Finally talking about the 800 pound gorilla in the room.

MaryAnn is my first memory. And while I’m sure if prodded, or maybe hypnotized, I’d recall earlier family moments before meeting her at age three while playing in a dirt hole near the road that separated our two homes. But at this point I don’t.

I logged hundreds of hours at her house throughout our long career as Best Friends Forever and when I visit her parents recently, so many years later, one question lingers from my childhood days – will the Russian acrobatics still be there?

Not real ones. No. I’m talking about the crack in the marble design on their bathroom wall that instantly and always appears to me to be two trapeeze artists, one woman flying through the air and one man, knees hooked on the bar of the trapeze, reaching out to catch her. I’m not sure why they are Russian. They just are.

I’ve always seen hidden images. Everywhere. Once I called the police to a neighborhood game of Jail Break because I was convinced that I saw a killer clown, red wig, full makeup and costume, hiding in the woods.

Sometimes the images fade. There one minute, gone the next. Especially cloud people, a very unreliable sort.

But not the Russian circus folk living in MaryAnn’s downstairs bathroom. When I go back, some 20 years later, I see them as clearly as I see the roll of toilet paper.

As clearly as I see the gorilla in my bathroom.

My son and I are reading “The One and Only Ivan,” a true story about a gorilla held in captivity at some awful strip mall and video arcade. Here’s the trailer:

I take a break from reading and find this image emerge from the the veneer of the bathroom door. Do you see it?

gorilla - far

Wait, let me get closer…

gorilla - mid close
Sometime the closer you get, the more something starts to look like nothing.

gorilla in the door

But not only do I still see the gorilla more clearly up close, I also see a tear.

I never showed anyone the Russian trapeze people. That’s crazy talk.

But I show my son the Gorilla. And he sees him. As plain as the nose on his face.


Star light. Star bright.

After a visit to a planetarium night sky show, I quiz my son as we parents often do to reinforce our educational activities, “Do you remember what the sister stars are called?”


He touches his finger to his lip, looks up for a minute, thinking, then answers, “The Seven … um, Pointer Sisters?”

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June, Anita, Ruth and Bonnie Pointer

Why yes. Yes they are.

The Seven Pointer Sisters. I’m too amused at his knowing The Pointer Sisters to correct him. That’s why we pay science teachers. And I don’t quibble over the three surplus stars.  Perhaps there are other non-performing Pointer sisters. Or maybe astronomers are wrong about the constellation. After the whole Pluto incident, who’s to say. Although I do like their description of The Seven Sisters as an “open star cluster containing middle-aged hot B-type stars,” which, oddly enough, is exactly how I would describe The Pointer Sisters.

Their music, though, is not to be relegated to a 1980s childhood. It’s era-defining and relevant, appearing in films like Donnie Brasco

and Love Actually.

But we can’t blame the Pointer family for Hugh Grant’s seriously asinine Prime Ministerial dancing scene.

Coincidentally, just as “modern astronomy finds that the brightest Pleiades star goes through numerous permutations,” so do the genre-bending Pointer Sisters. From gospel to disco, from funk to R&B and Pop, they even sing country and wrote their own original country song, “Fairytale.”

Because, they can.

“Yes We Can, Can.”

The Sound of Apples Falling Not Far From The Tree

whirr whirr whirr 

“I’m almost ready, Mom!”

whirr whirr whirr 

“The pencils are almost sharpened!”

whirr whirr whirr     


Yelling over Sharpie, our electric pencil sharpener, there is no mistaken he’s my son. My kin. Kindred. Because getting ready to go swimming should involve sharpening a handful of pencils. Of course.


Here’s to a nicely sharpened pencil. And to kinship. Both important to have before leaving the house.

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“Fifteen Men on a Dead Man’s Chest …”

treasure island book coverRobert Louis Stevenson may have tapped into the allure of a treasure hunt with his classic novel, but it’s not all about the treasure.

Scavenger hunts for ordinary objects can be cut-throat.

And even the lamest of Easter egg hunts where children lose their little bloody minds at finding a plastic egg filled with one Hershey kiss and a novelty eraser from Target’s party aisle unearths the part of our psyche that loves to find things. Hidden things. Buried things.

Like the decomposed and likely dismembered skeletal remains of Jimmy Hoffa.

jimmy hoffa

OAKLAND TOWNSHIP, MI – JUNE 17: Latest FBI search for Hoffa.

Finding the bones of the former Teamsters’ union president who disappeared in 1975 has morphed into a family affair.

“Come on, kids. Let’s go to the Hoffa Hunt! Maybe they’ll pull up a femur or something. Honey, don’t forget sunscreen and a couple juice boxes …”

It’s got everything. History. Suspense. Big diggers.

hoffa digger fbi

Digging for a dead man. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

Someone should make a t-shirt. Oh wait

And it's organic.

And it’s organic.

But what parent takes their child to a federal crime scene where everyone is praying to see a skull, hopefully with a distinguishable entry wound, bounce out of a backhoe bucket?

A child’s developing mind is impressionable. Indelible. The disappointment they will inevitably experience when nary a fingernail is exhumed will imprint upon their brains, potentially fostering a life-long distrust of not only parents but those in law enforcement and construction occupations.

Just ask the lead FBI agent in Detroit who found nothing. Again. His disappointment is palpable. How could I let all these kids down, he’s thinks to himself as he announces to the spectators that there’s “nothing to see here.”

Hoffa's greeting to Robert Kennedy.

Hoffa’s giving Robert Kennedy The Bird.

Or maybe kids need this. The “you can’t always get what you want” and “don’t believe everything you hear” lessons.

And if Hoffa really was fed into a wood chipper as legend now purports, it reinforces the “life is stranger than fiction” and “you can’t make this shit up” memes, also important for children to grasp. Which came first -the chicken or the egg? Hoffa or the Coen Brothers?

As a culture, we’re at the point where the Hoffa affair needs to been contained and concluded within a pair of quotation marks. A universally accepted maxim. A quotable learning moment like “don’t make a mountain out of molehill” and “don’t cry over spilt milk.” How about “don’t get caught in the wood chipper”? Unarguably sound advice.

Something we can teach our children.

The Right Frame of Mind for Father’s Day

“Like snowflakes and cows, no two brownies are alike.”

Focusing on mixing the batter, I try not to laugh. Because what my son said is so true. And so odd.

I am not thinking of the uniqueness of each Father’s Day brownie I am making and its connection to cows or snowflakes. Of course I’m not. No one in their right mind would. But children aren’t in their right minds. Not yet. Thank god. And some will never get there. Thank god again.

Dr. Seuss

Dr. Seuss had not a “right mind.”

shel siverstein

Neither did Shel Silverstein.

Adults who write for children are at worst, eavesdroppers and thieves. And at best – simply not in their right minds.

To further push the crazy envelope, Shel’s collection of poetry, Where the Sidewalk Ends, has been translated into Chinese.


So has Dr. Suess.


Translating news articles I’ve done. But Dr. Seuss? And Shel Silverstein?? Where to begin? How do you keep the sing-song meter? How do you explain the subtle cultural references and twists of language? The made-up words? How do you translate something into a second language that doesn’t really exist in the original? Or barely exists, like a ghostly laugh from some collective inside joke.

“Thank you for green eggs and ham.”

I’ll bet my entire collection of children’s books that translating Hemmingway is easier. He was just drunk all the time. But in his right mind. Well. Until he blew it out with a gun. Like his father did before him. But that’s easy to translate and looks like this – 用枪自杀.

Hemmingway with shotgun

Though hardly appropriate to talk about on Father’s Day. What was I thinking.

Everything you need to know about the U.S. you can learn from Rocky: A Missive to Immigration Officials

lactimg_rocky2I realize this when a young woman from China asks me, “Who is Sylvester Stallone?”

It’s a sad day, for many reasons, when you have to explain to someone who Sylvester Stallone is.

But there we are.

As I send her a link to the Rocky Empire, it dawns on me. Within these films beats the heart of America,  meaning just the U.S. and ignoring the rest of The Americas which is also, ironically, quintessentially American.

Rocky is a complete lesson in U.S. Urban Studies. The  period of downturn for a Rust Belt city. Race relations. How car culture, hairstyles and athletic apparel have changed since 1976. Meredith Burgess.

It’s all there.

And I don’t care where you grew up, everyone loves a training montage. This video has them all.

Sly’s own story alone is The American Dream. A son of immigrants, he is self-made. Because Americans can start from scratch. Over and over.

Even a partially paralyzed face from birth because of an overzealous doctor armed with forceps doesn’t stop him from pursuing an acting career. Because Americans are indefatigable.

Or stupidly optimistic. You pick.

After a couple non-eventful films Stallone finds himself homeless and does a porno to get off the streets. Because Americans love redemption.  (I couldn’t find any tasteful pictures of his porn.)

Then inspiration strikes. After seeing the Muhammad Ali vs. Chuck Wepner fight, Stallone pens the screenplay for Rocky in three days.  Even though broke, he declines an offer of $250,000  and accepts instead $25,000 and the starring role in the film.

The butterfly Muhammad Ali goes down in the ninth round of the heavyweight title bout against challenger Chuck Wepner. In the 15th round, the bee Ali knocks out Wepner to retain his title. — AP Photo

The butterfly Muhammad Ali goes down in the ninth round of the heavyweight title bout against challenger Chuck Wepner. In the 15th round, the bee Ali knocks out Wepner to retain his title. — AP Photo

Rocky is nominated for ten Academy Awards including Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay nominations for Stallone. The film goes on to win Best Picture, Best Directing and Best Film Editing.  A Star is born.

It’s extra-ordinary.

It’s the stuff of Legends. Of Myths. And if I had my way, of an U.S. Immigration Tutorials.

One Sign That Your Friend Might Be a Hipster. Part 1


Burl Ives and Sam the Snowman

They snub people who listen to singers like Burl Ives until Wes Anderson puts him on a soundtrack at which point they acts as if they’ve unearthed a cultural treasure. 

Burl Ives appears on The Johnny Cash Show. 1970

They also did this with canned Bud.