Jun 08

My old school


June 8
My
old school just died. To be more precise, St. Francis Grammar School in
Ridgefield Park, NJ, just closed due to financial reasons.

Losing
one’s grammar school is a pretty big deal. Talk about memory lane. My mom and
my older brother, Russ, both graduated from St. Francis. So did several of my
closest buddies.

To
paraphrase Charles Dickens, SFS was the best of schools and the worst of
schools. The education was far superior to that provided by the public grammar
schools in our village. But, the brutal and badly misnamed Sisters of Charity
gave the school a very poor image and reputation. For whatever reason, the nuns
didn’t like boys. Period. And, they really didn’t like some boys.

I
still have vivid memories of Sisters Julia Michael, Catherine Imelda and
Catherine Winifred beating the bejesus out of my classmates. They’d pull ears,
yank ties and rap knuckles until they saw blood. And, that was when they were
in a good mood. The priests were also scary dudes and at least one was
implicated in a pedophilia scandal decades later.

But,
for me, SFS’s positives always outweighed the negatives. So, knowing that most
of you could care less, I nonetheless thought I’d pay one final homage to St.
Francis Grammar School by listing my top 10 memories:

10.)
Bobby Gandolfo knocking out the late Gregory Alberque at Kenny Molta’s fourth
grade party. I’d never seen a one-two combination like the one Bobby threw that
day (FYI: Bobby was positively all-world in sports and academics at SFS).

9.)
Being suspended with my fellow altar boys for misbehaving at a seventh grade
funeral mass. It was terribly wrong, but terribly funny at the time (laughs
courtesy of the late Greg Alberque).

8.)
The Kenny Molta/Mike Nardone book bag incident. Kenny threw Mike’s book bag
down the Park Street sewer drain, completely ruining its contents and Mike’s
day. Great stuff.

7.)
Playing ‘steal the bacon’ in Mr. Hale’s gym class. It was a bizarre game that
takes far too much time to explain. And, it was run by a total Martinet of a
gym coach named Mr. Hale, who punished misbehaving or underperforming gym
participants by making us hoist folding chairs over our heads until our arms
gave way. Nice, Mr. Hale. Very nice.

6.)
Patty Perrotta’s seventh grade party and the introduction of spin the bottle.
Nice, Patty. Very nice.

5.)
Seventh grade ‘lay teacher’ Mr. Carroll, whose idea of fun was walking behind
us as we took a test and chalking up our ears. God knows how he ended up.

4.)
Father Stauffer, who ended up leaving the priesthood and marrying one of the
nuns. Sure beats pedophilia. Nice, Fr. Stauffer. Nice.

3.)
Getting caught by Sister Noreen for forging my mom’s signature on a
less-than-satisfactory fourth grade report card and then making me go home and
tell my parents what I’d just done. A painful, but necessary lesson, Sr.
Noreen. No hard feelings.

2.)
Slap-boxing matches in the schoolyard at lunchtime with each of us emulating a
heavyweight contender of the era (I was Ali).

1.)
Sally Ann Pappan for introducing me (and quite a few others) to the wonders of
French kissing. I know, TMI. But, it’s a world-class memory of those days.

Au
revoir, SFS. I’ll miss you. Sort of.

Dec 10

I Love the Situation…

Guest Post by Andrew Stein, Peppercom

December 10 - jerseyAB So the talk of the town since last Thursday night has been MTV’s new reality show “Jersey Shore.” Along the same lines as the famed series the “Real World,” this show puts eight self-proclaimed “Guidos” into a share house in Seaside Heights, New Jersey, for a summer of debauchery and is there to film all the drunken missteps, fights and overall stupidity that ensues. As someone that grew up in Toms River, just a stone’s throw across the bridge from lovely Seaside Heights, I have a soft spot for the content of the show and must say I couldn’t be happier after watching the two-hour premiere.

However, there seem to be larger issues at hand than just my shear enjoyment of this train wreck. Many Italian-Americans throughout the country have expressed their distaste for the show and for MTV, saying it is offensive and portrays Italian-Americans in a false and negative light.

Now as someone that has taken more than my fair share of vodka shots in these local drinking establishments, I can promise you that the characters on this show are not acting. While I’m sure they’re showing off a bit for the cameras (put a shirt on fellas), I have seen a whole lot of “Guidos” in action behaving just like these clowns. So while MTV may be exploiting this particular sect of Italian-Americans, how can you really blame them? These people are willing to make total arses of themselves on national television, which is gold for any reality TV franchise. Unfortunately for Italian-Americans, scientists and CEOs don’t make for gut-wrenching channel surfing. These morons do.

So should Italian-Americans be upset with MTV? Personally, I can’t tell someone whether they should be offended by something or not, particularly when I’m not part of the minority in question. However, these people on the show are glorifying “guido” culture on their own; MTV is just serving as the medium for them to share it with the world. I can understand Italian-Americans being upset with the people that act this way because they reflect negatively on their culture. However, why is that MTV’s responsibility?  They’re in the business of making money through bad TV and this particular show happens to be a jackpot.

Most of what I’ve heard and read from the offended seems to blame MTV for falsely portraying Italian-Americans. As someone that grew up around these people, the idiocy and embarrassing behavior is accurate and MTV just happens to be smart enough to film it for profit. I can totally understand why Italian-Americans may be unhappy being associated with these people, I just don’t see why that is MTV’s fault. The fact is, “Guido” culture exists with or without MTV. While the cable network may be exposing it to the rest of the country that may not have the pleasure of seeing it on a regular basis, they certainly did not create it and, in my opinion, are not irresponsibly embellishing it.

Jul 01

NJT: We just don’t care.

Guest Post by Ann Barlow

July 1 Last week I had the opportunity to take NJ Transit for the first time in quite awhile. I used to take it five days a week when I lived in NJ and commuted to the city. Although four years have passed, it would be difficult to forget all the delays, cancellations and complete absence of explanation on what was happening and why. Ah yes, and the recollection that if you should be naïve enough to ask for an explanation, you could look forward to at the least a surly response, at the most a swift removal of your personage from the train for your temerity. The experience spawned a new tagline recommendation from Steve Cody – New Jersey Transit: We Just Don’t Care.

Contrast this to the BART system in Bay Area, where I now live. I confess that it took me awhile to adapt to the whole BART culture. First of all, people line up to get on the train. They don’t try to edge each other out of position or discreetly push anyone who isn’t moving at the appropriate speed.  But as I quickly learned, they’re just reflecting the courtesy and organization that the BART personnel  show passengers. There are ongoing announcements at every stop on which trains are coming and when. Once on the train, the conductor announces any delays, providing possibly more detail than necessary along with a profuse apology, as if he were personally at fault for the delay. 

Of course, BART riders still find plenty to complain about. They should only know.

Back to NJT. My colleague Deb Brown and I boarded the 7:53 train. At least, it was supposed to be a 7:53 train. Deb and I were talking through the presentation we were to give at 9, so we didn’t immediately notice when 7:53 came and went. But then it became a little more difficult to hear one another as the conductors yelled at each other over the PA. I glanced out at the clock on the platform and realized that it was now after 8. We listened in the argument and ascertained that the problem was a brake light that hadn’t gone off, suggesting the one of the cars still had its brake on. After another 10 minutes of bickering, the personnel decided to ignore the red light, since a search revealed that all the brakes were indeed off.  And the communication and apology to riders for the 20-minute delay? We’d see pigs flying outside the train car windows first.

I think it’s outrageous that the people who run NJT allow the service to be so lousy, so incredibly indifferent. So what if it’s the only train system available? People can drive or take the bus or telecommute. And isn’t there a certain amount of pride that comes from treating people as customers, with courtesy and respect?

Not at NJT. At NJT, we just don’t care.

May 13

Hey, you want a piece of me?

May 13 - nj Hard on the heels of the happy news that New Jersey finished in the middle of the pack of a Forbes '50 happiest states' rankings comes the debut of a depressing Bravo series called 'Real Housewives of New Jersey.'

The former is quite a coup for the much-maligned Garden State, alternatively known as 'America's armpit.' New Jerseyans told Forbes researchers that they were doing just fine, thank you, in such areas as: well-being, life evaluation, work quality, basic access to infrastructure services, healthy behavior, and physical and emotional health.

For the record, Utah finished first in the happiest states rankings (I guess plural marriages do work) and West Virginia finished dead last (my apologies to faithful readers Lunchboy and Lance LePoer, who have direct ties to the coal mining capital of the U.S.).

So, while I was pleased to see my beleaguered home state do fairly well (and finish far ahead of New York and those snobby Manhattanites. Take that, Ms Scheluter-Brown-Schleuter), I was simultaneously dismayed to read about the debut of Bravo's Real Housewives of NJ series. The latter will quickly undo any good done by the Forbes rankings and, like the Sopranos before it, convince viewers everywhere that the state is populated by hordes of mindless, silicone-enhanced, dyed blond gold-diggers named Teresa, Dina and Caroline who spout such mal mots as, 'Her heart is as big as her bubbies.'

Hey, we New Jerseyans are used to taking the good with the bad. For every Bernardsville, Spring Lake and Upper Saddle River, we also have a Camden, Trenton and Bogota. For every Woodrow Wilson, Peter Rodino and Vince Lombardi, we also have a Sharp James, Robert Brennan and Aaron Burr.

Our state's image and reputation may have scored a momentary victory with a decent Forbes ranking, but it's almost expected that a Bravo-type series will counter with a body blow of a reality show that perpetuates NJ's love affair with Mob-connected families from Franklin Lakes.

But, hey you got a problem with that? You want a piece of me? You think New Jersey will ever have a good image? Fuggedaboutit!

Nov 21

Dante’s Kids

Guest blog written by Gene Colter.

Come with us now as we descend into hell. Down through the first circles and on to the murderers andMortgage_2
harmers of the innocent and young. Gaze upon the horrors to be seen there. –

I like to think I’ve gotten pretty good at spotting and avoiding the come-on letters, but this one got by me. It came in a good-quality envelope, the sort of one used to see wrapped around personal letters back when people wrote letters. So I opened it. On the cover of the card inside was a color photo of a darling baby girl. She was some months past birth, given her ability to hold her head up and the stud earrings she was already sporting, but she was still swaddled like a baby. My mind raced: Whose baby is getting christened? Why don’t I recognize this lovely little doll? I opened the letter to find out.

Whereupon I found out that I, Eugene, could lower my monthly mortgage payment if I could meet with a representative who had reviewed my loan and who would soon be in my neighborhood to chat.

That representative, of course, would be a mortgage broker. He and his ilk are well represented down where the sun never shines. And, despite a daily pounding of news coverage on the woes of the nation’s housing market, some of the worst salespeople in the country continue to ply their trade just as they did when housing prices were inflating and loans of dubious merit were being extended to people who had little hope of being able to live up to their terms.

This is an industry that has not even begun to grasp the basics of reputation management. Salesmen in general have always had a complicated reputation, but the mortgage-broking industry stands out in its awfulness.

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