back and working with the Food Bank, planning events to raise funds and being involved and caring.
Perhaps the most startling statistic to share here is that in 1980 there were 40 food pantries in America. Today, there are upwards of 40,000. One in ten people in Monmouth and Ocean County use the services of the Food Bank. Remember my article title; there are 40,000 hungry children in both counties. Why so critically important to raise funds (and why YOU are all needed to help at any level) is $1.00 raised can provide 3 meals!!!!
Nothing is coincidence. I was thinking about writing this all day. A few hours ago, I watched World News Tonight. There was a segment on “Blessing Boxes” in a small Texas town. The box is set up on a street and people can drop off canned food, toiletries and other items for the needy. I watched a single woman with four children recently laid off from work use the “Blessing Box.” It was critical for feeding her young children. Hunger is all around and much too much in America at the advanced year of 2017. It’s so prevalent here in our two home counties so please reach into your conscious conscience and help OUR Food Bank of Monmouth and Ocean County. These are different times. We really do need each other. And if you can help any aspect of the Gala, please do.
The FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties website: http://www.foodbankmoc.org/
Here are the flyers and information on the Gala:
INTERVIEW: An Evening with Actor Dave Paul and ‘Company’ by Calvin Schwartz Jan 27th 2017(0)
INTERVIEW: An Evening with Actor Dave Paul and ‘Company’ by Calvin Schwartz Jan 27th 2017
I continue to marvel (just like I’m a little kid, wondrously looking at the window of a toy store a few weeks before Christmas) at the exigencies and connectivity of Facebook and other realms of social media. Perhaps I can make the statement, even as a denizen of the sixties era, that social media has changed the course of the river of my life. So, yes, I dig social media. It digs me too. Somewhere, there is an essay tied into a prominent Saint dealing with people being brought together. Lost in space. This has been the set-up.
The forces of synchronicity and commonality came together back last June when Dave Paul and I connected on Facebook. We were now friends and communicated often through the utilization of the messenger service. Dave’s focus was when we could meet in real life and do that actor-journalist-interviewer thing. Right from the starting gate, I was intrigued with Dave’s aura of energy, confidence and love of acting. I’m partial to the acting profession; a long story. It took five laborious months of planning, cancelling and resetting appointments to finally settle in at the end of November.
I opened the door, there was Dave and fellow actor and friend Paul Vito (ergo, part of the ‘company’ of the night) We had spoken often in the preceding months so I really knew him to be the affable young actor standing in my hallway. Of course, I felt like it’s been years instead of our first live meeting. We sat down at that other social media phenomenon, a kitchen table, with two pizzas, one plain and one embellished, still warm. We ate and talked.
Dave is working on a movie, ‘That’s Life’ being filmed in Monmouth County by director, film maker Sean Guess. Synchronicity is alive. My very first video interview on a red carpet took place five years ago at Sean’s Red Bank premiere of ‘Nothing for Christmas.’ Dave continued, “When I was eight years old, my mother put in for me to be in Romper Room. But mom turned down the offer to do more. She got scared.” He graduated West Orange High School and his father wanted him to work in wall covering.
In 1996, ‘The Home Boy’ with Julie Brown was being filmed in West Orange and Dave became an extra. “I stayed for more scenes and got more into it.” Then Dave talked about his athleticism. “The first time I went bowling, I bowled a 185, signed a PBA card and became a professional athlete in 2009.” He did some work at Bane Haunted House in Livingston which was interactive theater. By now, each of us had fully masticated a slice of pizza. The haunted talk segued into a discussion of para-normal investigations. Dave is multi-layered and we drifted around ghosts and electronic voice phenomenon.
“I did a skype audition for a western, but didn’t get the part. I made the last cut which fueled my energy. Along the way, there was six student films, background (extra) work.” I was fascinated when he told me, “I never did acting schools. I wanted to experience life which is the best way to learn. I like to be a renegade. Maybe it’s helping me be successful.”
He continued to do short films and student films. His confidence was rising. Next, Dave went to an independent film, ‘Dara Ju’ where he played an SEC investigator. The film is at Sundance as we speak. He laughed when he talked about playing an executive in Atlantic City. “On break, we gambled at the Borgata.”
In the movie, ‘The Set Up’ (2016) he plays ‘Ace’ a mob boss which appeared in the Urban Action Film Festival and was asked to act in the sequel. By now, our kitchen table group had maxed out on the second slice of pizza. Dave talked about Paul Vito, their friendship and how he tries to get acting parts for him. For me, there was the depth of his character and loyalty which impressed. The doorbell echoed and a very fascinating Anngeannette Pinkston arrived; a very talented playwright, producer, author and part-time theatrical manager. The ‘company’ was complete.
‘Crow Hill’ is a web series for TV. He plays Paul, one of six zombie survivors. He also got Paul Vito a feature role in this film. All the while, through the past hour, I absorbed Dave’s devotion and passion to his craft, acting. The guy really loves what he does. I did my usual blink of an eye while my wife brought coffee and dessert. During the blink, I saw Dave as a guest on Jimmy Fallon. He had finally arrived and I had interviewed him way before Jimmy.
Angeannette’s play, “I Lost My Heart in Haiti” premieres in March at the Producers Club in New York City. I asked her about the story line. “One woman’s struggle to mend her heart as the country mends after an earthquake. I wrote each and every song.”
Dave’s list of credits is growing. His career is notable in its dedication and pursuit. I was impressed (so was my wife) when he told us that he played a disgruntled bank customer in a Christian Slater movie, ‘Mr. Robot’ on the USA Network and appeared background in ‘Vinyl.’
Dave met Paul on the set of ‘There’s No Way Out,’ a TV series now looking for a home on a major network. This past summer, I had a chance to work their red carpet after they finished shooting in Newark but I actually wound up in Senator Booker’s office down the street; a long story. Paul spent four years as a standup comedian and is still doing it. He finished a six-month course at the New York Film Academy.
Nobody did coffee and cake. But it was time to go introspective; a signature part of our interview time together; to get the essential Dave Paul. I asked Dave, “What makes you cry?” “Seeing my twins in an incubator. And if a loved one passes.”
“Do you have a philosophy by which you live?” “Loyalty and friendship is everything. When I pass, I want to be known as a true friend.” The best time in his life was when his three kids were born. “Amanda, 8, and the twins, Michael and Amy, 1 year. Of course special thanks to Jenn.” And the worst time in his life was when his grandpa died. “And now my uncle Jack who has Alzheimer’s. I’m dedicating my life to him.”
Hey Dave, “Does anything keep you awake?” “A good movie or sports.” His favorite movie, ‘Top Gun.’ He loves The Three Stooges, Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello and James Dean. I didn’t tell him, but there was something about him, all the while sitting around the table, that reminded me of James Dean in ‘Rebel Without a Cause.’
It was now a late November night. It was a fun time for me meeting this actor and his company. One last question. “Before I leave this earth, I won’t be satisfied until I…………….” A few seconds of thought until he answered. “Until I become an ‘A List’ celebrity, win a few nominations and give back to my family.”
I had an unusual request before he left; to sit with him on my dark cold leafy stoop outside and pose for a photo op; a long story. As Dave was walking to the car, I yelled about blinking my eye and seeing him on Jimmy Fallon. I’m not sure if he heard me.
YOU CAN FIND: DAVE PAUL on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100010269757660
and MOB DIARIES PAGE: https://www.facebook.com/Mob-Diaries-1075791545880165/
PAUL VITO: https://www.facebook.com/paul.laruccia/about?lst=1527695958%3A528167633%3A1485546938
ANNGEANNETTE PINKSTON: https://www.facebook.com/anngeannette.anngeannettepinkston
A Journey to Awareness When You Least Expect It: Appreciating Latino Culture by Calvin Schwartz Jan 14th 2017(0)
A Journey to Awareness When You Least Expect It: Appreciating Latino Culture by Calvin Schwartz Jan 14th 2017
This article title is aptly constructed. You go through life in Central Jersey and it seems sometimes you’re a million miles away from relevance and meaning. But it’s the same everywhere. Five years ago, when I was just beginning my journalism career, I happened upon Tent City, a plot of forest land in Lakewood, New Jersey where up to 100 people (humans) were living in tents for up to ten years, homeless and without electricity or running water. I least expected homelessness 20 miles from my home in comfortable Monmouth County. Ocean County had no provisions for homeless. Spending time there, I was changed irrevocably; I became aware of the devastating hopelessness of homelessness. Awareness is a gift.
The gifts were many as a journalist these past five years. I also learned about hunger, musicians, autism, bipolar and PTSD. Then suddenly last summer, in August, I received an email from Monmouth Museum, actually while I was reclining on a beach chair at the Dead Sea in 111-degree temperature. I was invited to attend the September opening exhibit of an emerging artist, Dion Hitchings. It was mid-September when I found myself at the museum checking out a fascinating exhibit. The artist used Cheerio and donut boxes instead of canvas. When I finished, museum public relations head, Laura Oncea, asked if I’d like to see a new exhibit that was being set-up in the main hall; Neo-Latino: Critical Mass. The curator, Monica Camin and assistant, Nicole Sardone were busy setting up. I walked in, looked to my left and saw Ricardo Fonseca’s “An Act of Love -Trumpet!” It was captivating and riveting and made me think. I love to think. My wife and I absorbed the exhibit. I was hooked and engrossed but turned down an invitation to attend the exhibit opening reception on September 16th.
Driving home, perhaps less than a mile from the museum, my friend, epiphany, helped me reverse my decision. I called and accepted the invitation for the reception. Epiphany reminded me that at the reception, there would be a gathering of some of the most prominent Latino artists in the country; some were PhDs and professors; all accomplished and successful. But present, beneath my soft cutaneous surface, were old and new stereotypes, many stuck in the current political climate. I hate stereotypes and falling into traps without being open minded. I’m confronted by my own lack of awareness of Latino (Hispanic) culture and that frustrated that it existed in me. I never want to be on an ignorant bus driving along a Gulf of Mexico highway. I keep seeking understanding, relevance and diversity as I go through the maturation process. In thirty years or so, minorities in America will be a majority. Isn’t it a good time to absorb, appreciate new vistas of culture? Challenge your own assumptions.
The exhibit at Monmouth Museum,’ Neo Latino: Critical Mass’ was conceived at this pivotal time for the Latino voice, in the midst of an historic election and would stress the Latino cultural and socio-political experience. A collective of diverse artists was created to express a Latino voice in this new century. For me, that time has arrived; long overdue. Artists with roots or ties to Argentina, Columbia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Puerto Rico, Portugal and Spain were represented. Before the reception, I sat in the garden (It was a late summer warm night) with the collective creators and curators, Raul Villareal, Dr. Jose Rodeiros, Monica Camin and Olga Mercedes Bautista. And then my favorite lightbulb went on; their energy lit my fire and I suggested doing an NJ Discover LIVE TV Show to further bring awareness to their work, culture and art. It was agreed and we did the show in October. Here is the link to “Neo Latino Artists Come to NJ Discover Live TV.” Please check it out. You’ll get a chance to see and hear about some of the representative art. It was a great show. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fMzmocQpu5s
A few weeks later artist (his work combines design, digital manipulation, digital art illustration, photography and sometimes animation and sound) Ricardo Fonseca invited me to attend the ‘We Are You Project’ Poetry Anthology Reading on October 27th at New York’s Nuyorican Café on the lower East Side. Another evening, this time with some of the country’s most prolific, prominent Latino poets. For me, it was a continuance of my recent journey to Latino cultural awareness. A commitment to mind expansiveness and learning. This notion securely etched in the stone of my determination. I let Woodstock in 1969 and Dr. King’s March on Washington and “I Have a Dream” speech in August, 1963 pass me by. No more moments in life would be unattended. Even though that night produced a cold heavy rain storm, I trained into the city with Monica Camin, curator of the “Neo Latino-Critical Mass” exhibit.
Indeed, so well worth the drenching trip. The café was alive with Latino artists and poets, dramatically reading some of their works. I had a chance to meet and chat with Dr. Carlos Hernandez, former President of New Jersey City University, Mario Tapia, President of the Latino Center on Aging and Duda Penteado, artist, poet and Brazilian-American. All three, so instrumental in putting this night together and more importantly, developing new, transcultural tools to help the emerging modern Hispanic population. Represented this night was work from the Beat Generation with George Nelson Preston. I was a happy guy. It brought me home to where/when I came from. There was so much more words/works that harvested emotion, diversity, passion, freedom and justice. I could write pages now about what I absorbed. I felt so elevated being there. I was alive again. I love the feeling of input and knowledge and involvement. Best if you all catch a flavor of the individual works that night, Go to:
and visually journey into the culture. Their culture is part of our American culture. It’s who we are; a nation of immigrants and a melting pot of diversity and creativity. I marvel at the universe for lighting my fire and bringing me here to awareness. There is a purpose to things; an order in the universe. Earlier this summer, I had a chance to interview Laurie Hernandez, a 16-year-old American- Latino gymnast just before she left for the Olympics where she won a Gold and Silver Medal. A few months ago, she dazzled America winning ‘Dancing with the Stars.’ Then in November, I went to an evening of Comedy at the Headliner in Neptune Township featuring Peaches Rodriguez, a well-known Latino comedian.
My journey these past few months has been very special absorbing Latino culture as part of the promise of America. I’ve also done serious work with education and the promise it affords our future. I feel like I’m on that mountain top, looking down, beyond my long white beard which touches my knees. I understand things better now. I know education is what can help so many problems of the world. It’s a gift we need to share. I’m on a wonderful path. I love awareness and Latino culture. For me, it’s all a wondrous beginning; a new world; and an expected lot of miles yet to travel. And so it goes.
A Holiday Party Experience at McGuire Air Force Base/Fort Dix by Calvin Schwartz 1-3-17(0)
A Holiday Party Experience at McGuire Air Force Base/Fort Dix by Calvin Schwartz 1-3-17
The holidays are times of introspection and gratitude. Some years ago, I met Steven Levine from the WindMill Restaurants at the Jersey Shore. He has been involved in giving back to the communities in many ways. During Hurricane Sandy, he was there feeding people made homeless by the storm as well as rescue workers. A few weeks ago, he invited me to the Asbury Park VFW, where he sponsored a large community Christmas dinner and Toy boutique for kids along with Pastor Isaac Friedel of the Jersey Shore Dream Center. Indeed, I was grateful to be part of the spirit of the season. Later, he asked if I’d like to go to a Holiday Hanukah Party he was involved in at McGuire Air Force Base and Fort Dix. Along with his family, he was providing toys for tots. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to spend time at a military base at the holidays; actually my first substantive time spent at a military base so very close to home.
On Thursday December 29th we formed a mini caravan of a WindMill truck and a Suburban carrying toys and Steven’s wife, daughter and friends and my wide-eyed self; I was going to spend time with our military. After security check-in, we arrived at the activity center which was hosting the party. Being a few hours early, afforded us time to explore. I was overwhelmed with the vastness of the base. I rolled down a window and took pictures (with permission). In the distance, many fuselages of transport planes waiting. One nearby, obviously retired, stated, ‘US Air Force’. Subliminally, I instantly thought about freedom and the power of America and what our military does to preserve freedom. It hit me that fast. That’s what seeing that plane so close did to me.
Next stop, more practically speaking, was a shopping mall and food court; the Military BX, as big as any vast modern mart store; and yes, I was aware of the great prices the military paid. Sitting with our group in the food court, I watched soldiers, families passing by. How do I explain this? How did I sense that esprit de corps and belonging? But I did. Smiles all around; how easy it must’ve been for the passing military personnel to sense I was a civilian wearing my traditional Rutgers cap.
If I was alone driving, I’d still be lost like the man who was never found after taking a Boston subway ride (an old Kingston Trio folk song.) It was a city in itself; many thousands stationed here. With a few twists, turns, round-about, passed a Subway sandwich shop and gas station, we were back at the activity center, now readied for the party. A few camouflaged soldiers, whom we met earlier, welcomed us back and helped unload the toys. A young sergeant and I talked about Indiana and her being a Hoosier. The room was decorated with tables Hanukah themed and forty or so guests were treated to traditional holiday foods like potato latkes. The kids got toys and games.
What I did notice was the multi-cultural flavor of the party. Yes, A Jewish holiday but personnel were diverse making it even more holiday spirited. For me, always extant in absorption of emotions and feelings, there was a warmth, caring and sharing in the room. It was a strong feeling. For those moments, I wondered what’d be like to serve and be stationed here and what I missed. Also present were a group of Jewish War Veterans. One veteran introduced me to the last living dog that worked in 9-11. She rescued two NY PATH policemen buried under building Seven. The veteran still trains canines.
What cemented the warm feelings even more was the announcement that New Jersey’s Brigadier General, Michael L Cunniff and Base Commander Col. Frederick D. Thaden were at the party and each was given the honor of lighting a candle on the Menorah. A very special feeling of inclusion and bonding. A very modern military. I had time to chat with both Military Chaplains and with Commander Thaden. Perhaps, my NJ Discover journalism travels would bring me back here and how I’d love that.
The night concluded with traditional songs and jelly donuts (part of the holiday) And in keeping with the ‘donut’ theme, the experience was well worth the trip. I keep thinking about the military, the base, freedom and the holiday of Hanukah which is all about freedom. I’ve been telling my world all about my time at McGuire and Fort Dix; how much it meant to me. A few asked, as a journalist, would I ever go up in a fighter plane? I suggested they have a donut.
AN NJ DISCOVER FRIEND SETS NEW WORLD RECORD IN WASHINGTON, D.C. ; CONGRATS TO ROBERT COZMO CONSULMAGNO by Calvin Schwartz December 23rd 2016(0)
AN NJ DISCOVER FRIEND SETS NEW WORLD RECORD IN WASHINGTON, D.C. ; CONGRATS TO ROBERT COZMO CONSULMAGNO by Calvin Schwartz December 23rd 2016
Life is filled with synchronicity and candid camera moments; when you least expect it, something of value happens and it takes some qualitative time to fully evaluate and comprehend. Nearly 18 months ago, quite innocently, I was invited to sit in at a Rumson watering hole as a bunch of Jersey City natives were taking in the Paul Marino Band. Paul’s brother, Mike Marino, Jersey’s Bad Boy of Comedy invited me to hang out. I told him I was a Newark native but it was all good. At the table was an empty seat next to Robert Cozmo Consulmagno. By the time the evening wound down, and the music stopped, I had bonded with Cozmo beyond what I first thought(impressions) and had heard some of his life’s story.
Cozmo is an incredibly ripped and iron pumped 44-year-old, a former Marine and victim of childhood abuse, that only an upcoming book can do justice to. After five years serving his country as a Marine, he was diagnosed with PTSD and Bipolar disease, meaning he was permanently disabled. His journey all these years since has been well documented.
NJ Discover, over these past 18 months, has taken Cozmo into our family. His spirit, dedication and drive continually serve as powerful lessons for our audience and for all of us at NJ Discover. We’ve video interviewed Cozmo at our studio and had him as a special guest along with 16 time Philadelphia Emmy Award winning documentarian, Glenn Holsten on our NJ Discover LIVE TV Show, the segment called “Tough Guys Who Achieve.” All those video links are included herein. Cozmo has become my brother. I care about him. I’m so proud of him. Through all this time, Cozmo has dedicated himself to bringing awareness on a national level of bipolar disease. This is his dream and source of renewable energy.
What better way to raise awareness, than to go for a world record, with Guinness in mind, in a highly visible place like Washington, DC. Yes, Cozmo was been a world ranked Jiu Jitsu fighter, now boxes, and is a constant denizen of the gym, working his body into an art form. So his world record would be in the Ab Wheel and how many of this difficult maneuver can he do in an hour. He has worked closely with the Veterans Administration and DAV in Washington, who actually hosted the event this past Tuesday December 20th. Here is a video link to the DAV hosting the event when Cozmo did 524 Ab Wheels in one hour!
Cozmo on NJ Discover LIVE TV Show. “Tough Guys Who Achieve” http://bit.ly/1N5cCwa
Cozmo Interviewed on NJ Discover in Studio https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jo960SxQOSY
From DAV site: We have the final count!! Robert Cozmo Consulmagno just did 524 standing ab rolls in 1 hour! Great job, Cozmo!!*
Setting a Guinness World Records with Robert Cozmo Consulmagno! This U.S. Marine Corps veteran and DAV life member endured years of social dysfunction, until he figured out he was struggling with PTSD and bipolar disorder. These days he’s fighting those invisible injuries through his work with DAV Chapter 37 in Somerville, N.J., and in the community of Morrisville, Pa., just across the state line.
That is the message that he wants other veterans to understand, “I want to spread a message of hope to other veterans. You can overcome obstacles, something is going to work for you, and you have to find what that something is for you.”
DAV (Disabled American Veterans) is a leading nonprofit that provides a lifetime of support for veterans of all generations and their families.
WISHING YOU ALL MERRY HAPPY HEALTHY HOLIDAYS
Calvin Schwartz, written on the night before Christmas Eve
Time to Redefine A Senior Citizen & Hold On To A Moment: A Continuing Journey to Jersey Centenarians by Calvin Schwartz September 27, 2016(0)
Time to Redefine A Senior Citizen & Hold On To A Moment: A Continuing Journey to Jersey Centenarians by Calvin Schwartz September 27, 2016
I love; tiptoeing through the tulips, having a warm gust of wind carry me back to a red mountain top in Sedona, Arizona, and a synchronistic meeting in a parking lot five years ago that got me an invite to Emily Cook’s 102nd Birthday Party. As an aspiring journalist for NJDiscover back then, I accepted that invitation. Who knew that it would help change the course of relevance and create a better awareness to passages and stages of life.
I went to Emily’s 102nd party and her 103rd and along the way became friends with her, visiting, sometimes randomly, but always managing to talk about her favorite President, Hoover. We didn’t see eye to eye on that. There was something precious about her; a living breathing Google trip back to the Depression. The foundation to seek out other Emily’s was secured. I began a series of interviews with other centenarians like the wondrous William Zimmerman, who told me about WWII, his Navy ship deployed at D-day and later in the Pacific theater. How vibrant and colorful their descriptions; how passionate and eager to contribute. How valuable their experience.
Deep inside my complicated cerebral cellular mechanisms, I began to focus on centenarians, senior citizens, assumptions, stereotypes and Charles Dickens’ Spirit of Christmas yet to be. Not yet a magnificent obsession, but this aging gig is on my mind. Yes, in 1965, I began taking my cocktail of between 40 and 60 supplements a day which I still do; some of which is designed to keep the cerebral faculties bristling with input and output.
There is a careful theme to this opening discussion. A few weeks ago, I spent the afternoon at one of the world’s largest social media companies. When finished, somewhat tongue and cheek, I remarked, “Eureka, there is no one over 30 here!” Not necessarily true, but ball park stuff. I did write a two-page observation about what over 30 people could contribute. I also frequently reference the 1976 movie ‘Logan’s Run.’ In that world, no one over 30 is around. Your hand lights up when you hit that magic age and you are vaporized.
A few months ago, I got involved as a mentor of sorts to a young executive team (no one over 23) at PeduL (pedul.com), a brave new company/ world of crowdfunding college tuition. The involvement reason is that all my years of corporate world (mostly & wonderfully at Luxottica Group/eyewear) with its concentration on communicative (talking) pursuits which ultimately could open doors for this very young team. Their generation texts; mine talks.
I co-host Rock on Radio; a few months ago, our guests were a punk rock band. I noted before broadcasting that I was a half-century older than each band member but the interview flowed seamlessly; perfect bonding. Our NJ Discover LIVE TV Show, which I co-host, was recently added to the lineup of Rutgers University TV; a young audience that is so easy to relate to. There’s never a thought about age. So maybe we have to re-define what a senior citizen is?
With my background of coverage and concern with older folks, my friend, Darci Voight Kennedy, from We Care Adult Care in Middletown, NJ, (http://www.wecareadultcare.com/ ) has invited me for the past two years to be a special guest to interact and interview. Their facility focuses on day care for Alzheimer’s and dementia and what a caring amazing staff of professionals. Of course I found my friend Malcolm Murray (WWII Vet) again and we talked after the musical guest finished. They were honoring Adult Care Week. I also talked to Reese Woods, another Army Veteran who served post WWII in Germany for six years before a career with National Lead; he was just so colorful, expressive with a great sense of humor.
The group sang God Bless America then I asked to say a few words to the group. My theme was simple; how valuable and precious they are and still can give so much back. I mentioned my new career as a novelist and journalist after turning 65 and fielded a few questions like how was I able to do that? The answer is in the paragraphs above.
Now to Malcolm Murray, 95, meticulously dressed, smiling broadly, who waited. Affability consumed his face. He jumped up to shake hands and a photo-op. Malcolm was born in North Carolina. “I didn’t have a father so my mother raised me and my three brothers, Otto, David and Willie. My mother had a laundromat. I helped put them through school.” He spoke proudly about that. It was easy to hear it in his voice. I forgot his age. “You have to respect family.” That resonated with me. It still does.
He mentioned a brother in the Navy, a para-trooper and the last brother was an engineer. He joined the Army in 1942 and was trained at Camp Robinson in Arkansas. In Mid-October, 1942, Malcolm was deployed to England. “In 1944, I went to France as part of D-Day. I didn’t know whether to be scared or not. I was in a tank battalion under General George Patton. We got to within three miles of Berlin. I loved General Patton. I met him. He called me ‘son.’ I loved being in a tank.” Then Malcolm said something profound. “I think everyone should be in the Army to protect the country and learn discipline.”
After the war he came back to North Carolina and worked on a fishing boat. Again Malcolm moved me. “I wanted my kids, Maxine and Malcolm, to have an education so I worked hard. This is what my wife and I talked about.” Eventually Malcolm moved to New Jersey and joined a local labor union out of Matawan. When I asked him what the greatest change he observed in his life, he said, “labor unions.” His favorite President was Franklin Roosevelt. I told him he was in such good shape and so sharp to talk to. “How come?” I asked. “I worked hard all the time.”
Malcolm likes sports but mostly football and baseball and is a Dodgers and Mets fan. I like to probe techniques to longevity. He rarely ever smoked. As far as his favorite food, “Whatever I can get.” We both laughed. He likes Army movies because “I lived it.” “And music?” “I like everything. I like the Blues and Louis Armstrong.” I asked Malcolm if I could come back to talk some more. “I’d like that,” he said with authority. And then our handshake which lingered; it meant we liked each other and looked forward. And I do. This was my second year in a row back with Malcolm. I repeated some of our chat from last year. He was just as vibrant. And yes, maybe we should redefine.
NJ HOMELESSNESS: A FILM REVIEW AND COMMENTARY OF “THE NEW DESTINYS BRIDGE 2016’ by JACK BALLO: PREMIERE AUGUST 17th Asbury Park. By Calvin Schwartz 8-10-16(0)
NJ HOMELESSNESS: A FILM REVIEW AND COMMENTARY OF “THE NEW DESTINYS BRIDGE 2016’ by JACK BALLO: PREMIERE AUGUST 17th Asbury Park !! By Calvin Schwartz 8-10-16
I just finished watching film maker Jack Ballo’s ‘The New Destiny’s Bridge 2016’ for the second time in as many days. I had to; it’s above and beyond being a journalist, but being more a humanist. I reckon it would’ve been just as easy to take my review of the first version a couple of years ago, dress it up a bit with some Roget’s Thesaurus substitute words and present it to you. Who’d know? Better to take that review as it was, and maybe re-issue it down this paper a spell. Because much is the same. It is Jack’s enduring commitment, devotion to the homeless people of Tent City and to humanity’s unending scourge of homelessness that is so evident in this beautifully crafted story. It’s a candle that burns beyond its oil. There is no beauty in homelessness, but in the soul of people who see it, and try to solve it.
There’s a wooden horse outside my window. I’ve just ceremoniously put on my western hat and ran outside to jump on. I’m galloping into the sunset of introspection and homelessness. We are a funny species. I’m not laughing. I think we’ve been in the Garden of Eden all this time; we just don’t know it. There have been fellow humans talking about homelessness, poverty and hunger for a little over 2000 years. It doesn’t go away it, just gets worse, on a grander scale. I don’t know anymore. I never did. We need the Jack Ballos’ to keep fighting, sharing, and moving us emotionally and spiritually.
I worry about a recent study by a couple of government scientists that give the good old human species about 30 more years. They came up with some formulas taking into account food, water, climate change, energy, and the most important, social unrest. How is it the top 88 richest people in the world have their combined wealth exceed the poorest 3 ½ billion fellow humans. This creates social unrest all around the world.
Homelessness is part of the formula. Basic human rights of food, shelter and medical care from a very rich world. My story of enlightenment begins four years ago when I never understood homelessness. It was abstract, distant and the subject of a two minute NYC TV segment a week before Christmas. It was very cold and someone living in a cardboard box died from exposure. I felt bad. I do know that every human starts out life the same way.
Four years ago, my new friend Sherry Rubel took Tara-Jean Vitale and me as NJ Discover reporters to visit Tent City in Lakewood. It was another cold snowy day. We met Minister Steve and eventually Jack and many residents. Tara-Jean and I debated homelessness in the car going home that day. Tent City was 22 miles from our comfortable insulated suburban worlds. I’ve never been the same since.
I needed to feel, be involved and understand and to be more human and less suburban. I entered a brave new world of social conscience. That’s why I marvel at Jack Ballo’s work. It’s all fitting and proper that I reviewed the first film a few years ago. I love the institution of movie making and its illumination of our world with the ability to teach, educate, and bring our world closer together. Hey everybody, go see this movie and set yourself up to feel what it’s like to be homeless and be filled with despair.
Jack painstakingly took a different approach to storytelling of Tent City from the first version. He looks more into the lives, souls, hopes of the residents. They’re just like me and you; no difference except circumstances of privilege and perhaps luck. There is a theme more easily recognized in the new version; the desire of people to have basic shelter, self-respect and dignity. President Lincoln lived in a log cabin and he was fine with that. In essence, it was a tiny house and the film exposes us to the promise of tiny houses; the concept growing in practicality every day. And our friend Sherry Rubel very much involved in the state wide quest to build tiny house communities.
The movie themes carefully the importance of making people feel they are part of society with its concomitant feeling of self -esteem. Jack Ballo strives to teach us that. Inherent in Jack’s film, is the message to be promulgated; we all need to see this; to feel the pain of homelessness. One of the most moving scenes for me (Jack was brilliant in documenting this) was the lit Christmas tree at night, ‘The Little Drummer Boy’ playing gently. The scene could’ve been anywhere. A simple beautiful Christmas scene. But it was a homeless tent in obscure corner of Tent City. Riveting for me. It should be riveting for you. Homelessness hurts us all.
I liked the slow seasonal transition from the warmth of summer to the desolation and futility of cold winter. It was a passage for me. When I let my guard down and drifted into the lives of these precious people, Jack reminded us that the courts were constantly after Minister Steve and the residents. There are many scenes when cops in traditional uniforms or shirts and ties are there to arrest and act on the wishes of the town. Eventually the township and the county won out. I remember going to court with them at Ocean County Court House and hearing the judge’s decision.
Jack’s ending is powerful and destructive and I’ll leave it at that. He craftily infuses wonderful music to accelerate our emotions. I was riveted by his story telling and sensitivity. Actually I want more. I need to know about these fellow humans. One more comment that had me thinking and delving deep into the strains of my cellular honesty. The film tells the story of Lakewood, NJ, but in reality, it’s the story of any town in New Jersey or America. I’m reminded of a quote from ‘Casablanca,’ my favorite movie of all time. Humphrey Bogart is Rick, and Ilsa comes into his bar in Casablanca. He drinks almost to oblivion and says, “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.”
Of all the towns in New Jersey, they walk into Lakewood and set up Tent City. I was honest with myself. If Tent City appeared a mile from my house how would I feel? How would you feel? Is there any suburban town that would welcome them? I am upset with myself. I’m not perfect. Jack’s film continually makes me think and feel. It will do that to you and carpet you through many human emotions. So go see it and celebrate humanity’s hope and promise as well as the harsh realities of our existence. Jack leaves many uncovered, undraped soulful mirrors for us. Thanks Jack. I just got off my wooden horse. My hat is gone. I brushed the suburban dust off.
INFORMATION ON THE PREMIERE OF “THE NEW DESTINYS BRIDGE”
Wednesday, August 17 at 7 PM – 9 PM
House of Independents
572 Cookman Ave, Asbury Park, New Jersey 07712
TICKETS AVAILABLE: Ticket Web
ON THE ROAD; VOCATIONS AND EVOLUTIONS; SMALL NJ BUSINESS DISCOVERIES; “TASTE THE CAKES” LONG BRANCH, N.J. by Calvin Schwartz June 29th 2016(0)
ON THE ROAD; VOCATIONS AND EVOLUTIONS; SMALL NJ BUSINESS DISCOVERIES; “TASTE THE CAKES” LONG BRANCH, N.J. by Calvin Schwartz June 29th
It was one of those bright bulb days as opposed to dim bulb. With all the travelling I do around the state, why don’t I take advantage and do a series. It’s like a line from one my favorite movies, “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.” (from ‘Casablanca’). So I said to myself (the bright bulb idea), why don’t I harness some of this travelling energy, and discover some business stories in towns throughout New Jersey. This new feature here at NJ Discover.com is just that; brief, quirky, through the looking glass views at what makes NJ great; small business people, their places and how they evolved. And who knows, maybe a new gin joint one day.
For the longest time, covering many events that featured food, celebrations, music and announcements, I’ve noticed works of art that were actually especially crafted, baked cakes with picture perfect impressionistic icing. They were the special creations of Amy Levine, daughter of Steven Levine from the WindMill restaurants.
I heard Amy and mother Sandy Levine had opened up a bakery/ ice cream store. ‘Taste the Cakes’ in Long Branch, actually on the other side of the parking lot from the WindMill with its iconic newly installed wind mill blades perched on top. I was due at Monmouth University, nearby, later that afternoon. The timing was perfect. It’s funny, about the first impressions notion that came to me. As I was walking in the rear door, suddenly the movie Willie Wonka came to mind; indeed, a stream of consciousness. I was in a magical factory albeit small but magical in the variety of treats they create.
Amy and I found a quiet corner in the rear storage area. Out front, two young women customers were having boutique sundaes made. I asked Amy (the aforementioned ‘evolution’) how did all this baking come about. “I was always into baking all the time. Probably about 2 to 3 years ago, I started really getting into it.” Logically, my next question was about training and schooling. “I took classes at Michaels in Queens, New York, Sugar Heart in Pennsylvania and a course on macaroons.”
I mentioned how much cakes and baking are part of our pop culture now, referring to the ‘cake boss.’ I wondered if she had any kind of a favorite culinary pursuit. “I like baking/creating everything.” Amy never really thought about having her own place. Then all of a sudden, her aunt Rena Levy, also from the WindMill, along with her father Steven, offered this great opportunity to lease the space and they excitedly went for it. With her mother Sandy around to help, it was the perfect opportunity. Sandy and I talked about our Newark, NJ commonality and roots.
In addition to the boutique cakes, they also do ice cream sandwiches which are embellished by the customer. There are fresh baked cookies also topped with ice cream. I smelled something baking. It was fresh waffles on a stick which you hold in your hand; definitely rare and unique. They are open during the summer season seven days a week. Normally, at this juncture, I would mention what I walked out eating but imagination is good as is everything at Taste the Cakes.
Tastethecakesnj@gmail.com 732-233-7688 Taste The Cakes 588 Ocean Avenue Long Branch NJ
My Day at Rutgers 250th Commencement- May 15th; President Obama Keynote Speaker. bY Calvin Schwartz May 26, 2016(0)
My Day at Rutgers 250th Commencement- May 15th; President Obama Keynote Speaker. bY Calvin Schwartz May 26, 2016
There’s always a story in the naked Garden State (a play on words, naked city). My commencement adventure began in early April when Rutgers University credentialed me (as a reporter for NJ Discover) to cover Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor’s lecture at the Rutgers Athletic Center on April 11th. That day for me was historic, wondrous and far from expectations. The Justice got off the podium and walked up into the steep stands to the top, engaging people, eloquently speaking, answering questions and shaking hands and surprising her security detail. In the press box, I sat next to the editor of Rutgers newspaper, The Targum, Dan Corey, on one side. Fox News on the row below. Coincidentally, Dan Corey would go on to contact the President and obtained a phone interview with him before the commencement, securing his place in New Jersey pop culture history and then meeting the President after he arrived via one of five helicopters flying over the stadium.
A month before commencement, Rutgers had not heard from the President regarding his speaking at the 250th Commencement. As we all learned in President Obama’s address itself, Rutgers had been campaigning for three years for him to attend the event. Early in his speech, “I came because you asked.” Even the student body president, Matthew Panconi, got involved in the campaign. The President mentioned Panconi’s participation including Matthew’s grandmother, Diane Lampf Totten, who hand wrote three requests to the President. “His grandmother’s three letters sealed the deal.” I love synchronicity in the universe. I went to Weequahic High School in Newark with the grandmother. The President hugged Panconi as he was leaving.
Once the news of the President’s acceptance surfaced to speak at Commencement a few weeks before the event, the scene around Rutgers was frenetic beyond imagination. Tickets, usually unlimited for graduates’ family and friends, were now limited to three; parking also limited. Demand to see a sitting President for the first time speak at a Rutgers commencement was also beyond. Being at NJ Discover and covering Central Jersey for the past five years with relevant upbeat stories, I knew there was a place for me in the White House Press Pool. I also thought it “fitting and proper” that I should be there. I graduated Rutgers, mentioned Rutgers 92 times in my first novel, ‘Vichy Water,’ which is in the Rutgers library system, include Rutgers guests and stories in my NJ Discover LIVE TV Show programming and for many reasons, I find myself on campus 70 times a year. The White House concurred. With the help of Greg Trevor and Steve Manas at Rutgers Media, I had my little euphoric space designated on the camera riser literally a few feet away from the commencement podium. My state of mind knowing I’d be there for history and an extended playing (because of the sheer numbers of faculty and students) of ‘Pomp and Circumstance’ was concomitantly exciting.
A few things I knew about writing this article. I’m not national or regional press/TV coverage or even Jersey’s Star Ledger all of whom would inundate media channels about the commencement. “I got to be me” (like the lyrics) and talk about the emotionality of being there. Besides, the Commencement is on video for posterity. I did blast all my social media connections with the news of my attending Commencement as part of the White House Press Pool. I find it sociologically fascinating about some of the responses. As soon as I mentioned ‘Obama,’ some folks did their political rants which I gently and warmly addressed. I reminded ‘them’ that I am completely apolitical and all I care about is that a sitting President, the 44th of the United States of America, is coming to Rutgers 250th Commencement. That is history and the 12,000 graduates, (all sitting on white folding chairs on the field), 40,000 guests and faculty are thrilled and honored by that history and will cherish the memory for their lifetimes. Sometimes I inject into my comments, as the President did, that Rutgers is the eighth oldest college in America and ranks as one of the most diverse institutions in the country. (46.7% of students are minority and 7,000 foreign students attend Rutgers.)
The night before I went to bed at 11PM. That’s usually when I wake-up from a nap readying for the next several hours of late night writing or viewing. I tossed and turned waiting for the alarm. I wanted to be at Rutgers by 7 AM to begin absorption of the energy and spirit of the day. The alarm never made it. I was out of the house by 6:20 AM, dressed warmly as if there was a football kick-off a few hours away. It was really early as I pulled into the second row of parked cars in the grassy lot near the stadium. Seconds later, with no one around, I bumped into old friends and their graduating daughter; I liked that synchronicity.
Cumulus and stratus clouds and strong chilly winds; the weather for the day. Right away, you could feel that certain something in the air. The President was coming later. The energy and awe of the office was everywhere. There was a gripping power. The power of the office of President. Two days before, I came to campus to get my press parking pass and wandered into the stadium as they were setting up. A few workmen were around and a bike with a hard hat on the handlebar. Heading for home, I drove down River Road. There were several Piscataway municipal gardening crews pruning and sprucing. I thought the power of the office of President dispatched the crews and most likely the President would never notice the gardening detail work.
The stadium was closed until 8 AM. Barricades and fences everywhere. Security check points and metal detectors already manned at all the entrances. Event staff personnel huddled in a group. The press gate was at the west side. The press gathered in small groups after going through security. I talked with several Fox News cameramen. At one point, I thought I had cut ahead of them in the credentialing line. I invoked Curb Your Enthusiasm’s “conversation cut” and apologized. We laughed. They were stationed just to the left of me on the camera riser those few feet from the podium.
The stadium at 8:20 AM was virtually empty; A few students and professors properly gowned. I walked up and down the field aisles bordering a sea of white folding chairs. Again, the unspoken word. The power of the Presidency pervasive. You could really feel it. The intense security everywhere. Canines also doing their thing. I started taking pictures; wanted to capture faces; again the power of the guest speaker transposed to facial emotion. There were bouquets of red flowers in the Porto-sans. The production people thought of every detail; the prestige of the guest speaker who was also getting an honorary degree.
Somewhere around 10 AM the press was informed that we were in lock-down. No more leaving the field for pretzels. You could sense the piercing eyes of security but couldn’t see them. The stadium was now mostly filled with a building air of excitement. Palpable is a good word. I saw Professor Tim Smith, Rutgers Director of Athletic Bands, Mason Gross School of the Arts. We’re good friends; we hugged amidst the anticipation. Of course I made sure they’d be playing ‘Pomp and Circumstance’. Moments later, a graduate approached and asked if I was “Hildy’s brother.” Staggering odds for that to happen; we never met. He’s 50 and finished his Master’s Degree.
It was processional music time. First chords carpeted me back 47 years to my graduation in this stadium. Back then it looked way different; sometimes I don’t grasp the march of time. Dignitaries, trustees, faculty marched. The cold wind was wild with their caps and gowns. For a brief moment, I yearned to be part of academia. If only, to be able to teach and inspire young minds. While in the processional, a professor threw kisses to the seated students. The Rutgers Wind Ensemble with Professor Kraig Williams conducting performed. I photo’d, from my spot as a rotating cameraman, an array of creative artful messaged individualized caps like, “Adventure is everywhere, so wish upon a star and go the distance.”
Chairman of the Board of Governors, Greg Brown spoke, setting the stage for the President. “…. Our distinguished guest has made a conscious decision to lead with diplomacy and restraint in regards to many of our international engagements. And that too was a choice. But today he chose you.” Then it was ‘Hail to the Chief’ as President Obama and Rutgers President Barchi walked in stride.
The President was given an honorary degree along with S. Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Doctor of Science and Bill Moyers, Doctor of Laws. Speech time. I’m going to get out my college yellow highlighter.
To bond and embrace the New Jersey Rutgers audience there was Pork Roll versus Taylor Ham, Grease Trucks with mozzarella sticks and winners of the first college football game. “America converges here.” “Progress is bumpy but is this nation’s hallmark.” He was quite the engaging embracing speaker. To the students, he told them they have everything it takes to lead this nation to a brighter future and acknowledged his generation were better spellers. There were five suggestions to go out into the world.
One. He cautioned “someone longing for good old days, take with a grain of salt.” Don’t fear the future.
Two. The world is more interconnected. Building walls won’t change that.
Three. Facts. Evidence. Reason. Logic and Understanding of science are good things. Listening to today’s political debate one might wonder where the strain of anti-intellectualism came from. “In politics and in life, ignorance is not a virtue…. It’s not cool to not know what you’re talking about.”
Four. “Have faith in Democracy…. it’s not always pretty…. I know.” I loved when the President told the graduates if you want to change things start participating. 2014 had the lowest voter turnout since WWII. Fewer than 1 in 5 young people showed up to vote. “Apathy has consequences.”
Five. “Gear yourself for the long haul…. Be persistent.”
And then he was gone. The graduates were formally graduated. The stadium exits grid-locked. You could hear the droning sound of helicopter engines. Once again that sound helped me feel the enormous power of the President. While waiting to ascend the steps of the stadium, I engaged a few graduates. They must’ve thought unorthodox things about me. I wished them congratulations and said that I just have one word for them, “Plastics.” They stared quizzically. I lamented and told them it’s from a movie from the sixties, relevant when I graduated. Cordial smiles were strained then they disappeared into their future.
For the first time in 20 years leaving Rutgers Stadium, all for football, I didn’t mind the endless wait to get out of the parking lot. I just sat in my car, smiled and pinched my left arm. I whispered to my mother, “Mah, I was at the 250th Rutgers Commencement.” She came to my graduation 47 years ago. Afterwards, I ceremoniously handed her my diploma; she earned it more than me. And so it goes.
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