Entries from December 2006 ↓

Holiday Blues

I canít say it was unexpected, because it wasnít. The timing just sucks.

My grandmotherómy motherís motheródied this morning around 5:00 a.m. Los Angeles time, where just a day ago, she had been moved from a medical facility to a hospice care facility. She was 98 and had been in a nursing home for the past three years.

I must confess I always had a love/hate relationship with ďGram.Ē Itís not that I didnít love her or she me, itís that she practiced tough love. She had hard and fast rules that were not meant to be broken and a singular view of how kids should be raised. She sometimes thought my parents let us get away with too much. When she would come to visit us periodically from California, we always knew weíd have to adjust to her way of doing things for as long as she stayed, which often seemed to be open-ended. If she called for you, yelling out your name, she didnít want to hear ďWhatĒ in response. She expected you to come, immediately. We learned early on, ďA hard head makes for a soft behind.Ē

Fiercely religious and a member of the Church of Christ, she knew we were going to hell. We were the ďwrong religionĒ as Roman Catholics. Her visits were always one more chance to try to convert us. It never worked on me.

But cantankerous as she could be, Gram was also a great role model for the independent woman. For as long as Iíve been alive, she has never worked, but always had money to do whatever she wanted to do. A widow since 1951 (I never knew my maternal grandfather) she traveled the world, either with church members, friends or even by herself, well into her 90ís. Around 30 years ago, she had a house built for her out in the middle of nowhere, it seemed, in Perris, California, and lived there by her self quite contentedly.

In the span of just over a year, my mother has lost my father, her husband of 56 years, her younger brother, my uncle, this past September, and now her mother, my last remaining grandparent. She doesnít show it, but this has been quite tough on her. Just my aunt and her remain from that generation and this loss of my elders is taking a toll on my brothers, cousins and me as well. There is a profound awareness that the time we have left together is fleeting.

Right after Christmas, Iíll travel back to NYC, tie up some loose ends, pack and make my way with other family members out to Los Angeles for a funeral probably Friday.

ďTwas the week before ChristmasÖĒ

I donít recall how old I was when I began to doubt the whole Santa Claus thing, but I know I was pretty young. I was a precocious kid to begin with, so when I began to put 2 + 2 together, it just wasnít coming out 4.

For starters, if Santa was up at the North Pole making toys, then how come you kept seeing him at all those department stores, in parades and on street corners ringing bells? Shouldnít he be off working somewhere? My father tried to convince me, ďThose are his elves,Ē dispatched as emissaries apparently to make all those public appearance dates.

And speaking of toys, how come we saw so many commercials on tv? Again, Mom and Dad were quick with the spin control. ďSanta farms out some of the toy manufacturing in order to meet the demand.Ē

Ok, semi-plausible to a 6 year old. But then other stuff still didnít add up.

If Santa comes down chimneys, how did he get into our house? We didnít have a chimney. If he came to the front door, heíd have to ring the bell and my bedroom was right near the doorbell. I never heard nothiní!

How does he make it to every house in the world in one night? And how does he tell the Christian houses from the Jewish houses or the Moslem houses or just the people who donít celebrate Christmas? Something was fishy.

It started to become really obvious to me that this was all a racket run by a big eastern syndicate, when Mom would tell us to look through the Spiegel Christmas catalog and decide what we wanted. Then unmarked boxes would show up weeks or days before Christmas and sheíd go to great pains to hide them from us.

So one day I sat her down for a heart to heart. I made sure to do it in private, in case my younger brother wasnít as hip. ďMom, is there really a Santa Claus?Ē I asked.

ďWhat do you think?Ē was her clever way of shifting responsibility for this momentous revelation.

I expressed my serious reservations, she confirmed them and that was that. I was no longer a child.

I was advised to keep it to myself because not only was my little brother clueless (but not for long), but so were other kids, and she didnít think it was fair to spoil it for them. Good thing I listened too because one day, walking home from school, two of my best friends and I got into it and our opinions were all over the map. One of them still believed, while the other was also a non-believer, in Santa anyway. ďBut I still believe in the Easter BunnyĒ he said most confidently. (Ok, I never once believed in big rabbits delivering eggs or for that matter, fairies doling out money for your baby teeth, but who was I to ruin it for him.)

Ever since that fateful day, this holiday has never been the same. That sense of surprise, as you wake up Christmas morning to see what Santa brought, is gone. I know ahead of time whether or not Iím going to get anything or not and pretty much what it is. As Iíve reached adulthood (ok, middle age) I am able to get most of the things I want and need myself.

But that doesnít mean I donít still enjoy getting gifts. And you can help restore my lost sense of wonder by visiting my wishlist and picking out something you think Iíd really like!

Címon, you knew this was all leading up to my annual appeal, didnít you?

Happy Holidays!

The Wire: Was Anyone Paying Attention?

A week has now passed since the airing of the final episode of the fourth season of the critically acclaimed HBO series The Wire. Diehard fans will no doubt experience withdrawal symptoms without a television show even remotely close to that quality to watch. HBO Video on Demand may have to be employed to satisfy the urges.

With the show renewed for a fifth and final season, production to begin sometime in the Spring of 2007, the challenge now is to see if this ground-breaking series gets the recognition it deserves from the show business awards community.

The Wire received a Peabody Award in 2004 and been praised by reviewers since the show debuted. About this season, the New York Times said the show “is the closest that moving pictures have come so far to the depth and nuance of the novel.” Daily Variety observed, “When television history is written, little else will rival THE WIRE,” hailing the show for its “extraordinary depth and ambition.” Entertainment Weekly called the series “a staggering achievement,” while the Washington Post described it as “electrifying and disturbing…a gripping saga,” and the New York Post termed it “the single finest piece of work ever produced for American TV.”

Yet acknowledgement by way of awards from the television industry has eluded them.

This show, set and filmed in Baltimore, Maryland; produced and written by creatives who are most decidedly not a part of the Hollywood mainstream; and which stars a cast of enormously talented actors, many of them African American, but all of them outside the ďpretty, young, White, 20-somethingĒ model that too much of the industry embraces, has gone unnoticed by many of those who decide on the awards.

This past week nominations were announced for the 64th Golden Globes, and while the HBO network garnered 14, none were for The Wire.

Awards donít just happen by chance. This is a political process and lots of money, time and effort is exerted by networks and producers in campaigning to get nominations, then votes, necessary to secure the coveted trophies. Average television viewers canít vote.

But we can influence networks to devote the resources necessary to mount a campaign to seek a nomination. Fans can write letters to the tv editors of their local newspapers and major entertainment magazines, to praise their favorite show and generate wider publicity. And thatís what fans of The Wire should do, and theyíd better do it fast.

Itís too late for the Golden Globes but the Screen Actors Guild Awards and the Emmys are still to come. SAG, of which I am a member, announces its nominations (in acting-related categories only) on January 4, 2007. A random sampling of the entire membership was chosen to make nominations, while the full membership will get to vote on those. The awards will be given out on January 28.

However, the Primetime Emmy Awards, the industryís highest honor, wonít be held until August 2007. Thatís a long time for people to forget all about this excellent fourth season. Fans need to lobby hard and for the long haul.

Viewers can start by telling HBO to commit their marketing efforts towards promoting The Wire for both the SAG nominations (even at this late date) and the Emmys, nine months from now. Write to:

Chris Albrecht
Chairman and CEO
1100 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10036-6712
Phone 212.512.1000

Carolyn Strauss,
President, HBO Entertainment
1100 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10036-6712
Phone 212.512.1000

Whether writing to network executives or news editors, express the need to reward excellence and how The Wire embodies the highest standards of television in its writing, acting and producing. Tell them how television is full of too much formulaic programming and how lower broadcast network viewership is directly related to that. Remind them that The Wire is simply the best drama on television, anywhere, and it deserves to be given awards befitting a show of such consistent quality.

Is America Ready?

Just a little over a month ago, midterm elections were held. The Democratic Party won back control of the House and Senate, as well as a majority of the nation’s governors offices. Already politicians are gearing up for the 2008 Presidential elections, with two names emerging as early frontrunners for the Democrats, New York Senator and former First Lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and first term Illinois Senator Barack Obama.

In last Sundayís New York Times, political correspondent Adam Nagourney pondered the very practical question of whether or not America is ready to elect either a woman or an African American. Times and attitudes have changed over the yearsóthere are more woman and Black lawmakers in Congress than ever beforeóbut have they changed enough?

Without question, women and blacks have made significant progress in winning office. The new Congress will include 71 women ó one of whom will be the first female speaker of the House ó compared with 25 when Representative Geraldine Ferraro, a Queens Democrat, became the first woman to run as a major-party vice presidential candidate in 1984. There will be 43 blacks in the new Congress, compared with 13 when the Congressional Black Caucus was formed in 1969.

Attitudinally, many observers including prominent African Americans, believe a woman may occupy the Oval Office before a Black man.

ďAll evidence is that a white female has an advantage over a black male ó for reasons of our cultural heritage,Ē said the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, the civil rights leader who ran for president in 1984 and 1988. Still, he said, for African-American and female candidates, ďItís easier ó emphatically so.Ē

Ms. Ferraro offered a similar sentiment. ďI think itís more realistic for a woman than it is for an African-American,Ē said Ms. Ferraro. ďThere is a certain amount of racism that exists in the United States ó whether itís conscious or not itís true.Ē

Still others suggest that in order for a Black man to become President, who he is may be more important than his race.

David A. Bositis, senior political analyst with the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a nonpartisan Washington group that studies black issues, said that it would certainly be hard, but not impossible for an African-American candidate to win.

ďI certainly felt in the í90s that if Colin Powell had been nominated on a major party ticket, he would have had a very good chance to win,Ē Mr. Bositis said. ďIf itís the right black candidate, I do think there is propensity to elect a black. But it has to be the right black candidate.Ē

So what do you think?

1. Who do you think is most likely to receive the Democratic Party nomination for President in 2008?
a. Hillary Rodham Clinton
b. Barack Obama
c. A White male candidate

2. Do you believe you will see a woman elected President in your lifetime?
a. Yes
b. No

3. Do you believe you will see an African American President in your lifetime?
a. Yes
b. No

4. Rank the following, from most likely to least likely, in terms of who could win a race for President?
a. Hillary Rodham Clinton
b. Barack Obama
c. Condoleeza Rice
d. Colin Powell

5. Which political party is most likely to have a woman or an African American elected President?
a. Democrats
b. Republicans

Two Trains Running, Fast

The Signature Theatre Companyís limited engagement of August Wilsonís Two Trains Running has been extended an additional three weeks, January 2 Ė 21, 2007, but donít wait long if you want it see it. Tickets are going fast. (I got mine today, for the third week.)

Signature has put three Wilson plays on their 2006-2007 season schedule. ďSeven GuitarsĒ ran from July to October, and ďKing Hedley IIĒ is slated to open February 20. Wilson, who died from liver cancer in October 2005, wrote a ten play cycle chronicling the African American experience during the 20th Century, setting all of his productions in his native Pittsburgh.

ďTwo Trains RunningĒ takes place in 1969 in a diner that serves as central gathering place in the neighborhood. Directed by Lou Bellamy, the play stars Leon Addison Brown, Chad L. Coleman (ďCuttyĒ Wise from The Wire), Frankie Faison (Commisioner Burrell, also from The Wire), Arthur French, Ron Cephas Jones, January LaVoy and Ed Wheeler.