Sesame Street Dad

August 30th, 2015

The Book of the Week is “Sesame Street Dad” by Roscoe Orman, published in 2006. This is a general overview of Orman’s performance history in theater, in film and on television, and a comprehensive listing of the famous people with whom he worked. It reads more like a curriculum vitae than a memoir, but it is well organized in chronological order and has a comprehensive index.

The book is somewhat of a bragfest, and the author writes as though he is at a job interview. One section even tells of his encounters with U.S. first ladies who visited the set of Sesame Street. He also discusses how, in recent years, funding has been reduced significantly for that unique educational program, which is on public television. The show has suffered even more budget reductions of late, due to resource-rich, dumbed-down competition from cable channels.

Orman was luckily afforded mentors after he graduated high school in the early 1960′s. He took acting, singing and dancing lessons. He did summer stock theater, and joined a troupe– Free Southern Theater– that presented civil-rights related shows in the Deep South. However, jealousy among this and other acting groups generated competition rather than cooperation in the black theater community. Marijuana and cocaine also added to their problems.

The author started playing the character, “Gordon” on Sesame Street in 1974. The TV show had an anomalous shooting schedule, so its cast and crew were permitted to do other projects in the long off-season. Orman made extra money by making celebrity appearances via the American Program Bureau and later, Paul Jacob Productions. He was easily recognized by viewers as Gordon, but since Sesame Street is a children’s show with a mix of puppets and humans of all ages, the names of its performers are neither as well known nor is their acting as talked about as those of a long-running hit show comprised of adults.

Read the book to learn of the historical reference points in Orman’s life, in his quest for self-discovery and artistic growth, that he wants to “… pass along to my children and their fellow ‘hip-hop-generation-Xers.’ “

Tomorrow You Go Home

August 23rd, 2015

The Book of the Week is “Tomorrow You Go Home” by Tig Hague, published in 2008. This is the suspenseful story of how Russian authorities severely punished an Englishman for a minor indiscretion in the summer of 2003.

Hague had forgotten he had left a tiny amount of hashish in his jeans pocket before boarding a flight to Moscow. He was detained at the airport. His naivete led to his arrest and imprisonment. He was denied what is, in Western nations, due process. However, he was less deprived than other prisoners because he received care packages from the British Embassy and his family– consisting of noodles, biscuits, cigarettes, coffee, chocolate and warm clothing. The odds were stacked against him at his court hearings. The Russian prison authorities played a petty power game via bribery, to hang onto contraband and inside information from the hapless prisoners– some of whom were there because they had been framed– awaiting release.

Read the book to learn of Hague’s trials and tribulations, suffered at the hands of a corrupt, arbitrary system.

Judgment Ridge

August 16th, 2015

The Book of the Week is “Judgment Ridge” by Dick Lehr and Mitchell Zuckoff, published in 2003.  This is the shocking, true, suspenseful story of the murder of two Dartmouth professors in early 2001.

The perpetrators had a history of petty criminal behaviors but there were no serious consequences for them. One of the killers was a controlling psychopath, and his unnaturally close friend’s blind obedience engendered a dangerous combination. The reason the murders were hard to foresee was that the killers revealed only small pieces of themselves to different people in their lives. No one knew them well, not even their parents. Thus, no one individual saw the big picture– that the sons were going to commit the gruesome act that they did.

The killers’ parents– the would-be authority figures in their lives, had no knowledge of their whereabouts, and neither checked up on their activities, nor took an interest in them. Arguably, the parents allowed their sons too much freedom, and not enough supervision. The killers’ families lived in an unconventional surburban community. The school system accommodated their bids for attention, rather than punishing them for their disruptiveness.

Read the book to learn of other factors that allowed the deaths to occur and the details of the aftermath.

Home

August 9th, 2015

The Book of the Week is “Home” by Julie Andrews, published in 2008. This memoir tells of Andrews’ life until just after she turned 27 years old.

The author found her talent and passion as a singer with her parents when she was ten. They traveled around England performing, and even got to sing for the royal family. It was not all fun and games, however, as her parents split, and found new lovers. Her stepfather and mother devolved into alcoholism. As a teenager, she was under pressure to financially support them, plus care for her younger half-siblings. Her education fell by the wayside as a consequence.

Read the book to learn the series of events that led to Andrews’ starring in various hit shows through the decades, and about her experiences in show business.

God’s Hotel

August 2nd, 2015

The Book of the Week is “God’s Hotel” by Victoria Sweet, published in 2012. This is a medical doctor’s account of the radical changes that occurred at a county-funded hospital, formerly an almshouse in the San Francisco area that treated mostly disabled and elderly patients who were indigent.

The author describes the series of consequences stemming from an ever-increasing annual budget, a power struggle, office and mayoral politics, and bureaucratic shenanigans. There was a tug-of-war over turning the hospital into a psychiatric facility.

Florence Nightingale summed up the field of medicine in a nutshell when she said there have to be checks and balances in connection with practicing medicine, doing nursing, and handling administration. If doctoring becomes too powerful, patients get overtreated; if administration becomes to powerful, too little doctoring is done. When there is excessive nursing (emotionally and spiritually caring for patients), medical progress suffers.

Over the course of several years, a Justice Department investigation and a special relationship with the mayor’s office prompted the hospital’s executives to increase the administrative staff even as the number of patients fell. The additional staff was required to generate assessments, policies and procedures. When an incident resulted in the death of a demented patient and the media gave the facility bad publicity, the executives pointed to budget cuts that caused the understaffing that led to a compromise in safety. The hospital then hired a PR firm, an in-house director of government and community relations, and an assistant medical director to help with all the new paperwork, decisions and questions. Quietly, even more draconian budget cuts were being made to the hospital. Yet there was still enough money to hire the mayor’s communications consultant.

Read the book to learn how misdiagnosis and home care (rather than hospital care) make healthcare significantly more expensive, and of the controversies surrounding the push for progress on one side, and preservation of personal patient care on the other.

Rickles’ Book

July 26th, 2015

The Book of the Week is “Rickles’ Book” by Don Rickles with David Ritz, published in 2007. Rickles was a stand-up comedian and movie actor. He developed a reputation for insult comedy, or “roasting.” This is a book of anecdotes of his experiences in show business.

Rickles once replaced Lenny Bruce at a night club in Los Angeles because the owners considered Bruce too offensive. Rickles’ manager “…came out of that era when a man’s word was his bond and loyalty was everything… like any savvy promoter who came up in the thirties and forties, Joe had connections outside formal show business. That was the way of the world. Without those connections, you never left the dock, with them, you sailed.”

Read the book to learn of Rickles’ adventures with various celebrities.

Bonus Post

July 21st, 2015

This blogger read (except for the first and last sections) “My Father, His Daughter” by Yael Dayan, first published in 1985. This is an account of the life of Moshe Dayan and his relationship with the author– his only daughter. It starts and ends with the circumstances surrounding his death (a bit of a tedious pity party).

The author’s father, an alpha male, became a legendary figure in Israel as a military leader and political appointee on and off from the 1930′s through the 1970′s. He was also memorable for wearing an eyepatch, the result of a war injury. Aside from serving his country, his other passions included farming and archeology.

Prior to WWII, Dayan became involved with the Haganah– an Israeli intelligence agency. Through the 1940′s, Czechoslovakia provided arms to the Israelis, but in the 1950′s, it did so for Israel’s then-enemy, Egypt. Dayan was responsible for overseeing troop deployments and was consulted on the allocation of resources and appointments of other military leaders in various wars through the decades.

Read the book to learn, aside from Dayan’s life, about: the author and her family members; her experiences growing up with a father who exerted a huge influence on her homeland’s history; and how this ironically afforded her opportunities (and made her want) to live abroad in adulthood.

Indefensible

July 19th, 2015

The Book of the Week is “Indefensible” by David Feige, published in 2006. This is an autobiographical account of a public defender; an attorney who represents indigent people accused of street crime, who were assigned to him by the court.

Feige described his experiences with the people in the criminal justice system in the New York City of the 1990′s. He had to deal with the homeless, mentally ill, addicts, gang members, good people who were wrongly accused– and their family members; judges and other court personnel, and fellow attorneys. There were personality types he saw over and over again– the poorly educated jailed people trapped in the poverty cycle due to their bad choices, bad luck and a series of circumstances out of their control; good, fair judges; and unsympathetic and sadistic judges.

Feige was overworked, underpaid and his anecdotes smacked of the proverb, “Good to know the law, better to know the judge.”

Read this depressing book to get an intimate picture of the inner-city downtrodden, and the difficulties of keeping them from being jailed, even when they are innocent, due to the odds against them.

The Book of Strange Facts

July 12th, 2015

The Book of the Week is “The Book of Strange Facts and Useless Information” by Scot Morris, published in 1979. This is a book containing a hodgepodge of trivia. A few entries include:

Cotton weighs more than water.

Fleas lack wings, but their legs are strong.

The Pilgrims on the Mayflower decided to travel no farther than Plymouth Rock partly because they had run out of beer and felt the need to make more.

George Washington grew marijuana in his yard.

When frogs swallow, their eyes reflexively close.

Read the book to learn additional interesting factoids.

Life Itself

July 5th, 2015

The Book of the Week is “Life Itself” by Roger Ebert, published in 2011. This is the autobiography of an American movie critic.

Born in the autumn of 1942, Ebert grew up in Urbana, Illinois. He started his journalism career while still in high school. He attended graduate school in the mid-1960′s to avoid the Vietnam draft. It was by chance that he was assigned to write movie reviews, and later on, team up with Gene Siskel.

Ebert inherited a self-destructive tendency from his parents. “After my father was told he had lung cancer, he switched to filter-tip Winstons… She [Ebert's mother] continued to smoke, and when she was on oxygen would remove the tube to have a cigarette.” Ebert himself became an alcoholic. In 1979, he stopped drinking and joined AA.

The author writes of the culture of his generation. During elementary school summers, “The lives of kids were not fast-tracked…” They would ride their bicycles, mow lawns, open a Kool-Aid stand, or listen to the radio. Movie theaters were one of the few places that had air conditioning.

The author’s take on today’s movie dialogue is: “…the characters have grown stupid… get their laughs by their delivery of four-letter words.”

Read the book to learn the details of Ebert’s life and times.