My son Ryan asked me the other day, “Daddy, what’s your favorite holiday?” I told him that I had two – Thanksgiving and the 4th of July! As far back as I can remember, I have always enjoyed those two days. Seeing that it’s getting close to the 4th, I thought I’d share some fond memories I have of it:
The 4th - Ridgewood Style: It all started for me in Ridgewood, NY in the late 60’s, that’s about as far back as I can remember celebrating the 4th. We lived in an apartment building on Stockholm Street. We lived up on the 3rd floor with my cousins living on the 2nd and the Donlins on the first floor. The building actually had two apartments per floor, so the Roggios lived in the apartments next to ours. We shared a large backyard and each summer we would build an above-ground swimming pool for everyone to enjoy. We usually built it sometime around the first day of summer, so it was always up by the 4th. Our yard was the site of all of our 4th of July parties and MAN were they fun!!
We would fire up two of our barbecues and the Roggios would fire up theirs and then everyone would start to bring food and drinks outside! We would set up tables inside and outside our garages and we would open the doors to our basements, so we could use them for bathrooms and for staging food. Radios were turned onto 99X and 95.5 and 102.7 and turned up and people started showing up in the late morning – but I was outside by around 6am!
My brother and I used to spend the days before the 4th unraveling firecrackers and putting them in plastic bags – yes – we actually used to shoot firecrackers off one at a time back then. Mats were $6 to $8 so we wanted to make each one count. Like many in the old neighborhood, I used to sell fireworks when I was a kid, mostly to pay for the fireworks that I would end up shooting off on the 4th. My brother and I would usually shoot off a mat a piece, plus, bottle rockets, silver jets, helicopters, smoke bombs, cherry bombs (which were great because they would stay lit when you dropped them into the sewer), M-80’s, ashcans, pineapples, roman candles, 6oz rockets, 8oz rockets, and aerial bombs (if we could afford them). We also had sparklers, snakes and lit them all off with punks (that we would fake smoke). I can still remember the smell of the gun powder and the punks – mixed with the smell of barbecues and suntan oil …that to me is the smell of the 4th of July in Ridgewood!
With all those Italians in one place you know there was going to be food and a lot of it and MAN was there ever! Hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken, sausage (& peppers), baked beans (in cans sitting on the top level of the barbecues), and maybe a piece of steak if someone brought it, were being cooked from 10AM until after midnight. The tables were stacked with bowls of fruit – peaches, plums, nectarines, apricots, cherries and of course watermelon! My dad used to take out these garbage cans, fill them with ice and one garbage can was filled with soda cans and the other was filled with beer – no bottled water or fruit juices back then! And when I say beer, I’m not talkin’ “fancy-shmancy” labels …I’m talkin’ Piels Real Draft in the “big-mouth” little pug bottles & Schaefer beer & Rheingold & Schlitz & Schmidt’s and of course Bud’s. The Roggios were “Miller High Life” people, so if you wanted a Miller you had to walk over to their cooler. The ladies also broke out the sangria and the wine and you might even find a bottle or two of bourbon, scotch, rye and whiskey sitting about later at night.
The “adults” would sit, drink, eat, go in the pool, play pool (we had a pool table in our garage) and play cards – all the while laughing harder and louder as the hours past. Soon they were acting more like children then we (the children) were. Every year my Uncle Dom would get a few brews in him and then you knew that just about every woman he could lift was gonna be thrown in the pool. One of the most hilarious sights you could ever see was when everyone tried to go into our little above-ground pool together, at the same time! The adults literally could not even turn around and half the water ended up getting pushed out of the pool …only in the old neighborhood could you ever see a sight like that!
Meanwhile, out “in the front,” that is, in the front of our apartment building, all of us kids were busy lighting off fireworks. During the day hours, we wouldn’t light off any of the showy rockets, so it was mostly, firecrackers, bombs and bottle rockets (that we sometimes shot at each other). We spent the whole day wearing only our bathing suits and the average boy in Ridgewood had a punk hanging out of his mouth with a paper “Bohacks” grocery bag stuffed with fireworks next to him. We would go back and forth, lighting off some fireworks, then back into the yard for a hamburger, hot dog, macaroni salad, cole slaw, potato salad, antipasta (even at barbecues), fruit and a soda – then maybe a quick dip in the pool to cool off – then back out to shooting off fireworks! I loved it …we all loved it! At night we would also stop in the back to roast a few marshmallows and maybe a piece of cake (another Italian staple – cake and coffee is served even at barbecues).
Nowadays, I live out west in Las Vegas, where fireworks are legal and where the resorts and country clubs have fireworks “shows.” Yeah, the shows are more impressive than the stuff we used to shoot off in Ridgewood, but somehow I don’t feel the connection that I felt when I lit the fuses – and something about it all being legal takes away from the naughtiness of it all. After all, the 4th celebrates the ultimate naughtiness – a Revolution!
We have a beautiful built-in pool now and a much bigger barbecue, but neighbors don’t come by out here and we don’t have any family here, so hosting a big barbecue isn’t an option. The beer we drink costs more but something about that cheap beer on a sizzling hot 4th in Ridgewood made it taste like the best beer on earth. In fact, my brother and I still joke that nothing tastes better than washing a barbecued (notice I never use the word “grilled” – that word didn’t exist in Ridgewood back in those days) hamburger down with a big-mouthed Piels …ahh the aftertaste! Haha…
Hey, I want to wish everyone out there a very happy and safe 4th of July. We still live in the greatest country in the world so celebrate it with gusto!
(oh.. and p.s. …to Janine Ansaldi …Happy Birthday wherever you are! Janine’s birthday is July 04 and every year when she was a little girl, she used to think the whole country was celebrating it!) haha… Peace, g
After watching the televised broadcast of Tiger Woods apology yesterday with my two oldest boys, the three of us decided that we would forgive Tiger Woods. “To more who is given, more is expected” came to mind to me as I watched Tiger Woods explain that he had done wrong knowingly because of feeling “above the law.” The entrapments of fortune and fame are ever-present and so, yet another “role model” seemed to fall the day we saw Tiger’s car hit that tree, but it occurred to me that perhaps Tiger Woods wasn’t a role model before, but that he could be now.
Tiger apologized first to his “friends” in the room in which he was speaking. In attendance were some of his family and many of his close friends. He explained how he hurt them. Then he apologized to his fans and business associates and explained how he let them down. Finally, he apologized to parents like me, who had used Tiger Woods as a role model-type to my four boys. I taught them the important lessons of how a person can reach the top his profession, against many odds (the color of Tiger’s skin prevented him from even being allowed to play in some of the tournaments that he later dominated) by discipline, practice, consistency, and focus. Tiger Woods certainly demonstrated all of those qualities up to now. Tiger’s rise to fame was also important to me because of his special relationship with his dad, Earl Woods. To a dad like me, I found it inspirational and thought it beautiful, the bond between a boy and his dad, from which a legend and a superstar grew.
I watched his news conference with a critical eye, not so much because I didn’t want to forgive Tiger, but because I did! All I wanted to see was sincerity …and I saw it. As he mentioned, he has a long journey ahead of him in many ways piecing back his life and earning back the trust, respect and friendship that he lost with his wife, mom, friends, business associates, fans and dads like me. Yet, I believe he has taken the first steps down that path and as we all know, the first steps are sometimes the most difficult steps to take.
When the scandal first broke, I was angry, not so much at Tiger, but at the look of sorrow and confusion on my boys faces. All they perceived was that Tiger Woods did something very wrong. It was like seeing boys who just saw Superman steal and beat up the store clerk – very disheartening. Great, just what we need, I thought, another fallen hero, another tainted reputation, another example of how sinful we all are. Most regular folks like us say to ourselves, “the guy had it all, how dumb could he be!” In the end, just another target for jokes on late night TV, but this time, they’d be joking about someone that I wanted my sons to be like! It made me sick!
Well now, after seeing his apology and discussing it with my boys, we decided together to forgive Tiger Woods. It is our faith to do so, but in the process I discovered something else. Perhaps Tiger Woods wasn’t the role model I thought he was before this incident, but perhaps he can be a role model now. We all sin and fall short of the glory of God.
Tiger hurt lots of people – perhaps his wife and mom and close friends will also emerge as role models for the rest of us, by their actions from here on in. While we all sin, we all don’t have to go on global TV and apologize to the world. Our children don’t have to be followed, tabloids don’t publish lies about us and comedians make jokes about us - that comes with his fame, as does his fortune, if he accepts one, he must accept the other.
I pray that Tiger and his family make it through this embarrassing ordeal. I pray more that Tiger will ultimately establish himself as a role model again – one who had fallen, but who asked for forgiveness, believed that he received it and has learned enough from his transgressions never to repeat them. That would make him a role model indeed, someone who I wouldn’t mind my sons wanting to be like.
What do you think?
You know, I spent from 2004 to June of last year in the financial industry and I have to tell you – I felt like I was losing my soul in a godless world …a world where there was only one rule – GREED IS GOOD (GIG)!
The current state of affairs in the world is the result of the GIG principle – millions of people now out of work; people losing their homes to foreclosure; bank closures; business closures leading to more people out of work!
Here is a brief of what happened: (being a simple fool, I’m going to keep it simple)
1. Those in the financial industry all wanted to turn more profits (GIG in action) than they could with the status quo – so the “geniuses” devised a number of “legal” ways to invest in highly risky investments (like SWAPS), putting very little to none of their money at risk (that is, as long as everything in the world remained stable).
2. Lenders start loaning RIDICULOUS amounts of $$$ to people to buy things like homes and gave people all sorts of credit facilities like CREDIT CARDS – to the point that people ended up owning homes they could not possibly afford, on top of having more credit card debt than they could ever hope to pay off! These financial institutions didn’t care because they could basket all those risky loans and sell them to other institutions (see #1 above).
3. #1 & #2 caused a FAKE bubble in housing prices and in the economy as a whole (people spent the money they were GIFTED in the form of home equity loans, credit cards, etc…). This kept a lid on the bubbling and expanding cauldron for awhile (between the tech bubble of 2001 to around 2007.
4. THE PARTY WAS OVER!!!!!! Easy money/easy mortgages lead to over-building, too many homes on the market fueled the DRAGON, making lenders lend even more $$$ in the form of “sub-prime” mortgages, basically the legal term for your local loan shark! Yeah, they’ll lend you all you want – and break your knee-caps (interest/penalties) when you can’t pay! GREEDY people with too much debt started paying their mortgages and credit cards late! We're all a bit guily of that.
5. The industry answered with their normal DRAGON’S BREATH – foreclosures, insane interest and penalties! That usually "fixed our wagons"… but wait… by 2007, it didn’t! People stopped paying their mortgages, credit cards, etc…
6. The lenders started foreclosing and taking homes away from the folks BUT WAIT – now they had TOO MANY HOMES and combined with the over-building – NO ONE WANTED THESE FORECLOSED HOMES! This stuck the lenders with $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ of useless real assets! These financial institutions were now insolvent in a BIG WAY!!! BUT WAIT…
7. THOSE SWAPS… you know, the so-called “impossible scenario” investments were all being called in! These dumb, idiotic “geniuses” in these super-huge financial institutions (banks, insurance companies, pensions, etc) had basically fired the torpedo that turned and killed them! (Think of the scene from my favorite movie/book THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER, “…You fool, you killed US!” The institutions that took positions covering these defaults, DEFAULTED! What does that mean? It means that there was no one to cover the defaults of all those mortgages!!! This basically caused a MASSIVE GLOBAL cascade effect (Since the world invests as the U.S. does).
Okay, so what does all the above result in?
- Millions of people lose their homes!
- The entire real estate industry goes belly-up including lenders like Countrywide (my lender), construction companies and anyone else associated with real estate.
- The home values across the nation drop significantly, due to a glut of too many homes on the market and most everyone being broke!
- Credit dries up! The party is over for all of us “CREDIT ADDICTS!” We all became used to being able to find someone to lend us money (credit cards, home-eq’s, etc) whenever we wanted something – and MAN, most of us went BONKERS CRAZY! We even USED LOANS TO PAY OTHER LOANS! When the train stopped, everyone got caught holding the bag (lol… I know, I used a double-cliché, but it reads funny, doesn’t it?)
- Financial institutions go out of business… or do they? Oh no, some don’t because the U.S. GOVERNMENT decides to buy their debt, pay their bills (and wipe their… well, you know)!
I hate to tell y’all this but… there is no fix for this! The world melted! Now the U.S. prints funny-money to pay for all the sins of the past several years! Guess what happens when there is too much money printed – we call it inflation and man is it coming!!!
There’s even a scarier monster on the horizon, it’s called STAG-FLATION… that’s a situation where on one hand there is inflation and on the other, the economy does not grow to offset the former. What does it mean? It means that stuff will cost A WHOLE LOT MORE but none of us will make more!
I was so disgusted with the industry; I quit it and vow never to go back to it! I’m going to stick to writing my fiction …and stockpiling canned goods!
It’s been said that truth is stranger than fiction, because fiction has to make sense …ain’t that the truth!
That's my "scare-blog," please enjoy the rest of your day! 9-) (Comments, rants and raves are welcomed)
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Dean Wesley Smith