Thursday, January 1, 2009

The (Personal) Year in Review

Ed Notes staff waiting for assignment.

Happy New Year to all.

New Years Reso #1: LESS BLOGGING

"Why don't you really retire and enjoy yourself," I hear all the time? Sometimes it appears that my interests are limited to the education and political sphere and the work in the UFT. Sometimes I have to remind myself I have a life. I usually don't do personals, but today is as good a day as any, mostly in the attempt to recall any memory beyond yesterday. I'll do an ed/political year end review soon.

It was a busy year on a lot of fronts. Here is what I can recall.

Rockaway Theatre Company
I've been fascinated with the theater since I saw my first play as a high school student at Thomas Jefferson HS when we went on a trip to Stamford Conn. to see a Shakespearean play. I was awed when one of the characters who died came out for a curtain call. Ok, I was a bit gullible.

I never did much about my interest until I started volunteering at The Fringe Festival every August. Then I started going to plays at the Rockaway Theatre Company based out here in Fort Tilden at Gateway National Park. I signed on as a volunteer videographer, taping Annie (May), The Music Man (July), The Philadelphia Story (August), The Rockaway Cafe (Sept.) - A Salute to Paul Simon, and Prisoner of 2nd Ave. (Nov.)

RTC is very influenced by current and retired NYC teachers who worked at South Shore and Kingsborough HS, with some of the younger actors coming from classes they taught. And many of the musicians in some of the shows are teachers at Forest Hills HS.

RTC is a great mix of young, old and in between and the theater has become a great hangout for many of the kids. (I am pretty close to the oldest person involved.) One of the best young actors is Frank Caiati who at 23 has been involved for 8 years, coming out of the program at Kingsborough. Frank graduated last June from Brooklyn College and already has his Actors Equity card.

I took an acting class with Frank last winter. It was mostly improvisation. I am currently in another class with him where we have to pair up and do a short scene with our partner. I am doing a short scene from The Pillowman - I play a policeman - Tupolski - the Jeff Goldblum role. I'm working with a young fellow, Joe Lopez. My role calls for me to intimidate him. Joe goes to wrestling school at Gleason's gym. If Frank can get me to pull this off he gets my Academy Award.

Frank is not only a great actor, but his passion about acting and the theater also makes him a superb director – I tell him he could get a good performance out of a stick. The class still has 3 weeks to run. Last week, he sat us in a circle on the stage and we just talked theater and acting for an hour. I took the class not to try to act but to reestablish some of the sense of theater I got from teaching. In the process, my knowledge of the theater process has exploded exponentially. Jeez, can he really be only 23?

Frank is going to direct John Patrick Shanley's Doubt - the play - in March at RTC and auditions start Jan. 11. No, I'm not going to try out for the Meryl Streep role - I don't do nuns very well. But I am going to do some video with Frank with the idea of a documentary on how a small community theater tackles such a project.

One of the people in the class is a playwright and has suggested a playwriting and screenwriting workshop. I hope to develop a screenplay based on a community theater, which we hope to film ourselves. That project ought to keep me off the streets.

Active Aging
On the other end of the spectrum, I am probably the youngest person involved in a project I've been working on for a TV show for Manhattan cable access with a group of amazing people, many of whom have retired from the broadcast industry – producers, directors, performers and others from the world of fashion and advertising.

The TV program is called Active Aging and focuses on older people who either have a very active life or retire from one field and take on another major task. I recently produced and edited a segment with my partner Mark Rosenhaft on Howard Schwach, my editor at The Wave. Howie retired from teaching at 62 5 years ago, only to take on the massive job of editing a weekly newspaper that often reaches over 100 pages. Talk about jumping from the frying pan.

Check out The Furrier shot on location in Greenpoint - if you need a fox tail, you'll know where to go.

One of the best things I've done is my work with FIRST and NYCFIRST with FIRST LEGO League putting on robotics tournaments for kids aged 9-14 since I retired 6 years ago. Most of the teams come from NYC public schools, but also from private and community based groups. These are worldwide events with 8000 teams and I went to Atlanta in 2007 for the World Festival, a spectacular yearly event. This year we have almost 200 teams here in NYC and are in the process of running tournaments in every borough. Bronx, Queens and Staten Island are done, with Brooklyn Jan. 10 and Manhattan Jan. 11. The citywide for the 72 finalists will be taking place soon. Come on down sometime and watch the action. You'll get hooked - and we really need volunteers. Details at Norms Robotics. Or just email me.

The Mumbles Writing Group
UFT flacks have been accusing fiction for years. But I actually put my toe in the water 4 years ago with a fiction writing course at the Gotham Writers Workshop, where I wrote my first short story since my senior year in college. I followed up with another course and one in screenwriting.

Through people I met in the courses we formed out own writing group which meets every 2-3 weeks at Mumbles restaurant in Manhattan. Despite some turnover, we now have 9 members and are approaching our 3rd anniversary. One person is working on a novel based on ancient Rome and another on a novel dealing with teaching the deaf set in pre-Civil War New England. Another is based on people of Jamaican descent living in London. A number of people who have passed through the group either have or are getting MFAs' in writing. Some people have been published – there's a hell of a lot of talent out there. I'm not one of them. Fiction writing is the most mind-wrenching writing I've had to do and I'm just a dilettante. Having a deadline to produce something for the group is the only thing that gets me to attempt to write fiction. Right now I have to work on my story "Rockaway Cold Case" which is due - yikes - yesterday. Better cut this short.

And then there was travel
One of the beautiful things about retirement is the ability to travel off vacation times for schools. Living in resort area like Rockaway, we never feel the need to travel during the summer.

January '08
- Puerto Rico at the El Conquistador to celebrate a significant birthday for my wife. You have to take about a 20 minute boat ride to get to an island with a beach. Lots of noisy conventioneers. Nice place but other than our last day when which we spent in Old San Juan, we were pretty isolated at the El Conquistador which is in top of a cliff on the eastern end of the island. We were on the bottom of the cliff at the marina and had to take a finicoli and multi elevators to get to the lobby and for most meals. Not all inclusive so we didn't go hog wild as we did recently in Mexico. We may go back to PR this year, but to tour the island.

March '08- London to see the Zombies - They did the complete Odessey and Oracle. We saw them in NY in July and we're going back to London to see them again in April. (Our best friends are Zombie nuts, so we humor them.) London is a pretty cool place to visit and maybe this time with the pound more in line with the dollar, we will actually be able to afford lunch. And the subway.

April '08- Tokyo as referee at the Asian Open FIRST LEGO League tournament. An intense and amazing 6 days. One of my travelling companions, an engineer at Credit Suisse, is of Japanese descent originally from Sao Paulo Brazil, but he lived in Tokyo for 9 years. What a tour I got. And meeting kids, their parents and teachers from all over the world reinforced the feelings I have about working with FIRST. I have pics and stories at Norms Robotics - search for Tokyo. When I came back on May 1, I was at the highest weight I have ever been and commenced a diet where I lost 15 pounds, which I managed to keep off for almost 5 months. See below for the bad news.

December '08 - Mexico - Riviera Maya at the Aventura Spa Palace, an all-inclusive resort guaranteed to lead to gain of at least 5 pounds. A few pics are here. The one that looks like a whale is me, as I gained back 10 of the pounds I lost. (New diet stared today.) I also brought back a cold, a cold sore and impetigo, which I caught from a life vest while snorkeling. The last time I heard of impetigo was in the 70's when kids seemed to get it all the time. It's contagious, so don't get too close to the screen.

XMAS Day '08: I must include the visit to my brother and sister in law in Jersey where our niece came from Philly with Jordyn, her year old baby, who was racing around the apartment. How do 13 month olds manage to do that with less stumbling than me?


  1. Loved your pictures.

    Makes me want to go back to that part of Mexico--we were there many years ago, also at an all inclusive--the only way to go.

  2. Having a deadline for writing does help a lot. It's so easy to leave things unfinished.
    Have you ever put up any of your fiction here? Love to read it.

  3. I've never put up my fiction because none of it is really complete because I never do enough revising to reach that point. I also use a lot of actual events as a basis and fear assassination.

    But I might send you something privately for comment if you are interested.

  4. I like the cat pictures.

    Ty Johnson; BBA, MS, MPIA, J.D., D.P.M., descendant Thomas Jefferson, original human beat box, and personally recognized as a good samaritan by Judge Judy in 1998.

  5. norm

    I am so jealous...When I retire (Do u think I ever will be able too?) Anyway, when I retire I want to be just like you...
    Happy New Year!

  6. You these things, I have read twice, for me, this is a relatively rare phenomenon!
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