bad TV, nostalgia

A hairstyle for all people…

Good morning, blog fans. Today, I’m going to write a short post, because I’ve been inspired to make some music and I want to get to it as soon as possible. I want to take advantage of this feeling while it lasts. Lately, I haven’t been as enthusiastic about my melodic pursuits, although I have been practicing guitar. Sometimes I venture onto SingSnap for a short while, but I haven’t done any YouTube videos recently. Maybe I’ll get a new one up today, now that I have some new photos.

Since I want this to be a short, but sweet, posting, I’ve decided that today’s topic will be on the lighter side… and it will appeal to anyone who was around in the 1980s and watched The Facts of Life on TV. You know, back in those days, we didn’t have so many options, even if we did have cable. That’s probably the only reason The Facts of Life lasted nine seasons. I just finished the 7th season and, I gotta tell you, it really did jump the shark. Aside from that, the show completely veered away from its original premise and became kind of silly. I mean, it was always “silly”, but the writers tackled some important issues. In the waning seasons, the show just became lightweight and kind of farcical.

One really notable thing about the later seasons of The Facts of Life, though, is that George Clooney was briefly a cast member. And in the mid 1980s, he had a mullet. You know who else had a mullet? Nancy McKeon did. She played Jo. Nancy was a very pretty young woman, but poor thing, when she was on The Facts of Life, they really made her look mannish. Actually, a lot of the clothes worn in the later seasons were just hideous. There was a lot of synthetic fabric and humongous shoulder pads… loud colors, and overalls. Most of the cast members had visible weight struggles at certain points during its run, and those shoulder pads were not helpful at all. Especially for Mindy Cohn (Natalie) and Kim Fields (Tootie).

Anyway… I was pretty amused when I noticed that Nancy McKeon, George Clooney, and Michael Damian (he played Fly Man, and was also on The Young and the Restless for years) could have passed for siblings. They all had an affinity for hairspray and mousse, too. Have a look.

And then, I noticed that Lisa Whelchel, who had beautiful blonde hair and tumbled in golden curls past her shoulders also got the same haircut… And she colored her hair sort of a yucky reddish blonde. It really aged her, in my opinion. I noticed that she wore skirts in most episodes when the show was very popular. Then, in the later seasons, it was dressy suits, pants with angora sweaters, and the odd dress. Meanwhile, poor Mindy Cohn and Kim Fields were put in really ugly, frumpy outfits. Thankfully, Lisa has reclaimed her “crowning glory”, as evidenced in her recent recap of her most famous role…

She can still pull off the uniform!

I’m glad I never had a mullet… Actually, I think I had a short haircut very briefly in 1985, but it didn’t last. And then in the late 90s, I had a short cut. But then when Bill and I got together, I grew out my hair again, because he preferred it long… and, well, I HATE going to get haircuts. I always have. I haven’t seen a professional hairstylist since 2010. I usually cut my own hair… and often while drunk. No wonder I don’t like being on camera. 😉

Incidentally, 20 years ago today, Bill and I officially got engaged. We were unofficially engaged in January 2002, but I got my ring on March 13, 2002. The time has really flown by.

Taken the evening Bill and I officially got engaged, March 13, 2002. This was back when I got haircuts. I think I colored my own hair, though.
And this is us last week, just before we went to France.

Well… I guess that’s about all I have to say today. Going to see if I can make some pretty music. Have a great Sunday!

Edited to add… Here’s a new video.

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controversies, Duggars, nostalgia, Russia, safety, silliness

I kept my kid rear facing until he was sixteen! Give me a cookie!

Now that the pandemic restrictions are slowly fading away, people are starting to go back to their old favorite soapboxes. I’m starting to see less lecturing about public health guidelines regarding viruses. And, after our glorious minimally COVID intrusive French break, I am feeling a lot better about some things.

I say “some things”, because I’m going to have to call up USAA again and bitch at them for wrongly blocking my debit card due to “suspicious activity”. They unceremoniously put a block on the card last night as I was trying to make a purchase from a vendor I use fairly often. I don’t know if it’s because I had a travel alert because we went away for a few days, or just because… but this happens to me fairly frequently, and I’m at the point now at which I’m thinking it’s time to consider finding a new bank. Perhaps we need one that is more local. I suggested that in 2014, but Bill didn’t agree. Anyway, I have to call them today, and I hate having to do that. It’s a pain in the ass. Edited to add: as I was writing this, I got an automated call from USAA, many hours after the fact, asking me to confirm the activity. Supposedly, my card is open… so maybe I can make my purchases now. I’ll give it a try later, when I can call USAA immediately and get help if it doesn’t work.

Now… on to today’s topic. I follow the Duggar Family News Group on Facebook. It’s often entertaining, and sometimes there are some great books recommended there. I also enjoy a lot of the snark regarding fundie Christian families such as the Duggars. I guess it was a natural progression, since I’m less interested in snarking on Mormons lately, even if I do still intensely dislike Mormonism (but not Mormons, in general).

This morning, someone posted one of their Facebook memories, in light of the recent car accident involving Nathan and Nurie (Rodrigues) Keller. I posted about the accident, myself, a few weeks ago. It seems that Nathan and Nurie, who have a baby boy, did not have their infant in a car seat at all. Nathan was cited.

Naturally, news of the accident generated a lot of chatter from other Duggar Family News followers, especially since Nurie’s parents, Jill and David Rodrigues, both have siblings who are permanently disabled due to serious car accidents. Jill’s sister has been a quadriplegic since 2015, while David’s brother is reportedly a paraplegic. I don’t know much about the specifics involving those accidents, but it would seem to me that, under those circumstances, car safety should be more of a priority in the Rodrigues family than it apparently is. But this post is less about how I think the Rodrigues and Keller families should be more cognizant of safety, than it is about the public ego stroking that goes on any time someone brings up the subject of car seats.

Someone posted that the below image came up in their memories the other day, and they decided to share it with the group:

Yikes!

This is the video referenced in the above image.

Blood flows red on the highway!

Now… I want to make it very clear that I am not against people being as safe as possible when they’re driving. It’s true that I have always hated wearing seatbelts, but I wear them anyway, because Bill turns into Pat Boone if I don’t. But aside from that, I’m not an idiot. I know that seatbelts and car seats save lives. This is not a rant about car seat safety, five point harnesses, or rear facing children for as long as possible… although I’m pretty sure I would have puked a lot if that had been the rule when I was a child. I tend to get motion sickness when I ride backwards. But what’s a little vomiting when your life is at stake, right?

This rant is about what happens when people share these things on social media. It practically turns into a circle jerk of self-congratulations, as poster after poster brags about how strict they are about car safety with their own kids. In fact, looking on YouTube, the same phenomenon is happening among commenters there. So many people are boasting about how safety conscious they are, patting themselves on the back. They are probably at a higher risk of breaking their arms that way, than in a car accident.

Here’s a sampling of the comments on YouTube.

The comments on the Facebook post are very similar to the ones above. Based on the self-congratulatory mood of these responses, one could be led to believe that everybody who’s anybody rear faces their kids, their husbands, their wives, their pets, and would also rear face themselves, if they didn’t have to drive! And these threads almost always devolve into segues about how long to keep kids in booster seats, harnesses, and what not. I’m surprised people haven’t started making their toddlers wear helmets, elbow pads, and knee pads in the car. Below is another screenshot of comments on the YouTube video…

A little dissension creeps into the discussion… and it starts looking like there are a bunch of physics experts weighing in…

Again… I don’t think there’s anything at all wrong with being concerned about car safety, especially when children are involved. After all, if Princess Diana had worn a seatbelt on her last car ride, she’d probably still be with us. I just don’t understand why some people feel so compelled to share their personal philosophies about it to the point at which it looks like they want a cookie or something. Do people really need validation about their personal choices that badly? I mean, rear face your eight year old if you can, and you want to do that. Keep that kid in a five point harness. Slap a helmet on them, if it makes you happy. Far be it for me to judge you on your car safety choices. But why tell the whole world about it? And why judge other people for not doing what you’re doing? Especially if they’re following the law?

Remember, though, I write this as someone who grew up in the 1970s and 80s, when kids were allowed to bounce all over the car… and although my parents were always devoted to safety and wore their seatbelts religiously, I was usually only forced to wear them when my dad was in control freak mode. That’s probably why I’ve always hated wearing them. I associated them with my parents– really, more my dad– being mean and controlling, and punishing me for being myself. It wasn’t about them caring about my safety, or the chance that I might become a flying object. It was about my dad being large, and in charge. Seatbelts, in those days were also uncomfortable, especially for short people like me.

It amazes me that I survived my childhood, when so many people smoked, and kids rode bikes without helmets and played outside for hours, their parents not knowing where they were, and not worrying until darkness fell. I’ve mentioned many times before that I grew up in rural Virginia, and it was not uncommon to see some of the kids in my neighborhood riding on the hood of their mother’s car to their trailer home at the end of our dirt road. It was hardcore redneck living, I tell you! I remember being embarrassed when I was forced to wear a seatbelt in the car, circa 1980 or so. It was not the “cool” thing to do in those days. It wasn’t until the late 90s, after I spent two years in Armenia, where NOBODY wore seatbelts, that I finally started to wear them 95% of the time.

Nowadays, just about everybody wears seatbelts. You’re not cool if you don’t wear one. And even people in the back seat wear them, which was definitely not the case even twenty years ago. The pendulum has shifted to the point at which people go batshit nuts when they see anyone not wearing a seatbelt. And if a child isn’t strapped in perfectly… well, prepare for the hammer of judgment to come crashing down. While I’m sure most people mean well, others seem to get off on edifying and judging their neighbors. It must give them a surge of sanctimonious supply to get to instruct someone on the errors of their ways…

Dreadful… and no seatbelts to be seen. I was about twelve when this aired. Blair tells Tootie to put a seatbelt on Natalie at 7:17, only because Natalie is embarrassing her. At 9:09, Natalie smiles as she talks about how she “bit down” on the seatbelt when they were stopped by a cop.

Yesterday, I was watching a truly wretched episode of The Facts of Life that aired during the sixth season. It was called “Cruisin'”, and it involved Blair, Natalie, Tootie, and Jo driving around Peekskill, New York in Blair’s daddy’s Caddy. Blair and Jo are in the front seat, and they’re all listening to God awful remakes of popular songs of decades past, acting like mom and pop to Natalie and Tootie. Neither of them are wearing seatbelts, and Tootie folds the front seat forward, causing Jo to chastise her. In fact, at one point, Blair tells Jo to hit the window locks and Tootie to “slap a seatbelt” on Natalie, when she gets too rambunctious. That was kind of the attitude back then. Then, at 9:09, Jo snarks on how Blair came up with a lame excuse for a cop, claiming Natalie was in labor. Natalie smiles and says, “Did you notice how I bit down on my seatbelt?”

Sometimes, in the 70s and 80s, seatbelts were used as disciplinary devices for the unruly children of the world. It’s a weird mindset, I know… When I see evidence of how we were in the 80s, I suddenly feel really old. It’s amazing how many years have passed, and how much some things have really changed. I’m going to be 50 very soon… and I’m starting to realize that I’m getting old. Like, for instance, I often wake up with pain in my back… and I have to squint to read fine print. It’s hard to believe the women on The Facts of Life are even older than I am!

Our mindsets have really changed in a lot of ways, though. In the 70s and 80s, kids were a lot freer to do things on their own. And yet, it seems like less was expected of us. I see so many kids today being prepared for their lives as adults as if they were already adults. There’s so much pressure, yet so much protection. In my day, we all worried about nukes, especially in the 80s. And now, the threat of nuclear war seems even closer than it ever was. It almost makes wearing a seatbelt seem silly. If Putin hits the red button, we’re all probably doomed, anyway. The constant emphasis on safety could be completely pointless soon… if something isn’t done about that madman.

Here’s another thing that reminds me of how old I am… Bill retired from the Army 8 years ago. His service began during the Cold War, and he was trained to deal with Soviet style combat. He has a degree in International Relations from American University, which he earned before the Soviet Union fell apart. For the second half of his career in the Army, that training became almost obsolete, as the focus was more on the Middle East. Now, the Russians are a huge concern again, and Bill’s old training is becoming relevant again. It may even end up making him more employable. Isn’t that weird?

Well, anyway, I don’t think anyone should feel badly about rear facing their children in the car, if that works for them and makes them feel better… especially if the kid doesn’t mind it, isn’t uncomfortable, and doesn’t puke. I’m surprised more car manufacturers haven’t made cars with passenger seats that rear face by design. But I don’t understand why so many people feel like they have to announce this to the world. I mean, look at this…

I often tease Bill, because he’s very safety conscious. He’s also very health conscious. However, he doesn’t get on my case about never going to the doctor. It’s likely that I won’t die in a car accident… I’ll probably die of an undiagnosed chronic disease. I do know, though, that that’s ultimately my responsibility… I just think it’s funny that he’s so safety conscious. And I think it’s funny that so many people are so fixated on things like car seat safety, when there are risks everywhere that a lot of us ignore or downplay. I think seatbelts and car seats, much like face masks, are things that are easy to see, and easy to judge others on, particularly if they aren’t being used properly. It’s easy to judge someone for not using a seatbelt or car seat, or not wearing a mask. That’s why people do it with wild, reckless abandon!

However, chances are, we are all letting a lot of other things slide that will probably kill us someday. And chances are, someone is silently judging you for that, too… even if you’re still rear facing and harnessing your adolescent in the name of car safety. Yes, that includes every sanctimonious twit who wants to brag about their superior parenting skills and health and safety measures. But I guess there’s no harm in a little validation seeking online. Hell, we all do it. Now pass me another slice of pizza and a beer. Gotta get that cholesterol up so I can take that big trip to the great beyond… safely strapped in, of course.

*** But… this all being said, allow me to go on record that I think it’s crazy that Nathan and Nurie didn’t have their baby in a car seat. I hope they learned a lesson and will do better in the future. I’m not going to send them hate mail, though.

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book reviews

Repost: A review of The Facts of My Life by Charlotte Rae…

I wasn’t going to put up another repost today, but I just realized that I never got around to reposting my review of the late actress, Charlotte Rae’s, book about her life. And since I’ve been binge watching The Facts of Life, I figure now is a good time to repost this review, dated December 15, 2015.

Having grown up in the 70s and 80s, I watched a lot of TV.  One of my favorite shows was Diff’rent Strokes.  I also loved The Facts of Life.  Both shows starred Charlotte Rae as Mrs. Edna Garrett, a maternal, wise, loving woman who first served as a live in housekeeper, then became the cook/dietician/house mother at Eastland School for Girls.

What I didn’t know was that Charlotte Rae’s career encompassed so much more than just 80s era sitcoms.  I learned much more about her life when I read her book, The Facts of My Life, which she co-wrote with her son, Larry Strauss.

Charlotte Rae Lubotsky was born the middle of three daughters to Russian Jewish parents.  She grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  Born in 1926, Charlotte Rae was around to see the Great Depression and watch her parents and everyone else around her struggle to make ends meet.  Nevertheless, Rae and her sisters were musically talented and felt a pull toward show business.  After studying at Northwestern University among several other future stars, Rae moved to New York City and became active in the theater.

Having married John Strauss, Rae bore two sons.  Her older son, Andy, was severely autistic and spent most of his life institutionalized.  After a lifetime of health struggles, Andy passed away in 1999.  Her younger son, Larry, is a writer and teacher.  Rae writes about what it was like to work in the theater and later, Hollywood.  She and her husband battled alcoholism and later, Rae dealt with the fact that her husband preferred the company of males.  They managed to stay friends after their divorce. 

Rae writes quite a lot about her family of origin and her career.  Her attitude is upbeat, even as she describes having to deal with sibling rivalry with her older sister, Beverly, who was an opera diva.  Younger sister, Mimi, was a great pianist.  Rae describes her voice as “bluesy”, which is kind of hard for me to imagine, having seen her be Mrs. Garrett for so many years.  Apparently, she is quite an accomplished singer, besides a great actress.

Sister Beverly Ann became an opera singer, then married a wealthy doctor and became a socialite.  Sadly, she succumbed to pancreatic cancer.  Pancreatic cancer has since become a cause near and dear to Rae’s heart.   

I never knew that Charlotte Rae struggled with alcoholism.  Apparently, she’s been sober for about forty years.  She praises Alcoholics Anonymous and her AA buddies for helping her stay ahead of her addiction to booze.  I also didn’t know that Rae was Jewish.  She shares some interesting anecdotes about what it was life to grow up Jewish in the United States. 

Parts of this book were very witty.  Other parts were kind of sad.  Those who are looking for anecdotes about Diff’rent Strokes or The Facts of Life may come away somewhat disappointed; after all, this book is not just about those two shows, even if they did make her much more visible to the world.  But what she does share is enlightening and heartwarming.  We are reminded that Mrs. Garrett and Charlotte Rae are two different entities, as are the people who portrayed the characters with whom Rae starred.

I think this book will appeal most to people like me, who have enjoyed Charlotte Rae’s talents.  As celebrity life stories go, it’s pretty interesting.  I’d give it four stars.

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bad TV, fashion, good tv, memories, nostalgia

The “facts of life” one learns while watching The Facts of Life…

A few weeks ago, I got a wild hair up my ass and decided to buy a few box sets of favorite TV shows from the 70s and 80s. I bought The Bionic Woman, One Day at a Time, and The Facts of Life. I’ve actually only seen a few episodes of The Bionic Woman, since it aired when we lived in England, and I don’t remember it being aired in syndication much. I did used to watch One Day at a Time when I was a kid, but missed the earliest episodes because I was too young when the show started, and then it really jumped the shark. I was a BIG fan of The Facts of Life, which was a spinoff of Diff’rent Strokes.

Most every kid my age loved Diff’rent Strokes, but I guess the powers that be decided that Charlotte Rae should have her own show. So they had her get a job at Eastland School, Kimberly Drummond’s boarding school in Peekskill, New York. Boom… suddenly, we had a successful sitcom revolving around the lives of girls who went to boarding school and wore frumpy uniforms all the time. The Facts of Life started off with a large cast of beautiful young girls with flowing hair… except for Molly Ringwald, of course, and Kim Fields, who played Tootie Ramsey, the token Black cast member. After the first season, the size of the cast was slimmed down, as the girls progressed through puberty and gained weight.

I loved the first few seasons of The Facts of Life. I liked it less when the girls were moved out of the school to work at Edna’s Edibles. Also, as is so common on shows about school, the students didn’t graduate on time. It seemed like they were Eastland students forever. And then Charlotte Rae left the show, and they brought in Mackenzie Astin, George Clooney, and Cloris Leachman. The last couple of seasons were practically unwatchable! I didn’t like it when the plot moved away from the school, though, because the school was so central to the show. Also, I think they made boarding school look like a lot more fun than it probably is in reality.

I kind of find the theme song annoying, catchy as it is. Alan Thicke and his ex wife, Gloria Loring, helped compose it, and Loring belts it out in an over-the-top, obnoxious way… not unlike the characters’ personalities.

But there were a few really good years on that show, I’m in the thick of them right now. The writers took on a number of ambitious topics that were very important in the 1980s. Imagine my surprise this week, as I waded through the third and fourth seasons, realizing that subject matter that was timely in 1981 and 1982, is still timely and important today. In seasons 3 and 4, The Facts of Life tackled:

  • suicide
  • abortion
  • book banning
  • underage drinking
  • rape and sexual assault
  • teen pregnancy
  • breast cancer
  • mental retardation (this is what it was called on the show, rather than one of the more politically correct terms of today)
  • physical handicaps (again, how it was described on the show)
  • racism
  • fanaticism
  • crash dieting
  • religion
  • sexism
  • cross cultural issues
  • bullying
  • adoption
  • marital affairs
  • teenage prostitution

The list goes on, as I have only just started season 4, and there were a total of 9 seasons before NBC finally pulled the plug. But as I was wasting the late afternoon hours yesterday, watching the episode about book banning, it occurred to me that, in some ways, we haven’t really gotten anywhere in the last 40 years. The plot was about how a bunch of parents got upset that their daughters were able to check out books like Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, which they felt didn’t promote the right message or values. I was suddenly reminded of the recent controversy surrounding the book, Maus, by Art Spiegelman, which has had the effect of causing a bunch of people to buy and read the book in protest. I read Maus a few weeks ago, passed it to Bill, who finished it last weekend, and just today, he took it to work to lend to one of his co-workers.

If I recall correctly, I believe I decided to read Slaughterhouse Five when I was in high school, in part because it was mentioned on The Facts of Life as a banned book. I knew I liked Vonnegut’s writing, having read his short story, “Harrison Bergeron”, in the 9th grade. Sure enough, I enjoyed Slaughterhouse Five very much. Then later, I decided to read The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, because it was a banned book. My love for reading continues today, although it’s not as easy as it used to be, as my eyes aren’t as young as they once were.

Ditto, the episode about abortion, which was about how the character Natalie, played by Mindy Cohn, made up a story about a girl at Eastland who had an abortion. The story had the whole school buzzing, and soon parents were calling, demanding to know who the girl was. Natalie was threatened with expulsion, until a girl told her that she’d had an abortion. Natalie could have told the headmaster the girl’s name and saved her job as editor of the school paper. But she came clean and admitted she’d made up the story, protecting the girl’s identity. As the credits were about to roll, the headmaster said that he was relieved to “know” that abortion wasn’t an issue at Eastland. Of course, the audience knows better. Forty years later, we’re still fighting over abortion.

I even learned something about capital punishment in France, watching The Facts of Life. The character Geri, played by Geri Jewell, is the cousin of snobby rich girl, Blair Warner. She has cerebral palsy, and works as a comedienne. In one episode, she develops a romance with the school’s French teacher. He asks out Geri, and she says something along the lines of, “I don’t want to get my head chopped off.” She was referencing France’s famous guillotine, which was used to execute people. The French teacher says that France did away with the guillotine in favor of hanging.

I was surprised to hear that the guillotine hadn’t been abolished many years ago, so I decided to look up the device’s history, as well as the general history of capital punishment in France. I was very surprised to learn that the last time France used the guillotine was in 1977! I was five years old! The man who was executed was 27 years old and was originally from Tunisia. He was also missing part of a leg, due to a tractor accident in 1971. He was put to death in Marseilles in September 1977 for torturing and murdering a young woman, and forcing a couple of other women into prostitution. Oddly enough, I actually visited Tunisia in 1977. We lived in England at the time, and went to Tunisia to celebrate New Year’s.

In 1981, then French president Francois Mitterrand declared capital punishment illegal in France. It was formally abolished on February 19, 2007. But, up until 1981, the French constitution actually dictated that anyone who was executed in France would be killed by decapitation, or barring that, firing squad. Never having studied French myself, I don’t know much about its history, other than what I’ve seen personally, heard about in the news, or heard from friends. I have had the opportunity and great fortune to visit France many times, which is something I never thought would have happened in 1982. It seems like France was especially popular in America in the 80s! Back in those days, people didn’t travel as much as they do now… or did before COVID-19, anyway.

Even Russia and Ukraine were subjects of The Facts of Life back in the 80s. During the third season, Natalie’s Russian Jewish grandmother, Mona, came to visit her at school. Mona said she was from Ukraine, even though the name of the episode was “From Russia with Love”. In 1982, Ukraine was still part of the former Soviet Union, which, in those days, seemed like it would exist forever. Natalie found Mona overbearing and annoying, but once she and the other girls got to know her, they found out that she was a fascinating woman with many stories to tell. Watching that episode, especially given what is happening in Ukraine right now, and after having read Maus, was surprisingly poignant. Mona references being confronted by a rapey soldier in a corn field in Ukraine, as the Bolsheviks invaded during the Soviet-Ukranian War from 1917-1921.

Seventy years later, Ukraine decided to leave the Soviet Union, and there’s been trouble ever since. I have never been to Ukraine myself, but I have a friend whose wife is from there, and still has a lot of family there. I know that he and his wife and children are terrified for them. It seems that history is repeating itself. At the same time, I have known some fabulous Russian people, thanks to my time in Armenia, which is also a former Soviet Republic. In fact, that’s where I met my friend, who was working there after having served in the Peace Corps in Russia, back when Russia was briefly less menacing.

I remember that The Facts of Life was controversial to some people, especially during its most popular years. My former best friend’s mother would not let her watch the show. I seem to remember her mom was against the show because she happened to see the episode during the first season that referenced marijuana use. The show certainly didn’t promote the use of marijuana, but my ex friend’s mom was very conservative. She didn’t want her kid exposed to anything she was personally against. I seem to remember my ex friend was often doing things behind her mother’s back, and she was a lot more “experienced” in things than I was. My parents, by contrast, pretty much let me raise myself. We used to talk about how different our parents’ styles were, and we agreed that it would have been nice if there could have been a happy medium. My parents didn’t pay enough attention to me. Her parents, especially her mother, were too strict and intrusive. On the other hand, I don’t think her parents used corporal punishment as much as my dad did.

One thing I have noticed about The Facts of Life is that the characters could be very annoying, as well as very funny. My favorite character was probably Natalie, who was quick witted. I used to not like Jo (Nancy McKeon) much, because she alternated between being angry and snide, and being “vulnerable”. Now that I’m older, I appreciate that character more. I used to like Blair (Lisa Whelchel) more, although I still like Whelchel did a good job with her caricature of a spoiled princess. Tootie (Kim Fields) was pretty much always annoying to me, although she was pretty cute in the first season. During the show’s third and fourth seasons, Tootie did a lot of shrieking and whining. Some of the clothes were pretty hideous, too. Especially the knickers and gauchos… they brought back sad memories of childhood fashions.

But mostly, I’ve just noticed that the more things change, the more they stay the same. I really have been surprised by how forty years after The Facts of Life was a hit show, we’re still talking about, and arguing about, the same things. But nowadays, we have many more than than three networks on TV, and audiences are more sophisticated. A show like The Facts of Life probably wouldn’t last today, even though the writers tackled some courageous plots back in the day. Maybe it would be a good thing for today’s youngsters to watch that show. Maybe they’ll learn its lessons better than we did. But really, the best seasons were the earliest ones… as is the case for most long running shows.

Well, I guess it’s time to wrap up this post and get on with my Friday. Last night, Bill made a “stuffed meatloaf”, which is a dish I cooked for him when we were dating. It was one of the many tricks I had up my sleeve that helped me win his heart. It came out of a great cookbook called Virginia Hospitality, which was a gift given to me when I graduated college in 1994. It was put out by the Junior League of Hampton Roads, and since I was born in Hampton, it really is a relic from my hometown.

My husband’s younger daughter is pregnant, and when Bill told her he was making a stuffed meatloaf, she said that sounded so delicious. She had questions about it. So I sent her a copy of the cookbook, which also has a great recipe for cheese souffles. Below is a link for those who are curious about it. It’s definitely my favorite way to make meatloaf. I’m glad Bill learned how to make it, too. I hope she enjoys the book. It’s a gift that is uniquely from her long, lost stepmother. She really doesn’t know me at all, but maybe a cookbook from my origins will be a place to start getting acquainted.

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art, music, musings, nostalgia, true crime

I experience synchronicity as The Police finally do their job…

In 1983, a band called The Police, fronted by the ever lovable Sting, released an album called Synchronicity. That album has always been kind of important to me, even though I wasn’t necessarily a Police fan in 1983, and some people think it’s their “weakest” work. Personally, I disagree. Maybe Synchronicity wasn’t as edgy as some of the other albums done by The Police, but it legitimately had some incredible songs on it that still sound amazing in 2022. I actually gifted this album on vinyl to my ex best friend, and it was probably through her that I learned to love The Police before Sting went solo. It could have just as easily been my older sister who influenced me, since she’s the one who turned me on to Kate Bush.

As I sit here writing this blog post today, I’m reminded of the wise and intelligent lyrics penned by Sting, Andy Summers, and Stewart Copeland all those years ago, when I was still a kid, and some of the most important people to me were on the brink of starting their adult lives. I hope you’ll indulge me this clumsy foray into creativity today. Sometimes the clumsiest attempts can eventually lead to grace. Of course, this post could also turn out to be totally cheesy, non-sensical, and stupid crap. We’ll see what happens.

A picture of Matt from after I knew him… when he was younger, he looked a lot like Sting. I have pictures of him from our Peace Corps days, but they are unfortunately in storage. In 1983, Matt was turning 20. I wouldn’t meet him until 1995.

I was sitting on my bed last night, watching my new Facts of Life DVDs, pretending it was the early 80s again. I was a bonafide child in the early 1980s, while Bill was a young man about to embark on his career. Although I didn’t have the greatest childhood, sometimes I like to watch old TV shows from that time in my life. I also love the music from that time, even the really shitty stuff. There’s something about it that comforts me and makes me feel– temporarily– like I’m still young, with my whole life ahead of me. Then I’m jolted into reality as I realize that in a few short months, I’ll be 50 years old. And there’s still a lot I’ve never managed to do. Maybe watching shows like The Facts of Life temporarily make me feel like I still have a lot of years left. So does listening to albums like Synchronicity. But then, Sting is a master songwriter, so his work probably holds up much better than The Facts of Life does.

Tea in the Sahara

The sky turned to black
Would he ever come back?
They would climb a high dune
They would pray to the moon
But he’d never return
So the sisters would burn
As their eyes searched the land
With their cups full of sand

As I was soothing myself with the best seasons of a successful sitcom last night, I suddenly remembered my friend, Matthew Jensen, who was killed last May, just hours after celebrating his 58th birthday with family and friends. It was just after midnight in Brooklyn, New York on May 18th, and Matt was walking home from his own birthday party. He had almost reached his abode, and was crossing a dangerous intersection, when a man driving a black Rolls Royce mowed him down in the street and left him for dead.

Every Breath You Take

Since you’ve gone, I’ve been lost without a trace
I dream at night, I can only see your face
I look around, but it’s you I can’t replace
I feel so cold, and I long for your embrace
I keep crying baby, baby please

I’ve written about Matt a few times, and I’ve thought of Matt many more times since his death. Although it had been years since we last spoke, Matt left an indelible impression on me. I was legitimately devastated when I heard about what had happened to him. I hated the thought that the person who is responsible for taking him out of the world was still free to harm other people. Since last May, I’ve been watching the news to see if anyone was being held responsible for killing my old friend and colleague. Every time I looked for updates, I was left disappointed that there hadn’t been any new news about the case. I was beginning to lose hope, so my searches had become less frequent. I don’t even know why I thought of Matt last night, in spite of the impression he made on me. Life goes on, even after someone interesting dies.

Synchronicity I

A connecting principle
Linked to the invisible
Almost imperceptible
Something inexpressible
Science insusceptible
Logic so inflexible
Causally connectible
Nothing is invincible

When Matt’s memory inexplicably and suddenly popped into my head, I found myself dutifully searching for news about his case. As usual, I didn’t have much hope that there would be any new developments. And then, there it was. Someone finally got arrested. At 8:45 AM, Brooklyn time, a 30 year old man named Tariq Witherspoon turned himself in to the 94th Precinct station house. Mr. Witherspoon, who was employed for eleven years as an Emergency Medical Technician for the New York Fire Department, is being charged with criminally negligent homicide, leaving the scene of an accident, reckless endangerment, and speeding. Was it intuition that caused me to look for that news? I don’t know. Maybe it was synchronicity.

Murder By Numbers

Once that you’ve decided on a killing
First you make a stone of your heart
And if you find that your hands are still willing
Then you can turn a murder into art

In the early hours of May 18, 2021, Matt was crossing the notoriously dangerous McGuinness Boulevard against the light. Mr. Witherspoon had a green light, but the speed limit was 25 miles per hour. Mr. Witherspoon was reportedly changing lanes at 50 miles an hour, when he and Matt had their tragic meeting with fate. And then, in spite of being an experienced EMT who should have been among the very last people who would commit hit and run, Witherspoon sped off into the night, evading responsibility for Matt’s death for over nine months.

Now if you have a taste for this experience
If you’re flushed with your very first success

Then you must try a twosome or a threesome
You’ll find your conscience bothers you much less
Because murder is like anything you take to
It’s a habit-forming need for more and more

You can bump off every member of your family
And anybody else you find a bore

According to an article published by the NY Daily News, Tariq Witherspoon has been sued several times for other accidents he’s either directly caused, or been involved in, over the past ten years or so. He seems to have a curious fondness for expensive cars. He allegedly hit Matt with a 2010 black Rolls Royce that he’d borrowed, but other accidents involving Witherspoon have involved a Porsche and a Mercedes-Benz, either driven by, lent by, or struck by him. For some reason, in spite of being repeatedly sued after seriously injuring several other people in accidents involving motor vehicles, Mr. Witherspoon has inexplicably been able to maintain his employment as an EMT. However, in light of his arrest, he’s now suspended from his job without pay. He is currently being held on $75,000 bail or a $15,000 cash bond. ETA: NBC says Witherspoon has posted a $15,000 cash bond.

O My God

Everyone I know is lonely
With God so far away
And my heart belongs to no one
So now sometimes I pray
Take the space between us
Fill it up some way
Take the space between us
Fill it up, fill it up

Witherspoon is a Brooklyn resident. He must have seen how much Matt’s community has suffered since he so callously mowed him down last year. There were many memorials for Matt, including one in which former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio pledged $39 million to “fix” the dangerous intersection on McGuinness Boulevard where Matt and others have been injured and/or killed.

I was involved in a much smaller memorial for Matt last July. It took place on Zoom, but there were people from around the world who were there to remember him. I will never forget the sincere grief expressed, particularly by the Armenians Matt worked with when we were in the Peace Corps together. One Armenian man was in tears as he remembered the tall, blond man who helped him get a job with the Peace Corps and showed him a world beyond Vanadzor, the city where Matt worked. I’m sure he was just one of many. My heart breaks for Matt’s students, who reportedly adored him. And then there were his family members and friends who are now left without his presence… as well as two cats.

Mother

Well the telephone is ringing
Is that my mother on the phone?
Telephone is ringing

Is that my mother on the phone?
The telephone is screaming
Won’t she leave me alone?
The telephone is ringing
Is that my mother on the phone?

Matt was a much beloved person by many people around the world. He was incredibly charismatic, and he had a true gift for teaching and presenting. Matt wrote letters, and he had many friends in influential places. He loved to have fun, and he had many quirky interests that made him truly fascinating. He loved ABBA, royal families, and being irreverent. In the weeks after Prince Philip died last year, Matt wrote letters of condolences to Queen Elizabeth II and her daughter, Princess Anne. At the time of his death, Princess Anne had written back to him. Queen Elizabeth’s response, sadly, arrived after Matt was already gone.

I have always remembered Matt as a hilarious, warm, and talented guy, and back when I first met him in 1995, he bore a resemblance to the famous rock star, Sting. He was fun to dance with, and we had many memorable evenings in Armenia enjoying low sodium meals involving beets, lentils, and cabbage. He once told me that he’d learned to cook low sodium meals because his mother had high blood pressure. He also told me a hysterical story about how his mother had once watched a “sickening” Mother’s Day special involving Kathie Lee Gifford. Obviously, I drank in his stories, as did a lot of our colleagues and friends. He was just that kind of person. Unique, magnetic, and just unforgettable.

Walking In Your Footsteps

Hey mighty brontosaurus
Don’t you have a lesson for us
You thought your rule would always last
There were no lessons in your past
You were built three stories high
They say you would not hurt a fly
If we explode the atom bomb
Would they say that we were dumb?

I learned later that Matt was affecting his friends, students, parents, and family members the same way he’d affected me, as he worked as a much beloved and highly respected teacher in Brooklyn. I take some comfort realizing that Matt managed to influence people around the world. At our small online memorial last summer, a man from Armenia wept as he talked about how Matt had influenced him. Later, a woman who had worked with Matt in Brooklyn spoke about how Matt had helped immigrant children fit in at their new school.

Fifty million years ago
You walked upon the planet so
Lord of all that you could see
Just a little bit like me

I know for a fact that Matt spoke Armenian and French. It wouldn’t surprise me if he knew other languages, or at least tried to learn a few words, just to help welcome innocent children to their new home in New York. Everybody knew him, whether or not he was their teacher. He had a towering presence and an infectious energy that was impossible to ignore. He stood six feet four inches tall. And yet, Tariq Witherspoon allegedly hit him at 50 miles per hour and just kept going. For nine months, he’s been evading responsibility for exploding the atom bomb in so many people’s lives… especially the students left behind, some of whom aren’t from the United States and really needed Matt’s comforting presence.

Wrapped Around Your Finger

Devil and the deep blue sea behind me
Vanish in the air you’ll never find me
I will turn your face to alabaster
When you’ll find your servant is your master

Why did it take nine months for Tariq Witherspoon to be arrested? I don’t know. But I do know that he’s about to face judgment. I would not be surprised if there are many people who will want to attend his court sessions. There will be people who will want to speak about the man who died because of his careless actions in a black Rolls Royce. Imagine the absurdity of it. A teacher who had served twice in the Peace Corps killed by a careless man in a very expensive status symbol.

Matthew Jensen was a man who dedicated his life to teaching people, helping them make better lives for themselves. He served in the Peace Corps twice– in Senegal and Armenia– and he worked with children in New York who didn’t speak English. He taught university students. He taught other Americans who were going to carry on his legacy in Armenia, teaching youngsters how to speak English. It was a great loss to the world when Matt Jensen died… but at least we know that someone is finally going to answer for this crime.

King of Pain

There’s a little black spot on the sun today
It’s the same old thing as yesterday
There’s a black hat caught in a high tree top
There’s a flag pole rag and the wind won’t stop

I have stood here before inside the pouring rain
With the world turning circles running ’round my brain
I guess I’m always hoping that you’ll end this reign
But it’s my destiny to be the king of pain

I don’t know what kind of person Tariq Witherspoon is. I can only make assumptions. I don’t know what made him choose his line of work, which is supposed to be based in mercy and decency. He’s supposed to save lives, not end them. Based on his record of hitting people in cars, hurting them, and being sued for negligence, I can’t help but wonder if Tariq Witherspoon could have used another session with a guidance counselor.

Miss Gradenko

Don’t tell the director I said so
But are you safe Miss Gradenko
We were at a policy meeting
They were planning new ways of cheating
I didn’t want to rock your boat
But you sent this dangerous note
You’ve been letting your feelings show

Are you safe Miss Gradenko
Miss Gradenko are you safe

I’m glad to know that someone is finally going to answer for Matt’s death. I hope the police have the right guy, and that the charges will stick. I don’t wish pain or torture for Mr. Witherspoon. I just want him off the streets. My unmarried niece lives in Brooklyn now. She doesn’t have a car. I don’t want Tariq Witherspoon to be involved in any other accidents. I don’t want him tending to my niece if she’s ever in need of an EMT. He needs to be taken out of commission for awhile… and hopefully, he’ll learn.

Synchronicity II

Another suburban family morning.
Grandmother screaming at the wall.

We have to shout above the din of our Rice Krispies
We can’t hear anything at all.
Mother chants her litany of boredom and frustration,
But we know all her suicides are fake.

Daddy only stares into the distance
There’s only so much more that he can take.
Many miles away something crawls from the slime
At the bottom of a dark Scottish lake.

Bill came home from taking our Kosovar refugee dog, Noyzi, to the vet for booster vaccines. I had just read about Tariq Witherspoon’s arrest when he walked into our bedroom. I looked up at him and said, “I don’t know why, but I just looked up Matt Jensen to see if anyone’s been arrested for his death. And someone was today, just HOURS ago. It’s so weird that I would think of him today– out of the blue– and someone got arrested.”

Bill is about Matt’s age, and he’s one of the kindest, most decent people I’ve ever met. For the past year, he’s been studying the psychologist, Carl Jung. He’s been in analysis with Jungian psychologist, and is even taking courses at the Jung Institute out of Zurich. The concept of synchronicity is one that fascinated Jung. Synchronicity, put simply, describes a situation that seems meaningful, but lacks a causal connection. This kind of thing happens to me all the time. I see important connections in things that might mean nothing to other people. What made me think of Matt last night, all of a sudden? Was there something in the universe– my subconscious? Maybe it was the ghost of Matt himself, tapping me on the shoulder. Who knows?

Later, we were in our dining room eating dinner and listening to music. My music collection is incredibly eclectic. There’s no telling what will play. I have everything from L.L. Cool J to Beethoven in my playlist. Last night, as I sipped a lovely Italian red wine, the strains of a familiar piece from Gabriel Faure started playing. When I was in college, I took many music courses. I was also in a choir, and we performed a number of pieces by Faure, to include parts of his Requiem and the ethereal Messe Basse. Messe Basse is one of my favorite works by Faure.

If you like choral music, I invite you to listen to this. It is a delight to listen to, and glorious to perform.

Then it occurred to me that Faure, was a French man, and Matt spoke French and had spent time in France… and next week, I hope to be in France, too. Just like I was at around the time Anthony Bourdain died. In fact, I was in the area where Bourdain died just a couple of weeks before he passed. Matt wasn’t unlike Bourdain, in terms of his influence or his very “New York” personality… And then I was reminded that back in the spring of 1994, our choir went to New York City at the end of our spring break and performed Messe Basse in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Synchronicity again!

It’s fitting that I’m reminded of choirs when I remember Matt. He had a way of unifying people in harmony. Unfortunately, I never got the chance to perform this magnificent choral work by Faure. Maybe someday, I will have the opportunity… if no one mows me down and leaves me for dead.

And suddenly, I’m reminded of how much I miss college… singing in choirs… traveling… hanging out with friends over bland foods that make me fart… sitcoms from the 80s… I am reminded of how important it is to always appreciate the people in your life who make it special or wonderful, because you never know when they will make an exit. I don’t know if I have ever affected anyone the way Matt affected me, and all of the other people in his life. I’m just grateful that the police in Brooklyn have done their jobs, as The Police from the early 80s do theirs every time I need to think about simpler days, or the complex concepts coined by Carl Jung. Somehow, it all seems to come together, at least in my head.

This song will never be the same.

I’m reminded of these lyrics by Sting… and Matt, a man who always reminded me of Sting… Somehow, we’re all connected.

With one breath
With one flow
You will know
Synchronicity
A sleep trance
A dream dance
A shared romance
Synchronicity

A connecting principle
Linked to the invisible

Almost imperceptible
Something inexpressible
Science insusceptible
Logic so inflexible
Causally connectible
Nothing is invincible

If we share this nightmare
We can dream
Spiritus mundi
If you act as you think
The missing link
Synchronicity

A connecting principle
Linked to the invisible
Almost imperceptible
Something inexpressible
Science insusceptible
Logic so inflexible
Causally connectible
Nothing is invincible

We know you
They know me
Extrasensory
Synchronicity
A star fall
A phone call
It joins all
Synchronicity

A connecting principle
Linked to the invisible
Almost imperceptible
Something inexpressible
Science insusceptible
Logic so inflexible
Causally connectible
Nothing is invincible

It’s so deep, it’s so wide
You’re inside
Synchronicity
Effect without a cause
Sub-atomic laws
Scientific pause

Synchronicity
Synchronicity
Synchronicity
Synchronicity
Synchronicity

Synchronicity
Synchronicity
Synchronicity
Synchronicity
Synchronicity

For Matt… hopefully in paradise.
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