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  • Life In the Time of Corona (Fifth in an unlimited series)


    Life In the Time of Corona (Fifth in an unlimited series)

    Chuck’s Note: My longtime friend Steve Slavsky wrote these comments after reading an article in The Intelligencer of New York Magazine entitled “Even Naked, America Cannot See Itself: In a time of plague, willful blindness is a coping mechanism” by Zak Cheney-Rice. Steve’s thoughts are reprinted here with his permission.

    WHERE IS OUR DEMOCRACY HEADED?

    By

    Steve Slavsky

         

         I have been concerned for several years over the fast growing economic gap in the United States and what it may portend for the future.  Having studied revolutions that have occurred in many countries over the past 300 years, especially those since 1900, I believe we are reaching a very dangerous time in history for our democracy.  

         Things can go in many different directions, and no one knows the future, but I personally believe that we can't survive with our current state of affairs.  It is not just the leadership, which is skewed toward maintaining or increasing inequality. It is the failure of us, as Americans, to alleviate the problem.  

    cdc-w9KEokhajKw-unsplash.jpg

    Photo by CDC on Unsplash

         Do I know what to do about it?  Not really.  What I do know is that everything about our freedoms and our rights can be lost if we, as a country, move too far to the right or the left.  What's kept us going all these years is the ability to listen to each other and to compromise. That ability seems to have almost disappeared.  

         As I get older, I realize more and more, that the opportunities I had as a lower 

    middle-class kid just aren't there for the majority of American youth anymore.  Education has always been the way to move up the ladder of life and it's becoming less and less available for those who need it most.  
         I'm reminded a lot of the Roman Empire, and how its collapse led to a very dark time for the world.  Not that it was really that great before that time--there was essentially a dictator and a plutocracy.  Unfortunately, I see many parallels all over the world today.  The U.S. doesn't have a dictator, but it certainly has a plutocracy whose members are only interested in enriching themselves with no interest in the common good.

    Note: Steve Slavsky grew up in the Bronx where he attended public schools before graduating from the City College of New York. He served six years active duty in the Army and then worked for the Department of Defense for 27 years in the acquisition field.  After retirement, he spent nine years consulting as a federal acquisitions expert.  

    Copyright: Steve Slavsky, all rights reserved.

  • Bobby Kennedy Is Buried; I Graduate From College

    Bobby Kennedy Is Buried; I Graduate From College
    by
    Chuck Cascio
     
         My college graduation was forever marred by an event that I still remember in detail. On June 8, 1968, I graduated from Wagner College on Staten Island, NY, a school I loved. At Wagner, I developed close friends with whom I knew I would share a lifelong bond (I was correct). While that day was one of great satisfaction, it was also the day that Senator Robert F. Kennedy, who had emerged as the political hero of my life, was buried after being shot in the head at close range on June 5 in a Los Angeles hotel.
         
         To me, and to many in my generation, "Bobby" Kennedy was more than just another politician. He was fearless. He walked into riot-torn cities and tried to calm protesters. He united with Civil Rights leaders to champion their causes. He spoke with deep passion in a way that a young person could not only relate to but wanted desperately to emulate. 
         
     

    image.png

         Yes, he was born wealthy, but Bobby Kennedy understood that what he was given was not something that everyone was given...nor was it something that everyone could attain. But he wanted to make everything possible for everyone. He wanted to create opportunities. He strove fiercely for fairness and equality. 

         There were times when I was home from college that I would drive by Bobby's home, called Hickory Hill, in McLean, VA, and catch a glimpse of a small group of people playing what looked like touch football in their yard. Was that him? Did I see Bobby? I don't know for sure. I will never know. But I know this: 
         
         His energy and commitment and words are burned into my memory. 
         
         On the car ride home to Northern Virginia following my graduation, my parents and I saw glimpses of crowds gathered around train tracks to mourn as Bobby Kennedy's body, which had been flown into New York, was being taken by train to Arlington National Cemetery. The crowds were so dense, the normally four-hour train ride took more than eight hours. Bobby was buried that night, the same night my diploma was mounted on a wall in my bedroom.
         
         Over the years that have passed I, like so many others, often reflect on my college years, the learning, the experiences, the friends. But I also have found myself reflecting on Bobby Kennedy's unique idealism and, lately, certain words spoken by him--and other words spoken about him--spring to mind. This is Robert F. Kennedy speaking on the importance of acting against injustice:
         
         Every time we turn our heads the other way when we see the law flouted, when we tolerate what we know to be wrong, when we close our eyes and ears to the corrupt because we are too busy or too frightened, when we fail to speak up and speak out, we strike a blow against freedom and decency and justice.
         
         And this is what Bobby's younger brother, Senator Ted Kennedy, said at the end of his eulogy for Bobby on the night of June 8, 1968:
         
         My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life; to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it. Those of us who loved him and who take him to his rest today, pray that what he was to us and what he wished for others will someday come to pass for all the world.
         
         Time has flown, and I can't believe 52 years have passed since I graduated from college. But time also seems to have stood still, as  I can't believe that  52 years after the burial of Robert F. Kennedy I have not yet seen that "what he wished for others" has, in fact, "come to pass for all the world."   
         
         Perhaps the world will graduate to that level someday soon.
     

    Copyright Chuck Cascio; all rights reserved.

  • Choosing the Right College...and a Glimpse of Wagner College

    Choosing the Right College…
    and a Glimpse of Wagner College
    by
    Chuck Cascio

    chuckwrites@yahoo.com

         
         As a former high school and university level teacher, I am sometimes asked for my thoughts about how high school students should conduct their college search. Considerable stress is often evident in the inquiry, as parents and grandparents worry about the increasing emphasis on “name” schools as prestige takes priority over other essential considerations students should be making. 
     
         What are those considerations? Well, based on my own experience in searching for a college and from what I have heard from students over the years, a successful choice largely boils down to three criteria:
         >Comfort
         >Enthusiasm
         >Personal Development Potential
         
         Here is my own story:

     

    Unknown

    Main Hall on the oval as you enter the campus of Wagner College, Staten Island, NY.
         My father drove me to New York to visit Wagner College on Staten Island, a small school I had only read about. I wanted to go to college in or near New York City, where I was born and where I had spent a great deal of my childhood despite having moved to suburban Washington, DC, when I was about five years old. So the trip to New York was a familiar one, a trip that always filled me with energy.      
         
         Wagner College was certainly not a “big name” school. I had discovered it in one of those gigantic books containing details of hundreds of colleges (Those of us of a certain age remember well what it was like to plow through those books!). I requested and received a catalog from Wagner and liked what it featured, especially the 15:1 student-to-teacher ratio. Even at age 17, one thing about which I was certain was this: Although the excitement of a large school environment appealed to me, large class sizes and too many other distractions would scatter my attention, which would undoubtedly negatively impact my academic performance.
         
         The details and pictures of Wagner intrigued me: Located on a scenic section of Staten Island called Grymes Hill, 400 feet above sea level—the highest natural point on the Eastern Seaboard south of Maine—several buildings on and around the campus had once been “vacation” residences of wealthy New Yorkers who used their picturesque Grymes Hill homes to escape the hectic city life. 
         
         When the school invited me for a visit and an interview with an admissions officer, my father and I made the trip together. My dad, a native of Brooklyn, knew all of New York well, including Staten Island, but he had never previously driven the steep road up Grymes Hill. At the top, both of us were mesmerized as we entered the isolated campus via a tree-lined oval with stunning glimpses of New York's waterways, bridges, ships, and the Statue of Liberty visible between lovely trees and buildings. A feeling grew inside me, one I could tell my father shared: This place was different; it vibrated with a quiet energy, a sense of individuality.
         
         During my interview, the attentive admissions representative asked about my interests and what motivated me to learn and why I thought Wagner might be right for me. I responded with insights that surprised me…and I noticed that the interviewer actually listened as I explained my need to feel engaged while in a classroom, my desire to hear from other students as well as from instructors, my description of learning as a participatory process.
         
         When I returned to the car, my father stood outside intently taking in the sweeping views of New York’s other four boroughs in the distance. "So what do you think?" he asked. 
         
         To this day, I remember exactly what I said to him, "If they will have me, Dad, this is where I am going."
         
         Somehow, a few other schools with student populations several times larger than Wagner's 1,500 students accepted me. But the image of Wagner, the small classes, the proximity to the energy of downtown New York, the closeness that I could sense on my tour of the campus, overroad what other schools had to offer. And when the acceptance letter from Wagner finally arrived, I said, "This is it!" 
         
         My parents were happy because I was happy...and I was happy because somehow I could feel what I believe is most important in making a decision about which college to attend: The fit was right. In Wagner, I had found a campus that made me comfortable, surroundings that made me feel that I could engage in academics and perhaps discover new things about myself. I was right...and attending Wagner remains one of the best decisions I have ever made. Classes were small, instructors were dynamic, students had interests similar to mine, and the opportunities on campus and in the city were endless.
         
         Today, Wagner has grown a bit with 1,800 undergraduate and 450 graduate students, but it maintains a 15:1 student-teacher ratio. Following are a few of the numerous accolades Wagner has received from various college evaluation services:
       
         >It is ranked sixth in the nation on the New York Times' list of “value added” colleges.
         >100% of its students work at an internship or practicum.
         >Its “Learning Communities” programs emphasize experiential learning applied to the real world and supported by deep research.
         >Its theater arts program is ranked fifth in the nation by Princeton Review.
         >Salaries of Wagner alumni rank in the top 14% nationally.
         
         Just as when I attended, the school reaches out to the vast resources of New York City to attract teachers and guest lecturers, to provide internships, and to establish partnerships. And the school has maintained its beautiful surroundings and classic buildings while carefully adding new technology and structures. In short, it still says to me, "This is a place to learn...about academia and about yourself."  
         
         Is Wagner College the right choice for every student? Of course not; no one school is right for everyone. But I firmly believe that the key to making the correct individual college choice is not to be overly focused on prestige or size or name recognition. Rather, students should visit schools and, while visiting, sit in on a class or two, get a sense of how they would fit in, and ask themselves, "Will I be comfortable here? Will I be enthusiastic about learning here? Will this school’s environment help me develop my skills, my relationships, and my unknown talents?”
       
         If there are positive answers to those questions, then I tell students this: 
         Make your decision. Go to your college and enjoy the full scope of learning.

    THE END

    Copyright: Chuck Cascio. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint or quote all or segments, write to chuckwrites@yahoo.com.
  • ENLIGHTENED...by "BLINDED BY THE LIGHT"

    ENLIGHTENED...by BLINDED BY THE LIGHT

    By

    Chuck Cascio

         My students were adamant: "You have to listen to this guy, Mr. C.! You love Dylan, so you have to hear this guy!" One young woman waved a cassette tape in my face.

         Me: "Whoever this guy is, he is not Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan is a poet, the voice of the heart and of the conscience."

         Students: "But, Mr. C., you always tell us to try new things! You always say: 'Trying new things broadens your thinking and creativity.' So come on!”

         It was 1973 and I was a young English and Journalism teacher at George C. Marshall High School in Falls Church, VA. I loved my students' reactions when I had them analyze lyrics by Dylan and apply them to the socio-political climate of the time, or when I would play a Beach Boys song and ask them something seemingly bizarre like, “Equate their harmonies with the textured flow of a Dickinson poem.” At first, they would look at me confused, skeptical, but gradually they would dig in and they would come up with analogies I never dreamed of. Now, they were convinced, it was my turn to grow.

         So I relented: “Okay, so who is it that you want me to listen to? This ‘Dylan Equivalent?' "

         They did not waste a second. A cassette player appeared, the  tape was snapped in, and the entire class stood in a circle, smiling in anticipation as they awaited my reaction.

         The first sounds I heard from the recording were surprisingly appealing--a couple of engaging guitar riffs, a subtle drumbeat, another guitar floating through, hinting at something different. A few seconds passed and I was interested--not yet hooked, but interested. Then I heard the raspy, almost whispered words…

         "Sandy, the fireworks are hailin' over little Eden tonight

         Forcin' a light into all those stony faces left stranded on this fourth of July..."

    …and just two lines in, I knew I had to hear the rest. I listened intently, while my students nudged one another and some softly sang along with Bruce Springsteen's "Fourth of July, Asbury Park."

         My students did what they knew they could do--they hooked me on Bruce, and over the years I have thought often about that classroom experience (and many others)—and about how much we all have to learn by listening, looking, sharing. 

         That day, and those feelings, rushed back recently when my wife and I went to see the movie Blinded By the Light, which is based on the true story of a young Pakistani man facing the racism of late 1980s England. A friend turns the young man on to Springsteen, and his life is changed by The Boss's lyrics and music. 

         In the movie, Springsteen’s songs contribute to the young man’s development of personal strength. He experiences new insights into society. His thinking is influenced by many of Springsteen's lyrics, including one that especially hits home with him…and me… from the song "The Price You Pay": 

              “Now they'd come so far and they'd waited so long

             Just to end up caught in a dream where everything goes wrong

             Where the dark of night holds back the light of the day

             And you've gotta stand and fight for the price you pay…”

         I won't go into what are, to me, the rather obvious applications those particular lines have to life today. But it makes me think back to the 1970s when the kids I taught were experiencing a continuing era of overt racism, conflict over segregation versus desegregation, worldwide economic turmoil, a foreign war that was not formally termed a “war” by politicians of the time, talks of impeaching the president and more...and I wonder:   

         Exactly how far have we come? 

         Those kids in my classroom found a reality in the songs of Springsteen, and they shared that reality with one another and, fortunately,  with me. But they also heard and shared an element of change and a sense that life is fleeting, that people must determine what is right and what they want to pursue, and that the opportunity for personal or social change always exists…though sometimes with a price.

         Sure, they might metaphorically catch their shirts, as “Fourth of July, Asbury Park” says, on that "tilt-a-whirl down on the south beach drag" that "kept me spinnin'/I didn't think I'd ever get off…" but there is also this bit of hope at the end of the song:

              “…the aurora is rising behind us

             This pier lights our carnival life forever

             Oh, love me tonight and I promise I'll love you forever…”

         None of this is to imply that Bruce Springsteen or Bob Dylan or some singer-songwriter today has all of the answers to the looming socio-political issues we face or to the vast personal questions today’s youths confront. But the movie Blinded By the Light  emphasizes the importance of capturing the elements of hope and change, grabbing onto them, and not being afraid to “stand and fight for the price you pay.”

         Our natural instinct is to hope that the price we pay is not too high and that what we pay for will have a lasting positive effect for us and for all. As Springsteen warns in his song "Better Days," we shouldn't be "just sittin' around waitin' for my life to begin/While it was all just slippin' away." 

         I don’t know what happened to most of those students I had all those years ago, the ones who felt comfortable enough to have me listen to Springsteen, knowing that I would be captivated by The Boss. I do hope that they are all and that they still enjoy his music, that they also see how his words apply to today’s world, and that they have lived with this simple lyric in mind from Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark”:

              “You can’t start a fire without a spark.”

         If you want to rekindle that fire, go see Blinded By the Light. It brings back memories, but more important, it serves as a reminder that art can spark meaningful thought, and that we are all responsible for starting our own fires.

    Copyright: Chuck Cascio. All rights reserved.

  • Free Previews of THE FIRE ESCAPE SERIES

    Summer's gone. Fall's looming. Time to find some moving, thought-provoking books for the months ahead. Allow me to humbly suggest that you do this for FREE:

    TAKE A WALK ON A BROOKLYN FIRE ESCAPE...SEE WHERE IT LEADS!

    With more than 100 5-star reviews on Amazon and Goodreads combined, the three books in THE FIRE ESCAPE SERIES will make you laugh, cry, and remember. You can purchase just one book or two or all three: For a limited time, the entire package costs less than $10, including the Indie Award for Excellence Finalist, The Fire Escape Belongs in Brooklyn. To help you decide, here are links to FREE previews of all three books in the series:

    >The Fire Escape Stories, Volume Ihttp://a.co/84dhMFd

    >The Fire Escape Stories, Volume IIhttp://a.co/53BnS1G

    >The Fire Escape Belongs in Brooklyn ( A novel based on The Fire Escape Stories)http://a.co/5hV5Z0G

    Two cousins. One fire escape. Can it save them both? 

     

  • JFK Assassinated: A Friday Never Forgotten

    Episode #21

    "THAT FRIDAY"

    AN EXCERPT FROM THE FIRE ESCAPE STORIES, VOLUME II,

    AVAILABLE IN PAPERBACK OR E-BOOK AT 

    https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01M8K27KF

         On that Friday in November 1963, the final high school football game of the season was canceled.

         On that Friday, Ginny wept out loud as she sat next to me on the bus ride home from school; except for her cries and a few other kids sniffling or whispering, the bus was silent.

         On that Friday, my mother and I watched the nonstop news from Dallas in disbelief, in quiet, in fear, wondering what it meant for our country, our president shot, reaching for his throat, gasping for life, his wife standing in the accelerating convertible groping for something—her husband? her safety? her future?

         On that Friday, my father called from work to say that he did not know when he would be home again, that we should be careful but strong, that we should pray, that we should know that he was thinking about us, loving us, even as he did whatever his job demanded to help deal with the situation, to help settle the country, to help provide some degree of sanity to a world suddenly gone mad.

         On that Friday night, our phone rang again. My mother and I looked at one another, wondering who it could be. Edgidio and Marianna had already called, and my mother had already shared her horror and grief with her other friends in Virginia and New York, so she said, “See who it is, honey.”  I picked up the phone, said, “Hello,” and heard a voice I did not know, nor did I immediately recognize the name that was uttered until he said it for at least the third time: “It’s Harry, Mike, remember me? Are you and your Mom and Dad okay? This is just awful stuff. Awful.”

         I finally collected myself and said, “Oh yeah, yeah, we’re okay, Harry.” My mother looked at me and mouthed, “Harry?” and I nodded. She blew a kiss in my direction. 

         “I just wanted to check, Mike,” Harry said. “I’ve been so busy working on a big project in DC that I have neglected to call you and your folks. I am sorry. Sometimes it takes a tragedy like this to make people remember what is important in their lives. We are family. I have to do a better job of keeping in touch.”

         I didn’t know what to say, so I mumbled, “Well, yeah, we’re all okay. Dad’s not here. Would you like to speak to my Mom?”

         “Sure, Mike,” Harry said. “Sure. And when things settle down, I would like to visit with you to catch up, see what you’re up to. Okay?”

         “Yeah,” I said. “Here’s Mom.”

         While they talked, I looked out at the back yard blanketed in darkness. A small light shone on Ginny’s porch, so I went outside to see what it was. Someone moved in the narrow stream of light. “Ginny?” I called softly across the yard.

         “Yes, Mike, it’s me,” she said, shining a flashlight toward me. “Meet me.”

         We met where our yards touched.

         “You okay?” I asked. 

         She had been holding the flashlight toward the ground, but now she turned it to her face, revealing a bruised, swollen eye. “He did it,” she said. “Randy. He said I was a ‘queer’ for cryin over a dead president, one who ‘loved niggers.’ When I didn’t stop cryin, he punched me. I got one good scratch on his face ’fore Paw grabbed him and threw him out the house. Maw, she started cryin and put ice on my eye. She tol’ Paw he’s gonna have to do somethin ’bout Randy, else she’s gonna take me and move out.” Ginny looked at me, the flashlight’s beam illuminating the colors of her bruise like a flashing pinwheel. “I don’t want to move, but I jest can’t keep gettin punched. I don’t want to fight like a scared animal ’most every day. And I don’t want the president to be dead, Mike. It’s jest not right that he’s dead.”

         I brought Ginny into my house, where my mother put more ice on her eye and talked softly with her, promising that everything would be okay. After a while, my mother walked Ginny back to her house.  I stayed at home, thought about Randy, wondered why he would think it was okay to punch his sister, wondered what Sally-Boy would do with someone like Randy, wondered what I should do.

         The Thursday following that Friday in November was Thanksgiving. My father still had not been home, so my mother and I rode a quiet train from DC to New York and then took the subway to Brooklyn. In the small tenement apartment with Uncle Sal, Capricia, and Sally-Boy, we ate turkey and sweet potatoes, none of the Italian fare we normally consumed. Nor was there the usual noise and loud talk that went along with our dinners together. The world was still somber, contemplating what it had witnessed, the assassination, the swearing in, the arrest, the murder of the president’s assassin on live television while in police custody, the new president, the unanswered questions. 

         Still, during the Thanksgiving dinner, an occasional laugh slipped in, a warm gesture, a kiss.  My father called in the middle of dinner to say that he would be home when we returned to Virginia that weekend. He had my mother give the phone to each person individually, and he told everyone, including Sally-Boy, that he loved them and gave assurances that things would be okay.

         On the fire escape after dinner, Sally-Boy and I each nibbled a piece of Thanksgiving pumpkin pie.

         “I like Italian food a lot better than this shit, don’t you?” he said.

         “Sure,” I said. “I mean, this is good, but it’s not tiramisu.”

         Sally threw his piece of pie into the night. It splatted like one of our water balloons when it hit the street.

         “Sally, it’s not thatbad,” I said, a laugh slipping out. “You really need to stop throwing things off this fire escape.”

         “Yeah, it is that bad,” he said. Then he held up his hands as though he were holding a rifle. He squinted down his arm, focusing on the street, moving his hands slowly as if he were following something.

         “What are you doing?” I asked

         “I don’t get it,” he said. “He’s up in a building. He sticks a rifle outta the window. He spots the president’s car comin. He makes three shots. Boom! Boom! Boom! President’s head blows apart. That guy was a hulluva shot. I don’t get it. Wish I could shoot like that.”

         “Why? What are you going to shoot?”

         “I don’t know. Not the president. Some bad guys. There’s always some bad guys to fight.”

         “Did you like the president, Sally?”

         “Yeah, sure, I guess. I mean, I don’t really give a shit ’cause the stuff the president does, it don’t really matter to me. Tomorrow it’ll be a week since he got blown away. It’s too bad, sure, but, hey, I’m still here, and I got stuff to do.”

         “We all do,” I said, wondering if that Friday in November actually changed the world at all, the Friday that I thought affected everyone, the Friday that brought daily life to a halt, the Friday that channeled horror directly into our homes, the Friday that would eventually merge into a lifetime of other Fridays.

         That Friday.

    End of Episode #21

     

  • Life In the Time of Corona (First in an unlimited series)

    Life In the Time of Corona--First in an unlimited series
    Baseball, where are ye?
    by Chuck Cascio
    chuckwrites@yahoo.com
     
    Baseball, where are ye?
     
    To me, you have always represented the start of the new year—
     
    the presence of spring and time spent outdoors amid flowering trees and watching kids take on the challenge of the bat and ball;
     
    the promise of summer ahead, replete with the gentle call of family, cookouts, beaches, and surf;
     
    the ultimate beauty of fall with a series of games that defy analysis, challenge athleticism, and truly identify the sport's heroes;
     
    Come back, baseball! 
     
    Soon! 
     
    You are missed!

    IMG 6772

     

    copyright text and photo: Chuck Cascio, all rights reserved.

     
  • Life In the Time of Corona (Second in an unlimited series)

    Life In the Time of Corona (Second in an unlimited series)

    My friend and former colleague John Scott, an outstanding teacher and baseball coach, wrote the following, expressing his own affection for our National Pastime. I am proud to publish it with his permission.

     

    Diamond Days
    by
    John Scott

    Diamond Days....

    Sights and sounds of days on the field…

    The aroma of the fresh cut field. The soft breeze kicks up the dust. 

    The smell of leather. The crack of the bat. 

    Cheers. Chatter. All of that. 

    You take the mound. He digs in at home. The catcher crouches, goes through his signs.

    You tip your hat, re-grip the ball, begin your wind-up and then let loose the mighty pitch.

    A curve spins along the way.

    wyatt_pitching.jpeg

     

    The batter peers, picks up the seams as the ball draws near.

    He sets his eyes, adjusts his stance, begins his swing...

    He’s got a chance!

    The swing is mighty. The crowd goes quiet as the ball meets the bat in a tremendous crack! 

    They all look up, race toward the ball. The left fielder sprints, lays out but can’t quite reach the ball. 

    The ump cries out, “FOUL BALL!” 

    It’s just one pitch, and there are many more.

    But to the boys it is so much more. 

    Each pitch, each swing, each throw and catch is set in their memory from the field that day. 

    There is something magical and therapeutic about playing—and watching—our  National Pastime! 

     

    About John Scott: John played baseball from Little League, Babe Ruth League, American Legion, and high school through college and then coached baseball for 19 years at three different high schools in Fairfax County, VA.

    Story copyright: John Scott, all rights reserved.

    Photo copyright: Chuck Cascio, all rights reserved.

     

     

     

  • MAKING 9/11 A LASTING LESSON

    MAKING 9/11 A LASTING LESSON

    by

    Chuck Cascio

     

         That morning is etched forever in our memories. 

         The first report: A plane has crashed into a building at the World Trade Center. The immediate reaction: This sad, tragic accident will cost countless lives. 

         And then the second plane hits. Another realization: This is not an accident. This is an attack. This is terrorism inflicted upon innocent people in the airplanes and inside two beautiful buildings that highlight the New York Skyline. 

         And then the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. 

         How did you react when you heard? What did you say? What were you doing? 

         My sister and her husband, living in TriBeca just blocks away from the smoldering buildings, evacuated their residence and ran uptown amid the swarm of people, the screams, the ashes, the horrified confusion. 

    14-Unforgettable911Attacks.jpg

         I was in the midst of opening a meeting of my new team in my Princeton, NJ, office, when the meeting was interrupted by an associate who called me aside and tearfully told me of the plane crashes, of the World Trade Center buildings aflame, of people jumping out of windows in desperate attempts to be "saved."     

         I stopped the meeting. My new team and I went to a room where we watched and gasped in disbelief at the horrors unfolding on television. 

         The unthinkable. The sense of helplessness. The fear I felt about being unable to reach my sister and her husband whose phones were not working, only to find out later that they were safe. I telephoned my wife and other family members just miles from the flaming Pentagon, and heard from others who were concerned about my own safety. 

         Six weeks after the attacks, my wife and I visited the smoldering space in New York where the Towers once stood. Vast emptiness. Soot still drifting. Ash still smothering the streets and shops, small and large alike. 

          Some things we just do not forget. We hope we learn from those things. 

         What did we learn from September 11, 2001? The instinctive search for the safety of family. The horrifying awareness of the innocent death of others. The sense that we must take steps to ensure our own safety, the safety of those we love, and the safety of strangers. We learned that heroism is real. And we know that deep pain still lingers for many people directly affected by that day. 

         So we should consider the lessons of 9/11 as more than memories. We should act upon those lessons whenever we see those memories emerging again in reality, albeit in different forms both large and small. By doing so, our memories emerge as active lessons...lessons that will help bring a positive meaning to that tragic day.

    #####

    (Feel free to email me with your thoughts: chuckwrites@yahoo.comIf you would like to submit a blog piece of your for possible publication on “Blog On!” please query me at the same email address. No work that you submit will be posted without your prior approval, and you will retain all copyright ownership. Submission of query and/or submission of a piece for consideration is NOT a guarantee of publication.)

    Copyright: Chuck Cascio; all rights reserved.

  • March Howls, 1968

    Excerpt from THE FIRE ESCAPE BELONGS IN BROOKLYN by Chuck Cascio

          March howled through the Ides, each day bringing grisly new horrors. We plucked pistachios from a huge bowl in front of Bingham's color TV, sucking the sweet salted green nuts from their red shells, spitting the hulls into a wastebasket, fingers and lips stained blood-red with dye, we judged…and we theorized about the slaughter we were seeing:

          Bingham: "Soldiers do what they have to do."

          Bobby: "Overdo it just a little, maybe, bro? This war gonna kill us all; everyone in this fucking room."

         Bingham: "Who's to say we overdo it?"

         Moon: "What the hell, man, we are to say…I mean, someone gotta say somethin!"

         Fish: "Stuff happens. It’s war."

         Me:  "Does that mean it has to happen again and again?"

         Bobby: "All them people bein mowed down every day, like the cows in that movie Hud.”

         Moon: "Yeah, but those cows had a disease, man; all that these people have is slanty eyes."

         Bobby: "Sometimes that's all it takes to build the wall, right, brother?"

         Moon: “Say, you got that right—slanty eyes, different religion, different language, diff…er…ent skin. Just about any goddam thing’ll do if people want to hate bad enough. And one thing you can count—people sure enough want to hate.”

         We watched and thought and surmised and wondered and assured and speculated; to me, the world seemed increasingly littered with garish obscenities, human slaughter, human suffering, personal loss, vanishing youth:

         The Erica I met that night with Bingham was gone; the night of winning pool was an innocent piece of history; my Bob Dylan story seemed juvenile; Sally-Boy was a lingering dream becoming less real than our fire escape; the Fish I knew was morphing into something unrecognizable before my eyes, his wild mass of hair suddenly neatly trimmed; ancient Vietnamese watched their culture explode; young servicemen returned limbless…or not at all…and we sat in the now-vulnerable room of a college campus and watched life change while we ate pistachio nuts and, eventually, washed their red stain from our fingers.

    Copyright: Chuck Cascio, all rights reserved

  • MY FATHER'S HOUSE--A posthumous 100th birthday tribute

    MY FATHER’S HOUSE

    By

    Chuck Cascio

    My father, Modesto “Morris” Cascio, was born on August 19, 1919 and passed away far too young.

    This is my modest tribute to him in the month of his hundredth birthday.

         His house blossomed as he walked Brooklyn’s streets helping his father bring home meat, bread, and occasionally a small piece of cake from the Depression-induced lines filled with hungry people in a land that once held promise for them all. 

         Remarkably, the promise remained inside him in the form of the house taking shape slowly within his agile mind, a mind capable of seeing hope during the days and nights on those dark streets miles and years away from the home in the rolling hills of Virginia that gradually grew as real to him as the stench of beer billowing from the brewery near the tenement where he lived with his parents, a sister, and two brothers. 

         His house evolved out of the spirit of his mind and took shape through his own will and desire. But first, he fought in the Second World War and then, four years after it ended, he took his small, beautiful wife and me and moved us out of Brooklyn, leaving behind the tenements, the stale brewery odors, his siblings, and his parents as one life slipped forward and the other slipped into the past but both made up the man who left Brooklyn. 

         The move saddened his immigrant father whose greatest fear was to lose any of his four children. All three of his sons had returned safely to Brooklyn after the War, but their wartime departure and his fears for their safety had turned his hair gray and furrowed his brow. Now this son—the second eldest child, the son who loved jazz and opera and who could make his mother laugh by turning her through a new dance step and who read someone named Shakespeare and who showed kindness to his siblings through a tease, a taunt, or an embrace—this son said he would be leaving because he felt a new life and a house growing inside of him. 

         Before he left, he assured his father, “Papa, you will hear from me often and we will visit, and you and Mama will visit us too. You’ll see; it will be good—good for you and good for me and for my family.” 

         The house he built in that strange land called Virginia became him—solid brick, 

    sturdy with quiet nuances of beauty, and a yard filled with trees and rolling emerald fields of grass. With dignity and simple elegance it faced the street—a street that began as dirt, eventually graduated to gravel and, then, finally to asphalt as the world around both him and his house began to change…a world that had graduated in stages inside him as he grew from a dreamer, to a man making dreams come true, and eventually to his fulfillment of a new life. 

    thumb IMG 6659

    My father’s house—our house—just outside of Vienna, VA.

         Every morning I watched as just prior to sitting at the kitchen table he would silently glance outside at the backyard, a view unimaginably different from the narrow streets and alleyways of his youth. Sometimes he nodded quickly and seemed to smile at the contrast. At other times, with his ever-present newspaper folded tightly under his arm, he would open the back door and stand there for several minutes, carefully surveying what was now his—and ours from him—before quietly sitting down. 

         How many days did I watch him sit at the breakfast table already in his suit and tie, reading his morning newspaper, ready for office work…another thing he had once only imagined but now lived?  He would sip coffee and occasionally give me and my younger brother and sister subtle reminders about how to behave, encouraging us to work our hardest, helping us understand that we must have a dream and we must be willing to pursue it. 

        And there were those times he would call us all together, excited about some small idea that had emerged: 

          “How about if we nail a backboard to that tree way in the backyard so you can practice shooting baskets anytime you want?” 

          “Let’s have a cement patio put in right at the bottom of the back steps connecting to the carport; then we can all eat outside!”

         “Gotta get together this weekend to start raking up the leaves. Fall is here!” 

         And in those brief, informal family meetings, he made his house and his dreams a part of his reality, a part of us, a part of all that we would be.

         His father visited the house only once. I still can see my grandfather, a Sicilian immigrant, sitting on the cement patio by the carport on a plastic and aluminum lawn chair, looking confused, as if he had once again migrated to a foreign country…this place with trees and space and fresh air. Over several days, he gradually sat smiling comfortably as he smoked a short, crooked, black cigar, sipped wine, and looked up occasionally from his Italian magazine to glance at the sky. On the day he left, a tear formed as he held his son, and the son, being the kind of man who could kiss his father, did just that. 

         His father returned to the solid streets of Brooklyn, his  place, the place he  had imagined as a boy who left Sicily with a dream, but he had briefly experienced the air and space of his son’s house and had seen the man his son had become. Neither man had regrets and both men knew they would always share certain realities—the family, the bread lines, the beer stench, the War, the fear of detaching from where you are and losing the essentials of who you are…but the absolute importance of taking that step. 

           After his father left, my father again quietly surveyed what was his and what he had become…the foundation of his being. Through his house he had proved that there is no detachment where there is real love; there is only an emergence of things that at first exist in the spaces of the mind, then take root in the soul, and eventually blossom from the heart.

         I have wanted so much of what he had, but nothing has consumed me more than his house—not the structure or the eclectic décor nor the lasting irrefutable loveliness of its grounds—no, it is not the house itself  that I have wanted. It is his quiet pride, his brilliant vision, his deep courage, his belief that this was it! He had achieved his sense of place and he had fulfilled the hope that had grown from the depths of his heart and his mind. He had absorbed the risks, built a new life, and shared it all with those he loved. 

         My father had taken his dream to reality and, in doing so, he had planted dreams inside us all.

    THE END

    Copyright: Chuck Cascio, all rights reserved.

     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
  • Named as an "Amazing Read" for August!

     
    MIKE’S ‘FIRE ESCAPE CONFESSION’—
     
    An Excerpt from the novel, THE FIRE ESCAPE BELONGS IN BROOKLYN
     
    Named by BooksGoSocial as an "Amazing Read" for August!!!

     

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         You knew it, Sally-Boy, you knew it all those years ago, and you said it into the hot, black Brooklyn night on the fire escape we loved, the fire escape that reeked of rust and iron and our own sweat from wrestling on it, drinking on it, pumping iron on it. You knew it then, before everything changed, before the last boosted beer was drunk that night, before I left you and you left us all. You always seemed to know so much and you knew it then, and you said it, Sally, as we swigged the last can of Schaefer we shared:      

        

         “Remember this night, Mikey,” you said, mysterious Brooklyn noises swelling around us like a concert of benevolent memories, “remember it because it won’t ever be like this again, never—too much going on, too much is, like, confused and gettin worse. So, my cousin, my brother, take it from me, take it for what it’s worth and sip that beer real real slow…’cause Mikey, it ain’t never gonna be like this again…never, not ever ’cause everythin changes…it just does.”

         

         In my head, I see him sip, burp, smile. I know what is coming next, and I hear myself saying, Don’t say it, Sally. You scream it out, it means ‘fire,’ and the lights go on all over the neighborhood.

       

         I hear his laugh, his voice rising: What the hell, do I know, Mikey? I am just Salvatore Fuoco!!! Fuck-a-you! Salvatore fuck-a-you!!! Salvatore Fuocooooo!!!  Lights flick on. People shout, “Is there a fire? What’s goin on, for crissake? Shut the hell up!”Then I laugh and say, “You always do it…”but when I turn to see him, Sally-Boy is gone. The neighborhood slowly turns dark again.

         

         Still, every dawn, the thought of Sally-Boy leads me to my Fire Escape Confession:

         

          I committed a crime, but I know it was right.  

        

          I went too far, and then I stopped short.  

        

          I failed to speak, when words were needed.

         

          I spoke, when words meant nothing.  

         

         I let people disappear, because confusion overwhelmed me.  

         

          And now all these years later, I still talk to you, Sally-Boy. You, who gave me fear and courage; you, who somehow knew when everything had changed for you, when nothing would ever be the same; you, who disappeared. And now I know when everything changed for me…and nothing has ever been the same…

         

         For me, the changes began in January of 1968, the second semester of my sophomore year at Sinclair College. I can now see how the new me emerged as I left the old me behind, a time and a change that I could not have predicted…but that’s how it happens, right, Sally-Boy?

    To order, go to www.amazon.com/dp/B074V8CRGX

    Copyright chuck cascio all rights reserved. 

  • One Step to the Next Question

    Ten-year old Mike Burns remembers at the beginning of THE FIRE ESCAPE BELONGS IN BROOKLYN...the fear...the questions...decision about whether to take that next step. He looks down the fire escape, through the mysterious gap between him and the sidewalk below. One step is all it takes to move from one question to...what?

    Dangling from the last rung of the fire escape, staring down at the short drop to the scruffy Brooklyn sidewalk below, afraid

    to let go, my ten-year-old brain raising fears in the night (Suppose I slip when my feet hit? Suppose it’s further down than it

    looks? Suppose I land on my face?), my twin cousin, Sally-Boy, calling to me from below (“Come on, Mikey, I done it, so you

    can do it! It’s easy! You just gotta let go, you drop, you land. Let go, Mikey! Let go!”), so I finally do it, I reluctantly release my

    fingers, I feel the brief emptiness of space and summer’s suddenly cool air, I fight back a brief gasp when I fear the sidewalk

    has disappeared, and then my sneakers absorb the impact of the concrete, my knees bend slightly, I hold my balance, and

    Sally’s laughter echoes, “Hahahaha! Mikey, we did it, Mikey, we did it! We made it all the way down! Hahahahaha! I knew we

    could do it, I knew it!” and I laugh with him as we punch each other lightly, and then the haunting blackness of the street

    hovers except for a few flickering lights in the tenements surrounding us and a distant street lamp shining its yellow-tinged

    glow, so I sit on the warm sidewalk with him, doing nothing, talking the idle chatter of two ten-year-olds enjoying the rush of

    having broken yet another rule, and I look up at the fire escape lining the outside of the apartments, all the way to the top

    and beyond into the starry sky, and suddenly I think, but I do not ask, “Where do we go now, Sally-Boy?” 

    THE FIRE ESCAPE BELONGS IN BROOKLYN in paperback and ebook: 

    copyright: chuck cascio; all rights reserved

  • Prof. Staunton Speaks on the Day of the MLK Assassination-1968

    Prof. Staunton Speaks on the Day of the MLK Assassination-1968:

    An Excerpt from the novel THE FIRE ESCAPE BELONGS IN BROOKLYN by Chuck Cascio

         “Langston Hughes asks us if dreams deferred dry up like raisins in the sun or if they stink like fetid meat and, of course, he must know the answer is yes to both—we know both are true because we see those truths in people every day, people who dry up with their dried up dreams, shrivel with their emaciated love affairs—and yet Hughes tries to convince us that it is wrong to give up on dreams because if we do, as he puts it in another poem, ‘Life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly.’

         “So the same man who poses the question in one poem, ‘What happens to a dream deferred?’ warns us in another that without dreams our lives will not fly. If you are writers, you are dreamers by definition, so you must wrestle with Mr. Hughes’s thoughts—some of you will, some won’t, some will be haunted by dreams deferred, some will forget about dreams altogether, some will look around and dream of outrageously ostentatious houses—the measure of opulence today being size and amount whether in square footage of homes or horse power or number of cars—and exotic vacations and perhaps beachfront mansions and cabin cruisers.

         “So many of you will be fickle to the dreams and words and passions that move you now, and by letting it all dry up or trading it all in, you will become vulnerable repeatedly to what we should have seen coming:

        “The squeezing of the trigger of the rifle whose scope was focused on Martin’s round black head, the assassin waiting, holding steady, calm, a horrifying distortion of Hemingway’s grace under pressure, slowly focusing on the hairs that covered the epithelial cells drawn tight across the cranium that stored one man’s extravagant and bold dreams—the perverted assassin turning his perverted dream into reality as he fired and felt the powerful kick of the rifle butt warm against his shoulder, and in the instant that he blinked from the explosion and smelled the acrid odor of gunpowder, he watched through his scope Martin’s exploding head, while inside that broken head confused and gasping dreams now spun madly in milliseconds into blackness and then hurtled out the exit wound or dripped out of the entry wound.

         “The assassin ended those dreams, betting that all of us will let them all dry up along with our own dreams, which we will trade in for comfort; in so doing, the assassin hopes to turn you all into assassins, murderers, killers, hypocrites. After all, he had the courage to act on his perverted dream and to gamble that we are not as courageous about pursuing dreams as he is. So what happens, I ask you, to a dream deferred and deferred and deferred and deferred…” 

         Staunton repeated the word, banging his fists on the podium while we sat in a silence only death itself could duplicate, until, finally, after screaming the word “deferred” one more time, his voice cracked into falsetto, and the blue veins in his neck bulged like tree roots, and his face shone like a beacon, and he looked up, panting, into the face of the tall woman with the long hair, who was noiselessly crying, and extended his arms to her. She embraced him, his white hair touching just below her mouth.

    Copyright Chuck Cascio; all rights reserved
  • Sally-Boy, Mikey, and Robert Frost

     

    In my books, The Fire Escape Stories, Volumes I and II, neither Sally-Boy Boccanera nor Mike Burns is likely to wax poetic. However, in Volume II, as they grow and become more aware of the world swirling around them in the early 1960s, the political turmoil, the overt racism, and the drumbeats of war, they might well relate to the concerns some people feel today. And perhaps, while sitting on that rusty Brooklyn fire escape trying to make sense of the world, this final stanza of  Robert Frost's poem "Reluctance" might help the boys identify something that is emerging inside them. Does it do the same for you? Let me know your thoughts at chuckwrites@yahoo.com 

    Ah, when to the heart of man
       Was it ever less than a treason
    To go with the drift of things,
       To yield with a grace to reason,
    And bow and accept the end
       Of a love or a season?
  • THE FIRE ESCAPE...IN MY MIND by Mike Burns

         
    THE FIRE ESCAPE...IN MY MIND
      by Mike Burns         
         Yes, it is hazy, that fire escape, but it is real. The smell of the grates is real. The rust that stuck to our shirts is real. The rickety stairs leading to...who knows? The street? Trouble? Danger? Safety? I never knew for sure. I still don't know. But it is real. Hazy...but real.

         I still visit it...in my mind. Still scan the blocks of the neighborhood from it. Hear the a cappella voices rising from the corner. Wonder about what was said, what we did, why we did it, how we laughed, how we argued, how long innocence lasted, when it left exactly. The stairs shook when we walked on them. They creaked, they felt as though they might give way at any moment, a structure meant to protect could destroy with a single step. But it was, ultimately, our step to take or not to take. Hazy even then, I guess.

         We leave people and things behind, but some remain. They are not always clear. They are not always exact. They are often flickering replicas of what we once knew. But they are real. The people. The decisions. The results. The remnants.

         Hazy...but real. Like that fire escape in my mind.

    Read The Fire Escape Stories, Volumes I and IIamazon.com/dp/1537411128 

    © Copyright Chuck Cascio. 2016. All rights reserved.

     

  • THE LIGHT OF BROOKLYN (a reflection)

    THE LIGHT OF BROOKLYN

    (a reflection)

    by

    Chuck Cascio

         At first the only light would be the final ivory beams of moonlight, blurred by my still sleepy eyes, and then came the traffic lights of Washington, DC, flashing yellow because it was too early for traffic. Maybe dawn's first light or the roar of a truck or my parents' whispers in the front seat of the car would eventually fully awaken me, and then I’d remember with a rush of excitement that we were headed for New York—Brooklyn to be precise.

         Brooklyn, where the talk was tough and the hearts were tender, where bagels were soft and pretzels were hot, where porches were "stoops" and base­ball was "stickball'' and where the "yard" was no half acre—hey, what half acre? who you kiddin’?—it was a fenced lot behind an apartment building, just a short drop off the fire escape steps.

         Trips to Brooklyn, where I was born, were filled with so much. Grandparents, aunts and uncles, and so many cousins who taught me the games of the street like stoop ball, stick ball, and fire escape jumping, and, when I was a little older, dance steps that were almost suggestive enough to get me expelled from school back home in Virginia.    

         I could always find a cousin to ride with on the subway to Ebbets Field or Yankee Stadium, or to rate lemon ice shops, or to pick up a “slice” on almost any corner. The reunions with relatives, all of whom spoke at the same time at staggering volumes in a combination of Italian and Brooklynese, were festivals of laughter, lasagna, cannoli, chianti (which you took at least a sip of no matter how young you were), and stories of questionable origin and veracity.  But I ate and I sipped and I played and I listened…and I believed it all.

         We'd arrive in Brooklyn at mid-morning. Daylight always exposed the city's scars—overflowing trashcans, multi-lingual graffiti, and odors so distinct you could taste them.  But none of that bothered me, because I chose to delight in Brooklyn’s charms—the gesturing people, the corner candy stores, and the sense that every resident of every block was part of a family.

         The corridor to the old first-floor apartment where my mother's parents lived was always dark. I'd knock on the door and listen for the comforting sound of Grampa's slippers scuffing across the floor, and then I'd hear his asthmatic cough and his familiar wheeze grow closer.  Grampa unlocked the door, and the apartment light sliced through the hallway's darkness.

         The thin little man with the sleeveless undershirt smiled. He spoke sparingly because his English was still awkward despite his years away from Italy, and the effort to speak was especially great on days when the asthma was bad. But the smile on the well-creased face was genuine, and so was the surprising strength of the hug. Then he would return to his seat at the table next to the window where he would smoke, sip vermouth, cough, and call out in an Italian rasp to friends who walked by.  If the asthma was bad, he would just wave.  But everyone stopped at the screened-in window to say “buongiorno” or “buona sera” or just to tip their hat.

         I would stare at Grampa—his little chest heaved as he sat.  I knew of no one else like him, no one so frail yet so essential to everyone and everything.  There were never any easy, involuntary breaths, only what seemed like conscious efforts to suck in air. Often, his Italian words would come in barely audible snatches, but no matter how noisy the room was, when Grampa spoke, people listened. He could start my parents and aunts and uncles talking by uttering just one throaty syllable. But then he could stop an argument with one gesture and a stare.

          Despite the visible strain of every breath, Grampa was steady with his hands. He would take a pencil and make strong delicate lines freehand on any nearby piece of paper—a napkin, a shopping bag, or the back of an envelope would do. I would watch him as he looked upward at the cracked ceiling, his mind creating a distant picture, and then his pencil would duplicate that private vision. Sometimes it took a few minutes, sometimes many, but he would eventually motion for me to come closer to him. He would then hand me the drawing—a clown or a cathedral from his beloved Italy or a smiling boy on a bicycle—and he would smile, his face a roadmap of lines, hug me, and dismiss me with a kind look or a squeeze on the shoulder.

          When the asthma wasn't bad and his stamina was good, he would make paper puppets for me, clever ones with sharp faces and clothing drawn in detail.  He would cut out the arms and legs and magically arrange threads so the puppet's parts would move. Sometimes he'd play with me by being the puppet's voice in Italian. I couldn't understand the words, but I understood the affection.

          Grampa combed his straight, thin hair with a tortoise-shell comb about three-inches wide and three-inches long. His clothing hung in an old wooden wardrobe where he also kept mints that he shared with me. Sometimes, after I had gone to bed at night, he would leave a stack of coins on top of a piece of paper with my name on it so I would find them in the morning when I awoke. They were mine to keep and to take and spend at the corner candy store.

         Grampa was the first to die. I was eight. We had been to Brooklyn for Christmas and a few days after returning to our home in Virginia, we received the phone call. We traveled back to Brooklyn by train instead of car. The train smelled musty, and the frost on the windows allowed me only a few glimpses of the water, tenements, and towering buildings that comprised the East Coast landscape.  My mother, whose was known as Blanche but whose birth-name Bianca, didn’t speak or cry during the entire trip, staring straight ahead, saying a rosary quietly. My father sat with his arm around her the whole way. 

        When we entered the little Brooklyn apartment, my beautiful Aunt Anna opened the door, and my mother, the youngest in her family, wept openly in her sister’s arms as we stood in the dark doorway.  Aunt Anna kept repeating through her own tears, “What will we do, Bianca, what will we do without Papa?”  Their brothers, my Uncle Joe (actually “Giuseppe”) and Uncle Gig (actually “Luigi”), discretely dabbed at their own red eyes as they attempted to console their mother, my wailing Nana Emma.

         Years later, Nana Emma described Grampa’s death to me, struggling with her English:

         "You Grampa, he sitting on his chair by his window, and he say to me, ‘Emma, where are you?’ I say, 'I’m-a right here, Michael.  But why?  Can you no see me?'  He say, 'But where? Everything is dark, Emma, I no see nothing.'  You Grampa, he’s-a breathing so hard, so I run out of the house; I looking for help; when I coming back inside in one minute…he's-a dead."  Confusion and loss and the resignation that life somehow moves on through death flashed across her kind, round face as she reached for my hand.

         I continued to go to Brooklyn until almost everyone else had either moved or died.  But I was growing up a child of the suburbs, and very gradually over the years, Brooklyn became a world apart, a world where apartments shrank, sky disappeared, and some family stories became too awful to believe…even though they were true. Then there was the car ride—it grew longer as I grew older and there was definitely no more thrill in starting the trip in darkness. Especially when I knew it would end that way too.

    © 2016 Chuck Cascio.  All rights reserved. 

  • WAR IN THE RING--A unique book about boxing, Hitler, and WWII

    WAR IN THE RING:
    Joe Louis, Max Schmeling, and the Fight between America and Hitler—
    by John Florio and Ouisie Shapiro
    A BOOK WRITTEN FOR KIDS, BUT STIMULATING FOR EVERYONE
    by Chuck Cascio
         Those of us of (ahem!) a certain age have heard numerous stories about World War II. Perhaps our parents or grandparents served in the military during those years, or perhaps our families were dramatically impacted by the hatred that spread around the world, or perhaps we have a specific, lingering image someone described to us about the world at that time. 
         I am sure many of today’s youth know the realities of that era--the living conditions in the United States, the surge of Nazism, and the attempts people made to "normalize" their lives—and I am sure many others do not. I am also certain that all could benefit from knowing more, especially if the history of that time is presented in a way that ties together the social, political, and sports worlds in a unique manner. Which brings me to the incredibly insightful, highly readable book, War in the Ring: Joe Louis, Max Schmeling, and the Fight between America and Hitler, by John Florio and Ouisie Shapiro.

    war in the ring

         The authors combine the realities of racism, Nazi power, war, sports, and humanity in compelling non-fiction that stimulates thinking and curiosity about the era. The book is intended for middle-school students, but the writing does not talk down to anyone. As a former high school teacher, I can easily how the book could be used to engage teens in unique discussions of that time. By weaving the lives and profiles of the boxers—African American Joe Louis and German Max Schmeling—against the rise of Hitler and WWII, War in the Ringprovides an intriguing look at history for readers of all ages.
         Louis and Schmeling fought twice—once in 1936 and again in 1938. With the turmoil rising in the world during those years, each man came to represent his respective country and each became a national symbol. The authors describe how Louis also carried the burden of being a black man in Jim Crow America. And when Louis, who was born amid the cotton fields of Alabama and raised in Detroit, lost the first match badly, it registered as a defeat for America. At the same time, Schmeling's win brought him lavish praise from Hitler himself and other Nazi leaders who saw it as a national victory. 
        Things changed dramatically two years later. Louis knocked out Schmeling in the first round and emerged as one of the nation's first African American heroes, a symbol of hope in the United States. In Germany, Schmeling was ignored by nationalists and ostracized by Hitler himself.
         While many books do a fine job of capturing the World War II era, War in the Ring stands out because it is written in a novel-like manner and ties historical fact with societal and personal realities. By describing two men who grew up in poverty and used boxing as an attempt to improve their lives as the backdrop for the realities of war and all its suffering, authors Florio and Shapiro succeed in creating a grim metaphor for various aspects of life in that era. Here’s an example from the Prologue of the kind of thought-provoking imagery found throughout the book:

         “As the two fighters climb through the ropes, the overhead lights beaming down on them, men and women across the United States lean in to their radios, hanging on the outcome.

         “In Germany, it’s the middle of the night, but millions of residents have their lights on and their radios tuned to the broadcast coming over the phone lines.

          “The bell rings.”
     
          On a factual level, those words provide a picture not generally associated with war, but on a metaphorical level, the words capture the world at the time…a world in which the United States was about to step “through the ropes” and the bell was, in fact, about to ring.
         Read War in the Ring for yourself, read it with your kids or grandkids or students you teach but, most important, take some time to discuss what it is saying beyond the world of sports and the world of politics. Take time to appreciate what it illuminates about striving to normalize daily life amid the turmoil of conflict.
    THE END
    Copyright: Chuck Cascio; all rights reserved.
     
  • World Series Champs with a Lesson Beyond Baseball

    WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONS WITH A LESSON BEYOND BASEBALL

    By

    Chuck Cascio

    chuckwrites@yahoo.com

          We were doing Baby Shark!

         We were slapping high fives with strangers!

         We were cheering like children while surrounded by thousands of people our age and, yes, small packs of gleeful kids!

          My wife and I and two dear friends were part of the massive crowd at Nats Park in Washington, DC, watching on a giant TV screen that rainy night of October 30 as the Washington Nationals baseball team—who persisted throughout a difficult regular season with the motto “Stay In the Fight!”—brought the first World Series championship to Washington since 1924. And amid the cheering and hugging, I was taken by the realization that something more significant than a World Series victory was happening. 

         

    IMG_0139.jpg

    Nats Park wasted no time saluting the champions!

          I have always been enthralled with the uniqueness of baseball. And while all sports at virtually all levels from youth through pros have the potential to deliver responses from fans that border on pandemonium, the seventh game of the World Series is special. It marks the culmination of the longest season in all of sports, a sport that has countless nuances to analyze and interactions that require instant response from players, such as:

         >>>judging in a split second where that 95 miles per hour pitch is headed from just 60 feet, six inches away;    

         >>>calculating at the literal crack of a bat where a ball that is launched high into the sky, sunlight, or stadium lights will land; 

         >>>determining while running full speed if you should turn the corner and risk going to the next base or play it safe and stay where you are. 

         Baseball players' athleticism may stay dormant for innings and hours at a time and then, in one chaotic moment, they may find themselves in a spontaneous burst of reaction, speed, strength, and skill that determines the outcome of a game.

         As the Nats expressed their unlimited youthful glee (we watched on the giant screen as they danced, embraced, jumped joyfully, and laughed at their own Baby Shark impersonations) and the crowd reacted in kind, it was apparent that this was a period of pure joy in a city dominated by politics, a city whose events are too often wedded to talking points, a city whose beauty and history sometimes need an innocent event to reveal its charms, charms reflected in the core of its populace.

         I have no idea—nor do I care—about the political preferences of the strangers whose hands I was slapping, whose embraces I shared. We were all of the same mind in those moments. And something in the row in front of ours made a particularly strong impact on me that night:

         In that row, a group of 10 or so men and women who appeared to be in their late teens reacted with uninhibited, spontaneous, genuine exuberance. Hardcore baseball fans? Maybe; I don’t know, but I saw them experiencing feelings they will remember forever, something that I want more of for them...for my own family...for my friends...for everyone whether it comes from an athletic achievement, a personal accomplishment, or a simple moment in time that we recognize as unique. 

         Appreciation and happiness can surprise us at any time and, of course, baseball is not the only thing that can stimulate those responses. But a professional baseball team did it in Washington, DC, on that night, and my guess is that even those World Champion Washington Nationals players do not fully realize the lasting impact they made on the people of a city. 

         Thanks, Nats. 

         Thanks, baseball. 

         Thanks, fans. 

         Thanks, Baby Shark!

    Copyright Chuck Cascio; all rights reserved.