Moved By A Movie — Twice

Bernie and Elton

By GORDON GLANTZ

GORDONVILLE — I don’t often go to the movies anymore.

Nope, not even the lure of the taste of popcorn mixed with the taste of Raisinets can pry me away from being able to choose from a menu of at-home snack choices and the autonomy of the remote control.

Plus, if a flick provokes me to extreme laughter – or tears (Sofia jokes that “every movie” makes me cry, and she is close) – I am free to be me.

While I do still go to the movies from time to time to see something I just can’t wait on, what I don’t often do is go to the movies twice in one week – let alone see the same film twice in that time span.

Until that “Sopranos” prequel comes out next year, Vegas odds placed it as an extreme longshot.

But anyone who plunked down the money on the 250-1 chance that I would do so beforehand cashed in big recently.

The movie that got me out there twice in less than seven days?

“Rocketman,” the biopic about Elton John.

I wouldn’t say Elton John is at the top of my list of favorite acts. Maybe Top 25 (although there has been a resurgence lately, pushing him into the 18-20 range).

But, once upon a different time in Gordonville, he was it.

No. 1 with a bullet.

Before Bruce Springsteen. Before Bob Seger. Before even The Beatles or The Rolling Stones.

In the early 1970s, my family tree had a lot of those “long-haired freaky people that need not apply” (as described in the song “Signs” by the Five Man Electrical Band), so I was introduced to rock and roll a little sooner than my friends who were still singing the theme from Batman around the schoolyard.

Once I heard “Bennie And The Jets” on the radio, I wanted in.

My first purchase was Elton John’s first Greatest Hits album, and the first cut was one I had not personally heard before on AM Radio, as it had predated what was being played in 1973-74.

It was “Your Song,” which featured direct lyrics like “my gift is my song and this one’s for you,” and may have been the first song to ever strike a chord in deep my soul.

The next in my collection was a double-album –“Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” – meaning twice the fun.

Like many of the others that followed in quick succession, it came complete with a readable lyrics booklet.

I was struck to soon learn that someone besides Elton John had the job of just writing the lyrics that captured an imagination that was ripe for the taking for a kid from a broken home whose best skill was daydreaming.

That lyricist was Bernie Taupin, with whom I always identified ever since (I consider myself a self-renowned lyricist of about a zillion songs myself).

When people asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, my answer was Bernie Taupin.

Still is.

When I read that Taupin’s role in John’s career was going to be a big part of “Rocketman,” it got me out of my viewing comfort zone (while the other two-thirds of my family were seeing “Aladdin” in an adjacent theater).

When Sofia had a slumber party a few nights later, I returned with the better half for a second viewing that was just as powerful for me – and her — as the first.

As much as I saw my scribe-like self in the way Taupin was portrayed – always at the ready to write out lyrics as moved by the creative spirits that cannot be explained – I also saw a bit of myself in some of John’s character.

This included a hot temper and a doting maternal grandmother, which I had as well.

In the climactic scene, Elton John was faced with a 5-year-old version of himself – little Reggie Dwight (his real name) – and bends down and hugs him, teaching the viewer the lesson that we all need to embrace who we really are to be at peace with ourselves.

For me, seeing “Rocketman” twice in less than a week was a lot like that scene.

It was a chance to go back and embrace a lot of who I was in a different time and place, where his music was a salve in a lot of wounds for a lonely kid who had some of his albums in one house (apartment, actually) and different ones at the other.

His gift was his song back then.

And it was for me.

This column first appeared in The Times Herald on June 29, 2019.

Bias Keeping Flyers Grounded

Finns-celebrate

By GORDON GLANTZ

GORDONVILLE — It’s almost hard to think back to 2006, considering it is the year before my life changed forever with the birth of Sofia.

It is equally hard to believe — or conceive — that an NHL team that wants to stay relevant would close off part of the hockey-playing universe “just because.”

Not saying that is the case with the Flyers, in regards to drafting players from Finland, but the evidence is mounting.

Finland is a country of about 6 million people (a lame reason often given why they can be more humane to each other on social issues, but I digress). Despite this, it is becoming known “the best hockey country in the world,” much to the chagrin of our friends up in the Great White North.

In last weekend’s NHL Draft, the Flyers continuing their steak of not drafting a player from Finland since 2006 (Joonas Lehtiuvori).

Given the talent coming out of that country, it is an almost impossible feat to accomplish, and yet they have managed to do it.

Since that time, the Finns have won three golds at the Under-20 World Tournament. In the Under-18 tournament, where most of the draft-eligible players have been displaying their games for scouts, they have two golds, two silvers and three bronzes in that time frame.

Yeah, you’ll find a Finnish veteran on their roster, via trade, from time to time, but it’s not the same thing as growing your own talent.

Just scan the rosters of the league’s elite teams, and you will find what they have that the Flyers (no Stanley Cups since 1975 and six losses in the finals since) do not.

You win with Finns.

The Flyers don’t win, and the bias is obvious.

I’m sure they don’t just dislike Finns off-hand, but there seems to be some general fear that their players maybe won’t adjust to playing in smaller rinks with more physical play, or that they won’t be willing to come here on two-way contracts, meaning apprenticeships in the less-glamorous minor leagues.

Lehtiivori might be an example of that. After being drafted, he remained in Europe before coming across the pong and playing 98 games with the Adirondack Phantoms over a span of a season and a half before returning to Europe, where he still plays for pay.

It’s hard to believe that one experience left such a sour taste in the mouths of management that they have passed it along though several regime changes since 2006.

The only common ground between these front offices is no Stanley Cups and not drafting any players from Finland.

 

Every Day Is Father’s Day

MVP

By GORDON GLANTZ

GORDONVILLE — Only a few Father’s Days ago, I spent the occasion at an 8-hour dance recital just to watch Sofia perform for, maybe, a grand total of eight minutes.

I accepted it as my lot in life.

Sofia was my own personal Tiny Dancer, and I figured this was how it was going to be – waiting all day with a growling stomach, clinging to a bouquet of flowers while racing other dance parents for ideal seats.

At the time, she was the kid – “that kid” — in her first year of 8-U Rec softball that sometimes needed 10-12 pitches (from a coach) before she hit the ball four inches.

I braced myself to become a dance dad and not a sports dad, as she was more in her natural habitat in ballet shoes than spikes.

We fostered her overall creative side with piano lessons, art camps/classes, etc.

Softball was just something cute she did, usually with yours truly serving in some sort of coaching capacity, as she enjoyed being part of a team and accessorizing, via headbands and wristbands.

And it was all fine with me.

It would run its course and we would look back one day and laugh.

As long she did well in school and maintained “angel on earth” status with the Mount Rushmore of teachers she had in the early grades, all was good.

I could not have been more proud.

At least that is what I thought.

Guess where I spent this past Father’s Day?

I’ll make it easy.

It was not at a dance recital.

It was not at a piano recital, either.

We were in gritty Gloucester City, N.J. – literally in the shadow of one of the bridges — for a travel softball tournament.

And not as spectators – well, mama was a tense spectator while I was in the dugout as a low-on-the-totem-pole coach who keeps the scorebook.

Sofia was on the field.

For those of you not familiar with this world of travel tournament softball, the pace of the game puts it several notches above neighborhood Rec leagues.

Players have to audition for teams in mid-summer and, if they earn an invite, they practice year-round in indoor facilities.

I’m not going to say Sofia is a superstar at this level, because she is not – not yet, anyway – but she meets the commitment level needed for travel ball.

She played left field and batted ninth in both games Saturday. She made a nice running catch and lined a single in the first game, a 7-4 loss to the second-ranked team in South Jersey. That performance earned her a chance to be a game captain in the second game, a terse 7-7 tie in which she stole a base and scored a run after getting hit by a pitch (her specialty).

On Sunday, Father’s Day, she was moved up a spot in the batting order, but we were promptly eliminated, 10-0.

Still, in the midst of this early morning drubbing, it hit me as she rifled a throw from deep left field to the cutoff at shortstop, how much she has developed her softball skill set in such a short amount of time.

And she has done it her way.

Sofia still dances – just not at a school that holds recitals on Father’s Day (eye roll) – and we limit her ballet classes to one long night a week to allow for softball practice, schoolwork and her litany of other secondary activities (Girl Scouts, 4H, school choir, etc.)

In the spring, Sofia also played for her school’s softball team, starting every game at her preferred position, catcher, and was named as an All-Star at year’s end.

It was not uncommon for her to go right from a school game or practice to a workout with her travel team, Velocity.

I could take all the credit for not giving up on her, but the truth is that she never gave up on herself and is eternally coachable, meaning the arrow is still pointing way up.

And no, I have zero delusions that she will be one of those young women on TV playing for UCLA or Oklahoma in the College Softball World Series.

Sofia was never going to be dancing at Julliard, either.

She is what I said I always wanted, an all-around kid.

This is not to be confused with me thinking Sofia is perfect, because she is not. She is the princess of procrastination. She is not quite as compliant with authority at home as she is with teachers, coaches, dance instructors, etc.

And she is bit too addicted to social media.

But Sofia is a young lady of many deep passions.

Beyond softball and dance, she is turning into a mini-me with her love for music (I wish she’d let me show her how similar my bands are to hers, but I’m not giving up). She enjoys going to museums, art and historical, especially if they are about ancient Egypt.

Sofia will soon return to her beloved creative arts camp – well-prepared with a purple streak in her air — to indulge herself in all it has to offer (except sports, as the kids there are, uh, not too athletic).

As parents, all we can do is let our children engage with the world, and embrace their passions with both arms.

In her case, she might need three.

Sometimes, it’s her mother helping her rake in the overflow.

Sometimes, it’s me.

That’s just what fathers do.

It is my lot in life — a life where every day is Father’s Day.

No matter where I am spending it.

This column  first appeared in The Times Herald on June 23, 2019.

Playing ‘Taps’ for a New Generation

AAguns

By GORDON GLANTZ

GORDONVILLE — Another Memorial Day has come and gone.

Some used the long weekend to invite skin cancer at the beach, attend picnics or parties to celebrate the unofficial start of summer, and/or shop for bargains at stores being priced out of existence by online retailers.

In between, there was the normal pomp and circumstance – heightened this year on the 75th anniversary of Normandy — to honor those who died in service to our country.

Still, the sound of “Taps,” which used to give us goose bumps, is background noise to too many.

As much as that seems unfair, there is a stark recent statistic, and it tells us that we need to create a second day to remember those who have fallen on a different type of battlefield – the streets, schoolyards, and schools on the home front.

Despite an 11-year head start, more children have died since the horror of the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. than all U.S. soldiers lost in combat overseas since 9/11.

According to a report from the Department of Defense, the military operations since 9/11 have left 6,929 soldiers dead (6,950, counting Department of Defense civilians).

Since the death of 20 first-graders – and six adults – at Sandy Hook, the number of children killed by guns has crossed the 7,000 mark.

And still counting.

While there was some fleeting 24-hours news cycle attention paid to a workplace shooting that left a dozen dead in Virginia Beach, the subsequent weekend saw another bloodbath on the streets of Chicago.

And I can hear it now.

“There goes Gordon again,” you say, with a snort. “That ‘Snowflake’ just loves to write about gun control.”

Actually, I hate it.

With a passion.

The day I don’t have to write about it anymore – and can replace with a list of my favorite songs by Three Dog Night or lessons learned from watching “Seinfeld” — will be cause for a Memorial Day beach barbecue.

What can we do to get on top of this magical place?

It’s so simple that, in fact, maybe we have been missing it all along. Maybe, no matter which side of the issue we are on, we just need to be realistic and keep open minds.

If you are in favor of some extreme form of gun control – like going door to door and collecting them – it’s just not going to happen.

It’s sounds nice, but so does kissing a frog who turns into a prince.

If you are one of those who don’t want the laws touched at all – based on some major misinterpretation of the Second Amendment or, more than likely, “just because” – you are setting yourself up for disappointment as well.

It can’t – and won’t – go on the way it is.

The ebb and flow of the political tide simply won’t let it.

At some point, whether it’s all in 2020 or in two-year increments beyond, mindsets are going to turn more toward change on the issue, if only because people have a “change” fetish.

It’s the only way to explain how someone who says they would have voted for Bernie Sanders for president went for the polar opposite, in terms of political viewpoint, by voting for your president (not mine).

It’s the only way to explain the historic vote of 2018 that put so many women, from so many different backgrounds and viewpoints, in Congress.

And it’s what put these same children – your kids, who wake up each day and go to school with at least passing thoughts that they may not make it home – on the streets in protest after a massacre at a high school in Parkland, Fla. to demand change.

National firearm- and nonfirearm-related homicides by youths_0

Like it or not, here they come.

These are your next generation of voters, and they have this issue at, or the near the top, of their “change” list.

What they push for, and may get, could be more than any of us bargained for – including someone like myself, who isn’t looking for some radical attempt at change that it will leave people who want to defend their homes unarmed.

It will, pardon the pun, backfire on all of us.

So, maybe the so-called adults in the room need to have an adult conversation about it.

If I were someone who considers myself a responsible gun owner, I would not be angry with those who are seeking gun control. Once my knee de-jerks itself, my angst would be directed toward those who abuse the privilege of responsible gun ownership, which is one of the main untapped sources of ongoing problems with gun deaths — whether through accidental shootings, suicides, domestic disputes, hunting accidents, etc.

There was a time in this country when cars were on the streets without much policing. Eventually, there became a need for traffic laws – stop signs, red lights, speed limits, etc. – to mitigate the damage of an increasing number of cars, built to go faster, on the road.

These laws, which continue to be put in place to this day – while car manufacturers, foreign and domestic, strive to outdo one another with safety features – are there to save every life possible.

People still die in car crashes, yes, but the sheer number of lives saved with seat belts and airbags and DUI checkpoints is unknown.

Stricter gun control laws won’t stop every tragedy, either.

But it would be a step in the right direction.

And that’s a whole lot better than shrugging it off, saying that we are apples and oranges from other countries (Australia, Japan, etc.) who have succeeded in stemming the tide of gun violence.

And it’s a whole lot better than having a second Memorial Day to play “Taps” to remember children who have been gunned down on domestic battlefields.

This column initially appeared in The Times Herald on June 9, 2019.

Peace with a piece

Celebrating A Life Well-Lived

Phil4

By GORDON GLANTZ

GORDONVILLE — It was just the other morning that I glanced over my shoulder and told my dog Rex I’d walk him once I finished the arduous task of dressing in a suit (tying a tie is rocket science in Gordonville).

When there was no response – at all – I took a closer look to see if it registered with a pooch who comprehends English at a high school level.

Turns out, I wasn’t speaking to Rex.

I was promising to walk a black sweatshirt that I easily mistook for Rex, who is well-known for his inertia (also at a high school level).

The humor was not lost, and my first thought was that my Uncle Phil, a longtime veterinarian who loved a good joke almost as much as he did telling one, would particularly enjoy hearing that I briefly got my lazy black dog confused with a sweatshirt of the same color.

The only issue was that I could not tell Uncle Phil about it.

That morning, I was getting dressed for his funeral.

Uncle Phil had died a few days earlier at the age of 95.

While more reason to celebrate a life well-lived than to mourn, the world was left a lesser place unless we accept the challenge to live life the way Uncle Phil did.

I have learned in 54 years on the planet that people are not perfect, and that we all have to accept their good qualities with the not-so-good.

But, in my uncle’s case, I’m reminded of the old documentary-style television show, “In Search Of,” narrated by Leonard “Mr. Spock” Nimoy.

In this episode, the goal would be to search for Uncle Phil’s missing downside.

He was a rare jack of many trades (square dancing, ping-pong, playing bridge, golfing) who mastered them all with sheer joy and zero cockiness.

Even at his funeral service, I learned new things about a man I had known my whole life.

Example: While I knew he was a virtuoso piano player, I had no idea he plied his classically-trained chops in the famed Catskill Mountains before settling down with my late Aunt Miriam (my father’s sister) and becoming the Dr. Doolittle of South Jersey.

What I remember from my youth was that a family gathering wasn’t officially a party until Uncle Phil arrived, armed with new jokes and stories to tell.

He was always at the piano well in time to play “Happy Birthday” for whichever niece or nephew was being feted.

And there he would stay — save maybe a break to smoke his pipe — playing the role of the character depicted in Billy Joel’s “Piano Man.”

Phil3

Ironically, Joel also wrote a song called “Only The Good Die Young,” and there is no denying the truth behind the sentiment.

Uncle Phil lost a child — my cousin, Francine — at age 35 to Scleroderma. He kept vigil at her bedside and maintained a brave face for her sake.

It was not the first time he went through the drill.

He never left the side of his older child, Alan, who only narrowly survived a hit-and-run accident while riding a bike while in college.

With Francine, there would be no miracle. Her passing seemed surreal.

I remember entering the same Cherry Hill funeral home where his recent service was held, and being greeted by the overpowering sounds of wailing from Uncle Phil.

He was rightfully inconsolable the day Francine was laid to rest, but he somehow found light in the darkness and eventually reclaimed the same joys in life.

We are talking about someone who attended college – and vet school – at the forerunner of Auburn University in Alabama, a place where a Jewish kid with a thick Brooklyn accent would have trouble today, let alone in those days of black-and-white photos and mind sets.

But, knowing Uncle Phil, whose infectious laughter even oozed Brooklyn, you just know it was likely never an issue.

Phil2

In my flood of all positive memories, I go back to the first Thanksgiving we hosted at our new – and current – house in 2003.

We were so proud – and nervous.

I invited an old summer camp friend I hadn’t seen in about 20 years to stop by for a bit. It was Uncle Phil, more than anyone else, who went out of his way to make this old friend feel so welcome that he stayed for hours instead of minutes.

When Aunt Miriam passed away, Uncle Phil fulfilled her prophecy of getting a girlfriend.

He didn’t detach from Aunt Miriam’s side of the family, though. He just brought his companion, Marilyn, to events and carried on as our piano man until his fingers finally betrayed him.

Uncle Phil living to 95 was not by accident. While his kidney functioning got to the point where he needed dialysis three times a week, his spirit was not broken.

He made the most of it, planning out which classic music he was going to play through his iPad during dialysis.

This week’s funeral was more than just a tribute to someone who defied the axiom about only the good dying young.

The good vibrations came easier to Uncle Phil, I believe, because he saw the good in himself.

And there was plenty of it to see.

At the funeral, we were all charged with the task of keeping his memory alive by doing as he would have done.

Be the first to make a stranger feel welcome, conquer your own insecurities enough that you don’t project them onto others, and enjoy the complexities of simple pleasures.

For a sourpuss such as myself, it won’t be easy. But, I’m going to give it a whirl.

I challenge a lot of you, who surely know someone like Uncle Phil within your own personal orbit, to do the same.

The world will be a better place.

This column appeared in The Times Herald on June 2, 2019

Us And Them

Sopranos

By GORDON GLANTZ

GORDONVILLE — The Brady Bunch or The Partridge Family?

Sounds innocuous enough, but in the alternate universe of nonsense that is Facebook, it sparked an argument that simulated how World War III might unfold.

And this one was not the work of Russian bots.

It was just another sign of the rapid decline of Western Civilization.

Do I get involved?

Guilty as charged.

For starters, blatant grammar errors – “your” instead of “you’re,” or “there” instead of “their” – will turn me rabid on someone already taking the opposing opinion (The Partridge Family, in this case).

Yeah, I take the bait faster than a trout in a pre-stocked lake on the first day of fishing season.

If faced with some of the following, you would, too:

Star Trek or Star Wars?

How do I say this nicely, without coming right out and saying it? If I’m sharing the same oxygen as anyone who prefers Star Wars, I need Scotty to beam me up ASAP. There is no intelligent life down here. And, if you don’t get that reference, there is little hope. Go stick your lightsaber in a dark place.

Lou’s or Eve’s?

This is the ongoing debate for the best Zep in Norristown, the “home” to the sandwich that can actually be found in many other locales, but under other names.

With all due respect to Lou’s, which I admit to having not graced in years – and, when I did, I got that look from the regulars that Joe Pesci and Marisa Tomei got from the locals in “My Cousin Vinny” – I have to go with Eve’s here.

One more plus that Eve’s has going for it is that it is one of the few suburban joints that has an edible cheese steak.

Elmwood Park Zoo or Philadelphia Zoo?

Elmwood Park by a mile.

Main reason? The miles.

There is also another reason. I have never heard a traffic report where it wasn’t nearly impossible to get to the Philadelphia Zoo. I don’t care if they have Bigfoot or Loch Ness Monster in captivity, it’s just not worth it.

Schuylkill Expressway or Route 422?

Neither, as I avoid both like the plague (see above).

Never ever?

Never ever.

Eagles games?

Kelly Drive, or weave through the city.

Limerick outlets or a baseball game in Reading?

Backroads.

Like I said, never ever.

McDonald’s or Wendy’s?

I used to keep McDonald’s in this conversation because of its semi-edible breakfasts, but there seems to be a conspiracy afoot to screw up every drive-thru order.

I’m working on 11 times in a row, and I’m not looking to make it 12.

Once we get past breakfast time, forget about it.

The only place with an edible burger is Wendy’s.

As for other fast food joints, Burger King does not float my bloat. We have to watch some of the others around because they cook their fries in peanut oil, and Sofia is allergic to nuts.

I am going through a bit of a Taco Bell resurgence, but I know I’m setting myself up for a rude awakening.

Chic-Fil-A? Even if the food floated my boat, which it doesn’t, the franchise joins Mel Gibson on boycott list.

The reasons? Look it up. I’m not alone.

Dogs or Cats?

We have a dog (Rex), three cats (Hank, Licorice and Hershey) and a bunny with floppy ears (Buttons). If it has four legs and a tail, they are welcome here.

That said, while cats are cool to have around a house, dogs make a house a home.

Walking or Running?

Because of Rex, I get my walking in that way, and it is fine with me.

Why run when you can walk? Why stand when you can sit down, and why sit down when you can recline?

Game of Thrones or The Sopranos?

Well, let’s put it this way, The Sopranos remains my favorite show of all-time. I still watch it on a continual loop, and it is so nuanced that I still pick up on different twists.

As a show, it set the bar for all to follow – from cable networks to Netflix and other formats – and that was not by accident.

I did watch the first season of Game of Thrones when it originally aired and found it compelling, considering the whole fantasy genre is not my plate of pasta with homemade meatballs.

When Ned Stark was beheaded, it had impact. The only reason I didn’t keep up with the show was because the subsequent season rolled around with both the Flyers and Sixers making 2012 playoff runs and, well, a guy has to have priorities.

With the better half ceding to water-cooler peer pressure at work, we endeavored to go back to the beginning and get caught up, via the binge.

She is still binging, and is somewhere into Season 4 or 5.

I barely made it into a few episodes of Season 3, and this was after finding Season 1 just as compelling as the first time around.

Amazing how the show gained in popularity the sillier, and more violent, it became – almost to the point of becoming a high-budget parody of Season 1.

Actually, it’s not amazing at all. It’s reflective of the sadistic culture in which we live, where we are numb to mad kings and tragic violence.

Give me the bell bottoms and min-skirts of The Brady Bunch any day of the week.

This column originally appeared in The Times Herald on May 26, 2019.