Category Archives: Obituaries

In Appreciation: Chez Pazienza (1969-2017)

At a moment when this world needs every voice of reason, every champion of quality journalism and every don’t-give-a-fuck resister of the current political regime we can muster up, we have lost Chez Pazienza, someone who was all of these things and then some.

If you’re not familiar with his work, Chez was a brilliant writer and author of Dead Star Twilight, an award-winning journalist and media producer, blogger, podcaster and much more. But first and foremost, he was a father, fiancé, son, and loved one of many others who are grieving his untimely passing. My deepest condolences go out to his family.

Through his writing and podcasting, those of us who enjoyed and appreciated his work felt like we knew him. That’s because of what Chez shared with us, of course–a hell of a lot, as it turned out, from the personal to the mundane–and we also knew how much Chez loved those who were most important to him.

Mourning someone you’ve never met is an odd thing. It feels voyeuristic, like you’re trespassing on someone’s private life. You don’t feel entitled to your sadness or in any standing to offer up a eulogy–yet through their presence on this earth, this person was still part of your life and had an impact on it. Which is why this post is intended solely to be an appreciation of and respect for Chez’s work and how it added to my life. Nothing more, nothing less.

I first discovered Chez’s work approximately a decade ago, more or less, through his blog Deus Ex Malcontent. If his wasn’t the first blog I’d ever read, it was one of them. His was the kind of writing I aspired to–fearless, insightful, no-holds-barred, sharp witted as hell. Chez’s talent was to make you, his reader, feel every emotion possible in a handful of words.

And that’s exactly what he did, time and time and time again, regardless if he was writing about politics or his personal struggles, music or the media. Within one sentence, you could laugh and then be angry, with plenty of cursing in between. That was the case with his pieces for The Daily Banter, of which he served as editor-at-large, as well as his podcasts with Bob Cesca on The Bob & Chez Show. His perspective was on-point, always, and precisely what we need right now.

Free of bullshit and full of anger, Chez did not mince words about the implications of the sinister machinations and horrific incompetence in The White House. His newsroom experience provided him with a perspective of the media — good and bad — that one can only get from having been in the the industry’s trenches. And in a year that claimed countless icons who defined our coming-of-age years, Chez always had a relevant unique angle that resonated with those of us Gen X’ers who have the same cultural markers and touchstones.

His listeners and readers knew this election affected him profoundly and deeply. Maybe we didn’t quite realize how much. In the immediate aftermath of the election, I reached out to Chez via Facebook to tell him how much I appreciated and agreed with his commentary. I never expected him to respond, but he did and I am grateful that we had that brief exchange to commiserate and for me to express how much I thought of his work.

None of us need any more reminders or Hallmark card platitudes of how life is too fucking short or how important it is to tell people we care about how much we appreciate them. We get it. If not, Chez’s death makes that abundantly clear.

What is also tragically clear is that without Chez Pazienza’s voice, we need to make ours count even more. To resist, to point out bullshit, to call foul, to take those perpetuating the many injustices that have become calling cards of this regime to task by speaking out. Chez knew how imperative that was and I feel there’s no better way to remember him and honor his work and life.

I’d like to think he would expect no less.

My most sincere condolences to Chez’s fianceé, his daughters, his family and friends. If you are inclined to contribute, a fund has been established to help with expenses towards a memorial service and anything remaining will go to his fianceé and children.


If you weren’t familiar with Chez’s work, here are some links…

The Daily Banter: http://thedailybanter.com/author/chez-pazienza/

Deus Ex Malcontent: http://www.deusexmalcontent.com
(among Chez’s very best posts were “The Grand Finale,” written in June 2013 one week after James Gandolfini’s death and “15 Years On: 9/11 in Two Parts”, written in September 2016.)

Dead Star Twilight 


…and here are some Internet tributes. (But read the Chez links first. Seriously.)

Goodbye (tribute to Chez by Bob Cesca of The Bob & Chez Show podcast, 2/28/2017)

My Friend Chez Isn’t Gone … He’s F*cking Everywhere (Bob Cesca, The Daily Banter)

The Internet Has Lost One of Its Most Distinctive Voices  (from Pajiba)

Journalism Lost a Giant on Saturday: A Tribute to Chez Pazienza (from The State Today)

RIP Chez Pazienza (from The Tentacles of Yesterday)

 

 

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In Memoriam: Dabney Montgomery (1923-2016), Tuskegee Airman and bodyguard to Martin Luther King Jr.

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Dabney Montgomery’s name is probably unknown to most Americans. His life, one spent on the front lines of history serving as a bodyguard to Martin Luther King Jr. during the historic Selma to Montgomery March in 1965, is one that deserves to be remembered and honored.

Six years ago, my girl and I had the wonderful opportunity to meet Mr. Montgomery, a Tuskegee Airman who died on Saturday at age 93. He spoke at our church and I blogged about it afterwards because his words made such an impression on me. It was exactly what I needed to hear on that particular day when I went to church for the first time in months, shaken to the core by the news of the murder of a woman with disabilities and in need of some semblance of solace and comfort.

Dabney Montgomery’s words and his commitment to justice resonated and stayed with me. Since meeting him in 2010.  I’ve thought about him on quite a few occasions since, especially during recent racial incidents in this country, and I’ll continue to think about him while being so glad our paths crossed.

With much gratitude for his life, I extend my condolences to Dabney Montgomery’s family, friends and loved ones.

Here’s a portion of my post from February 16, 2010:


“And I stood in the corner and thought, how can I change this situation peacefully? And that thought stayed in the back of my mind for many a month and year.”

~ Dabney Montgomery, Tuskegee Airman and bodyguard of Martin Luther King Jr., 2/14/2010

Walking into church on Sunday morning, Valentine’s Day, was like taking a walk back in time.

A walk alongside Martin Luther King Jr., en route from Selma to Montgomery.

A walk along the tarmac with the Tuskegee Airmen.

And so it was that I found myself in the presence of greatness.

Dabney Montgomery, a Tuskegee Airman and former bodyguard of Martin Luther King Jr.’s, was the guest speaker on Sunday at our Unitarian Universalist congregation.

We listened, a rapt audience of nearly 200, as Dabney Montgomery told us about a time where people believed African Americans were incapable of flying a plane, that because the arteries in their brains were shorter than others, they could not be taught such skills.

We walked with him down the tarmac, as he recalled Mrs. Roosevelt (“you remember Mrs. Roosevelt, don’t you?”) demanding to be flown by an African American pilot.

He received an honorable discharge from the Army in 1945, and upon returning home to his hometown of Selma, Alabama, he only had one thing on his mind.

Registering to vote.

We walked with Dabney Montgomery as he went to register to vote, and was told to go around back and enter through the back entrance, as he was handed three separate applications to vote. The applications needed to be filled out by three separate white men who could vouch for his character.

Not only was I black, Mr. Montgomery said by way of explanation, but I “didn’t have enough money in the bank [to vote], didn’t have a house.”

“And I stood in the corner and thought, ‘how I can change this situation peacefully?’ And that thought stayed in the back of my mind for many a month and a year,” he said.

Dabney Montgomery volunteered to be one of Martin Luther King’s bodyguards on the historic Selma to Montgomery March in 1965. We felt the spit from onlookers as the marchers walked by.

meeting-dabney-montgomery“After the march, I took the soles off the shoes I wore,” Dabney Montgomery explained. “You can see them for yourself in the back, there.”

Several months after that march, The Voter Rights Act of 1965 was signed.

We walked back into the room with Dabney Montgomery as he registered to vote.

“And this time, there was a black woman behind the desk,” he laughed.

And then he turned serious again.

Whatever the situation is, “it can be changed through nonviolence, but you must stand and never give in. Don’t compromise. [We need] nonviolence not only in the schools, but in the home,” he said, referencing recent bullying attacks and the shooting by a professor in Alabama.

“Nonviolence is a must if we are to survive,” Dabney Montgomery concluded.

We’ll walk hand in hand someday …” we sang, as the closing hymn, and as we joined hands and I reached for the African-American man’s hand next to me, I couldn’t hold back the tears any longer. (I hate crying in public, but in this case, I wasn’t alone.)

Afterward, I was chatting with people I hadn’t seen in months as my girl rushed through the door.

“Look, Mommy, they have cake!” she exclaimed, pointing to the refreshments.

“We can have cake,” I said, “But first, there’s somebody who I want you to meet.”

I told my girl that I wanted her to shake this man’s hand and thank him for his service to our country. That she would understand why when she was older.

We approached the throng of people surrounding Dabney Montgomery, taking photos with him as if he was a movie star. He welcomed all of this, even basked in the attention.

What does one say to such a hero? I thought.

“Your words were so inspiring,” I said. “Thank you for your service to our country. It is a real pleasure and honor to meet you.”

“Thank you,” Mr. Montgomery replied. A former ballet student, he bent down and shook my girl’s outstretched hand. And then, we all ate cake.

I went to church on Sunday seeking a spiritual boost.

But what I got was so much more.

“Hey, so many things I never thought I’d see
Happening right in front of me
I had a friend in school
Running back on a football team
They burned a cross in his front yard
For asking out the home coming queen
I thought about him today
And everybody who’s seen what he’s seen
From a woman on a bus
To a man with a dream
Hey, wake up Martin Luther
Welcome to the future
Hey, glory, glory, hallelujah
Welcome to the future …”
“Welcome to the Future” ~ Brad Paisley

 

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goodbye, alison

Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens (37)

A brilliant light left the world this morning with the passing of Alison Piepmeier.

Like many others, I’m saddened that brain cancer (fuck you, cancer) has taken such a gifted writer, passionate advocate, devoted mother and wife, compassionate educator, friend to many around the world, including many (like me) who she never had the opportunity to meet. I will miss reading her words on her blog and in the Charleston City Paper, which offers a lovely tribute today.

I will be forever grateful for how her beautiful life touched mine, if only for a too short time.

Peace and love, my blog friend.

 

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We Could Sing a Rainbow: Remembering Captain Noah

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If you were a kid growing up in Philadelphia during the 1970s, chances are you watched Captain Noah and His Magical Ark starring W. Carter Merbreier as “Captain Noah” and his wife Pat as … well, Mrs. Noah.  Along with Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Sesame Street, and The Electric Company, Captain Noah was must-see TV for the elementary-school set.

(Those of you who lived in other parts of the country may know Captain Noah, too; at one point during its history the show was broadcast to 22 other markets.)

But Captain Noah was ours because Philadelphia was home to Captain and Mrs. Noah.  Carter Merbreier grew up in Delaware County, attended the University of Pennsylvania followed by seminary school at Temple. He and Pat lived in the area. Their appearance in Philadelphia’s annual 6ABC Thanksgiving Day Parade was almost as highly anticipated as that of Santa Claus, who could have passed for Captain Noah’s twin.

Captain Noah — sorry, I mean, Carter Merbreier — died today, at age 90.  Yeah, for real. If you thought this post was one of those stories that people share with R.I.Ps and sad emoticons and hashtags not realizing that the subject had left this Earth several years prior, I thought the same thing. Even The Husband, who has a keen knowledge of celebrity recognition and obscure trivia, insisted that Captain Noah had sailed away long ago.  (We realized we were probably thinking of Mrs. Noah, who died in June 2011.) I verified all this with my sources —philly.com/The Inquirer/Daily News or whatever they all call themselves these days and 6ABC, which has Captain Noah’s death categorized as Breaking News, which strikes me as both odd and amusing only because there was nothing sensational or urgent or anything remotely breaking news-like happening on the Ark.

Indeed, Captain Noah and His Magical Ark was a simple show with simple things. Stories about animals. Life lessons told by puppets. Children’s artwork. (“Send your pictures to dear old Captain Noah … .”) As a kid, I remember being amazed that you could actually put something in the mail AND CAPTAIN NOAH MIGHT GET IT AND SHOW IT ON TEEVEE!  Sometimes, a celebrity would guest star on the show and it would be the coolest thing imaginable.

Eight years ago, I took my own kids to the Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia. There among the exhibits was THE ACTUAL SET FROM CAPTAIN NOAH AND HIS MAGICAL ARK. I was reverent, awestruck — and yes, stunned that the set was so small. Part of me, I think, expected to see an honest-to-God real ark, like one of biblical proportions. After all, things seem so much bigger when you’re a kid, more magical.

We lose that as adults when the storms of life hit.

I remember staring at the animals, the TV cameras, the captain’s wheel. My kids were running all over the place, ignoring my insistence that they just had to come over and see the set of Captain Noah, right now, because here was my childhood, right here.  Needless to say, they were unimpressed and it occurred to me that there’s only so much of one’s experience and history that can be passed down to the generations after us.

I often think about the ways that stories and the personalities of a particular place have a way of becoming part of us as children, shaping us into the people we become later in life. I feel supremely lucky to have had the childhood that I did, and for having grown up in Philadelphia during the ’70s and ’80s.  In the span of two decades, the world has become a very different place and I wonder sometimes what cultural memories like Captain Noah my kids will carry from their early years, if any.  It makes me a little sad that they likely won’t have the collective shared history that The Husband and I share. That their memories will be more commercialized, so to speak, and less tied to an individualized, unique moment in time, a particular place or person, as compared to a generic, homogenized experience.

Given its beginnings as a religious program for children, Captain Noah and His Magical Ark probably would never be allowed on the air in today’s politically correct, hypersensitive, easily offended environment.  And today’s kids would probably be bored out of their minds. But I know I’m not the only middle-aged person who still has an enduring love and nostalgia for Captain Noah, and that has to mean something.

Maybe it’s a testament to the power of stories, of simple songs about colors and listening with our eyes to the world and being kind to one another.

Maybe those are the only things we need with us in our proverbial ark when the storms of life hit and threaten to destroy our world. 

Red and yellow and pink and green
Purple and orange and blue
I can sing a rainbow,
Sing a rainbow,
Sing a rainbow too.

Listen with your eyes,
Listen with your ears,
And sing everything you see,
I can sing a rainbow,
Sing a rainbow,
Sing along with me.

Red and yellow and pink and green,
Purple and orange and blue,
I can sing a rainbow,
Sing a rainbow,
Sing a rainbow too!

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Sunday Salon/Currently: Remembering Elie Wiesel (35/99)

Sunday Salon banner

For today’s Salon, I wanted to take a few moments of remembrance in honor of Holocaust survivor, author, teacher, Nobel Prize winner and humanitarian Elie Wiesel, who died yesterday at age 87. As the New York Times wrote, Mr. Wiesel’s work “seared the memory of the Holocaust on the world’s conscience.” (New York Times, 7/2/2016) He gave voice to those whose voices were silenced through his eloquent words and prolific writing, including 60 books, according to his foundation’s website.

The best known of his writings, of course, is Night, his first book and an autobiographical account of the horrors of the Holocaust.  Translated from French in 1960, Night was published after many rejections. As is the case with many courageous voices who dare to break the silence of things we don’t want to acknowledge or speak of, the world was not ready to hear what Elie Wiesel had to say about millions of people killed.

I am embarrassed to say I haven’t read Night. I’m thinking I need to remedy that, and soon.

Open HeartToday I want to highlight Open Heart, Elie Wiesel’s last book — published in 2012 — and a gorgeous reflection on mortality and the end of life. Written when he was 82 and facing open heart surgery (hence the title, which has more than one meaning here) Elie Wiesel is fully aware of the ironies of facing death as a teenager in the concentration camps and, much later, as an octogenarian. (“Long ago, over there, death lay in wait for us at every moment, but it is now, eternities later, that it shall have its way. I feel it.”)

As I wrote in my review of Open Heart, this short memoir (you can read it in one sitting; it took me about an hour) ends optimistically.  This from a man who has seen firsthand the worst atrocities of this world. Who knows of loss from the deaths of loved ones and of the resilience demanded from personal betrayal and theft (upon the recommendation of a synagogue member, Mr. Wiesel and his wife invested their savings and that of their humanitarian foundation with Bernie Madoff, losing millions.)

He writes these words, “credo that defines my path”: 

I belong to a generation that has often felt abandoned by God and betrayed by mankind. And yet, I believe that we must not give up on either.

Was it yesterday – or long ago – that we learned how human beings have been able to attain perfection in cruelty? That for the killers, the torturers, it is normal, thus human, to act inhumanely? Should one therefore turn away from humanity?

The answer, of course, is up to each of us. We must choose between the violence of adults and the smiles of children, between the ugliness of hate and the will to oppose it. Between inflicting suffering and humiliation on our fellow man and offering him the solidarity and hope he deserves.  Or not.

I know – I speak from experience – that even in darkness it is possible to create light and encourage compassion. That it is possible to feel free inside a prison. That even in exile, friendship exists and can become an anchor. That one instant before dying, man is still immortal.

There it is: I still believe in man in spite of man. I believe in language even though it has been wounded, deformed and perverted by the enemies of mankind. And I continue to cling to words because it is up to us to transform them into instruments of comprehension rather than contempt. It is up to us to choose whether we wish to use them to curse or to heal, to wound or to console.” 

Unbelievably, even at 82, Elie Wiesel was still wondering, still questioning whether he could have done more — he who used his life to give voice to those forever silenced, who challenged world leaders on their decisions.

“Have I performed my duty as a survivor? Have I transmitted all I was able to? Too much, perhaps? ….I feel the words [in Night] are not right and that I could have said it better…In my imagination, I turn the pages.”

You have, indeed, performed your duty as a survivor, Mr. Wiesel.  Your words were heard and your eloquence has made us so much richer for the gift and wisdom of them.  Your indelible imprint on this all too often fragile and flawed world has brought compassion, humanity, inspiration, and solace to countless people.

Rest well, Elie Wiesel.  May you finally be at peace.

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #35 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project. 

 

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She Knew What We Did Those Summers: Remembering Lois Duncan (1934-2016)

I Know What You Did Last SummerKilling Mr. Griffin

My teenage summers were spent poolside at the Valley Club,  sharing secrets with my best friends over orders of French fries blanketed in Cheez-Wiz.  We lounged on beach towels with our Sony Walkmans blasting ’80s pop music loud enough to drown out our immature siblings’ screeches of “Marco! Polo!” in the deep end of the pool. We doused ourselves with enough Hawaiian Tropic oil that made us as bronzed as an Olympic medal.

When we weren’t in the pool or discussing Luke and Laura on “General Hospital,” we were reading anything we could get our hands on.

Maybe it was characteristic of my group of friends at the time or the pre-Internet/pre-smartphone era, but we read A LOT. Like everything and anything.

All the time.

And perhaps it was because of our rather uneventful, vanilla, goody-two-shoes suburban middle-class upbringing (and attending school with peers whose families were in much, much higher economic echelons), but we seemed drawn to darker stories with just enough thrill factor to keep us turning the pages.

Aside from Judy Blume writing about our deepest insecurities and rites of passages and V.C. Andrews’ creepy as all freaking hell Flowers in the Attic series,  young adult author Lois Duncan’s teen suspense novels are the ones that are seared into my memory from those years.

Thrillers about a car accident involving well-off teens that resulted in murder (I Know What You Did Last Summer, 1973); sinister cousins (Summer of Fear, 1976) and a high school prank intended to scare a mean teacher that goes horribly wrong (Killing Mr. Griffin, 1978) were stories as drop-dead real as anything we saw on the evening broadcast of Action News. (These were the years when people still watched the news.  And when the world had to be ending for the news to be considered “breaking.”)

Lois Duncan’s fiction was chilling and terrifying and made those of us who led a relatively sheltered and privileged life wonder if such horrendous things could really happen. Through her groundbreaking writing for teens, Lois Duncan showed us that, at least in fiction, they could. As we got older, real life would have no shortage of atrocities — one only needs to look at the past week for proof of that.

Sadly, Lois Duncan herself experienced personal tragedy in 1989 when her daughter Kaitlyn was murdered — ironically, just a month after the publication of one of Duncan’s novels with a similar plot. For years, she devoted her life to writing about her daughter’s still unsolved murder and supporting others whose loved ones were homicide victims.

Lois Duncan died on Wednesday, June 15 at age 82, leaving a rich literary legacy of children’s books, young adult novels, short stories, magazine articles, and nonfiction. Those of us who grew up in the late ’70s through the mid-80s enjoyed what I believe was a golden age of young adult literature by writers who bravely took chances with their work and were trailblazers for many of today’s equally outspoken and daring young adult authors.

Until I read her obituary in Publisher’s Weekly, I had no idea that Lois Duncan Steinmetz was a Philadelphia native, which endears her to me even more. (Her family moved to Florida when she was young. Still, in my mind she’s a Philly girl like me, making my days of reading her novels while growing up in the Philadelphia suburbs especially nostalgic.)

I think the hallmark of a great writer is someone whose books are remembered decades after reading them. Even if some details of the plots have faded, we can immediately recall how books like Killing Mr. Griffin and I Know What You Did Last Summer always made us feel.

Deliciously chilled to the bone, even on the hottest of summer days.

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #19 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project. 

 

 

 

 

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The Legacy of Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird

Author Harper Lee died on Friday at age 89.

Her legacy to the literary world is, of course, her classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman, which was published last year amid much controversy.

While I have a very strong appreciation for To Kill a Mockingbird, it’s not one of my personal “life-changing” novels. I’m not quite sure why that is. I read it for the first time in 1987 as a high school senior and then re-read it five years ago when several bloggers (including myself) participated in a reading event to celebrate 50 years since its publication.

I thought I would re-visit some thoughts from my July 2010 post.

As an adult, I’m also appreciating Harper Lee’s writing much more than I probably did in 12th grade, back when I knew it all. The dialogue and dialect of the Deep South, the vivid description of characters and scene, the pure pluck of Scout, the mystery of Boo.

What strikes me about To Kill a Mockingbird today on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of its publication is how timeless and relevant this book is all these years later.  There are so many themes running through these pages that we’re still dealing with today – racism and issues of class, the rush to judgment and to make assumptions, just to name a few. Tom Robinson’s story is that of so many others, and so in turn is Scout’s and Jem’s and Atticus’s and Boo’s and Mr. Ewell’s and Mr. Raymond’s and almost every character in the book.

It does make one wonder:  what book, what author, what literary characters in our conscious today will we be talking about and discussing 50 years from today?  When I’m 91, which book will I be re-reading?  I’m honestly not too sure. (Of what book I’ll be re-reading, that is.  If I’m still here at age 91, rest assured that I’ll probably still be working on Mount TBR.)

Reading To Kill a Mockingbird at this juncture also makes me wonder about the characters themselves. Because Harper Lee makes them so real to us in the book, it’s interesting to think what they would be like 50 years later, how the experiences that they lived through in the novel would have shaped them.  What would Scout be like as she approaches her 60th birthday? (Still a spunky spitfire, I’d bet.)  Would Jem have become a lawyer like Atticus?  And what of Atticus?  Would he have eventually remarried?

To Kill a Mockingbird is set in the 1930s; fifty years later for them would have taken them to the 1980s. What would their experiences in the ’60s been like, living as they would have through the assassinations of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King, Jr.?  And even later: what would they have thought of Obama being elected President?  I think their childhood experiences were such that they couldn’t have helped but shape them and their impressions of these historical events.

When I wrote that post, none of us knew of the existence of Go Set a Watchman, the novel that is either much-celebrated or a representative of elder abuse, depending on your viewpoint. I approached it with some skepticism and an open mind (at least I’d like to think so).  I didn’t finish it, but suffice it to say that 43 pages was enough to put me solidly in the “this should never have been published” camp.

I think the loss of Harper Lee is made especially sad because of the controversial issues surrounding Go Set a Watchman. I hope that she was, as reports have said, truly happy about its publication.

And if not, that she was able to find some peace.

 

 

 

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