The Hyde Collection, Glens Falls, N.Y.

The Hyde Collection, Glens Falls, N.Y.
One of My Favorite Places on Earth

Sunday, June 17, 2007

OK...I'll Write My Own Ending

Since we're all obviously expected to write our own Soprano's ending, here's mine:

Setting: Holsten's Diner, North Jersey

The guy in the bathroom comes out, stops when he gets to Tony and reaches into his breast pocket. Tony flinches for a second, thinking the end is finally here. Carmella screams 'NO!', A.J. dives under the table, letting out a Clay Aikin-like yelp as he smacks his head on the way down. (Carmella instinctively grabs her glass of ice water, compresses it to A.J.'s head while simultaneously shouting to the waitress that they better have Lincoln Log sandwiches on the menu).

Meadow gallops over from the doorway and warns the stranger that he better not f#%*@ with her family.

The man smiles at her, then strokes Tony benevolently on the head as he hands him a copy of The Four Agreements.

"It will change your life, Anthony. Read it and pass it on," he whispers before leaving.

Since he has heartburn from the onion rings and can't sleep that night, Tony sits up in his barca lounge and reads the book from cover to cover.

The next morning, as the sun streams into the kitchen, Carmela comes down to find Tony at the stove, humming as he fries her a Prosciutto omelet.

He pours her a cup of coffee and effuses about how he's been playing the game of life all wrong. Now he understands what he's meant to do with the rest of his years.

After he's cooked breakfast for the family and done the dishes, Tony hurries off to the hospital with The Four Agreements in hand, where he reads it aloud to Silvio, who of course, makes a miraculous recovery.

He and Tony both agree that it's time to take a different path in life and they leave the hospital to find Paulie and pass the book on to him.

Cut to the next scene. The Bada Bing has been completely renovated and turned into a holistic healing arts center. The interiors have been partitioned off to make way for yoga and meditation classes, reiki sessions, past-life regressions, and the practice of Ayurvedic medicine.

Tony looks around and takes in the new look: crystals in every nook and cranny, indoor windchimes, gold-framed photos of Jesus, Buddha, Mother Mary and other icons on the walls, a few well-placed waterfalls, and a sitar player sitting cross-legged on a giant pillow reciting the OM chant.

Paulie walks in the door, strides over to Tony and with a slight smirk, hands him an envelope

"The travel agent told me it ain't Bombay no's Mumbai."

Tony thanks Paulie for keeping an eye on things while he's away.

"Carm know about this?"

"Yeah. She's goin' with me."

They bear-hug and then Paulie looks wistfully after Tony as he disappears through the door then shakes his head.

"A month at an ashram...Marrone."

The credits roll in tandem with the George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord."

....something like that.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Why I Oughta...

By Stacey Morris

Where is he? Lemme at him. I swear if I find David Chase I’ll…

Pardon me. I’m still decompressing. One week after the most lethargic series finale of all time (with the lone exception of Phil’s rubout) the wounds have yet to fully close.

Is there any question that after all these years of loyalty, Soprano’s fans deserved better?

I know, I know: Chase (the show’s creator) has always demanded we draw our own conclusions. His minimalist and highly original storytelling style is something I've long admired. But since this is the "final episode...ever," there should have been a bit more workmanship put into the finished product.

The fact that it was the finale wasn't the only reason I felt completely, shall we say, goosed as the credits rolled silently. This is HB-Freakin' O. I paid to watch this show, and therefore, the bar is supposed to be set a little higher.

I wasn’t looking for a predictable conclusion, with every loose thread quaintly embroidered into place. Any Soprano’s fan knows better than to expect the plot-schlock played out in movies and network TV again and again.

(Which reminds me, to all those fans on message boards across the globe: Did you confuse Chase with the head writer at "Days of Our Lives"? Adriana is indeed DEAD. The Russian’s not coming back to get Paulie, either. Can we move on from that now?)

As the creative master he’s proven himself to be, I’m sure there were several Chase-worthy endings that he formulated over the years. My only unbendable expectation as an emotionally and financially invested viewer was that he pick one.

Instead he did the unforgivable by copping out. What a waste. And not just the last two minutes.

Chase chose to conclude his masterpiece with scenes of Meadow’s multiple attempts to parallel park, Paulie Walnuts’ Laurel and Hardy schtick with the cat, and the peculiar fascination with A.J.'s tribulations (we get it, he's a self-absorbed loser).

But that sudden cut to silent black (that had us frantically reaching for the remote to make sure the cable hadn't gone out) was simply hostile. Thanks a lot, pal. After all these years of loyal viewing and taking our money, you go out with an ending that was about as satisfying as a dud firecracker.

If I’m expected to work that hard at wrapping up the end of the series, I should be paid the going rate for scriptwriters, plus union benefits.

It smacked of such artistic Hari Kari, I'm starting to wonder if Chase didn't willfully shoot himself in the foot.

Vanity Fair's April profile of Chase noted his formative years were spent as an underloved only child of woefully unhealthy parents. He’s always been open about his mother being the inspiration for the role of Livia Soprano, Tony’s relentlessly damaging mother.

Post-college, Chase moved to Hollywood to begin a script-writing career, but more importantly, to flee his parents.

What has all this to do with the shockingly disappointing final episode?

Since the series began a decade ago, Chase has been up to his elbows in glowing reviews and trophies. Aside from a few disgruntled remarks about the Tony-in-a-coma storyline last year, it was a continual stream of media praise. Fans stopped short of making graven images of Chase. When the final nine episodes edged toward airdate, the acclaim snowballed into an avalanche.

You don't have to be Dr. Melfi to know that low self-esteem and intense praise can't really peacefully co-exist.

So, Chase made a move that hopefully would ensure the most successful chapter of his career would not end on swells of a lingering high note: He gave us no ending – a move interpreted by his most ardent fans as brilliant.

It was clever, I’ll give him that, but just not in terms of plot.

What better way to a) kick sand in the faces of those twisted souls who admired him and b) leave the door open for the red carpet premiere of Big Screen Tony?

Chase has been quoted as saying that feature films have been his goal all along. And why not? Tony, Carmella, Meadow, and A.J. weren’t definitively taken out in the final scene. Add Paulie, Patsy, Dr. Melfi, Janice, Artie, Hesh, et al, and you’ve practically got a full cast. And mark my words: if it does happen, Silvio WILL emerge from that coma he wasn’t expected to recover from. Hopefully the movie can address if the miracle was tied into Paulie’s Lourdes-like vision of Mother Mary hovering above the stage at Bada Bing.

My admiration for Chase’s brilliance demonstrated in The Soprano’s first 85 episodes will always remain intact.

But perhaps it will provide him with a measure of psychological relief that, along with millions of other smarting viewers, the stunt he pulled in the final scene changed my opinion of him irrevocably. Buddy, if you didn't want legions of admirers, why not just go work for the IRS?

I doubt I'll put out for the double-digit ticket price if and when The Soprano’s are resurrected on the big screen.

Episode 86 was enough for me.

Commandatore, Ciao.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Empathy Can Eradicate Bullying

Published in the May 6, 2007 edition of The Times Union

By Stacey Morris

There is nothing that will ever excuse what Seung-Hui Cho did when he viciously snuffed out 32 lives, and then his own, in an orgy of violence, the hideous dénouement of his long-simmering, and apparently quite noticeable internalized rage.

But it’s time we wake up to something.

As a society, we can no longer afford to sweep school bullying under the rug.

The questions remain: was Cho a self-absorbed psychopath with a persecution complex; a castigated man-kid who took one emotional hit too many; or a toxic blend of both? It will take months to piece together his psychological history.

But let’s look at a few things we know so far:

High school classmates have been quoted as remembering the unrelenting ridicule directed at Cho over his accent, and it eventually left him terrified to speak. Sometimes the verbal taunts would escalate into physical aggression. Not exactly the way to lay some tracks for a positive self-image.

Since this mirrors similar accounts from past school shootings, isn’t it fair to say that there’s enough smoke here to admit there is, in fact, a spark or two causing it?

Can we finally acknowledge that it’s no longer viable to dismiss the shredding of children’s self-esteem with a kids-will-be kids shrug? And aren’t we resourceful enough to change the equation?

Granted, reactions like Cho’s are thankfully rare. But we need to become as wary of bullying as we are of cheating in our classrooms.

Because a) do we want to go through this every few years and b) what about the picked-on and mistreated who fly under the radar their entire lives?

The damage manifests in varying degrees, from settling for an unchallenging career or a bad relationship, to numbing the ache with substances, to the ultimate headline-grabbing response.

You don’t have to be Dr. Joyce Brothers to connect the dots.

I, along with other less-than-flawless members of my class, was bullied at school. But this was during the ‘70s, when the media menagerie was as tranquil as a Monet painting. The edgy TV crime dramas were “Columbo” and “The Rockford Files.” Space Invaders was as rough as it got with video games, and my lone brush with cinematic violence was the attack scenes in ‘Jaws.’ Looking back, Spielberg’s account of a hungry shark on a rampage is G-rated compared with “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and its ilk.

I think I speak for most of my generation when I say how profoundly grateful I am for never having my mind exposed to the psychological filth that’s spewed across the psyches of today’s youth.

School teasing coupled with Molotov cocktails of celluloid violence might not be the total cause for Cho’s coming unhinged but it certainly could have tipped the scales.

Do we want to continue to take chances with this? Is there anyone out there who objects to a culture of respect being born in the school system?

And let’s not pretend we don’t have an inside track on some of Cho’s demons. No one reading this hasn’t experienced it either via witnessing, perpetrating, or being on the receiving end of school-yard cruelty.

Whether it’s because someone is fat, buck-toothed, ethnically different from the majority, bespectacled, shy, tall, short, skinny, or is simply designated by a power-clique to be a target, it seems most of us have been ripe candidates at one time or another.

Maybe it’s time to make Peter Yarrow’s “Don’t Laugh At Me” program a mandatory part of the curriculum in all schools.

Yarrow, of Peter, Paul and Mary fame, founded Operation Respect in an effort to make classrooms more conducive to turning out well-rounded, happy individuals.

Operation Respect’s goal is “to assure each child and youth a respectful, safe, and compassionate climate of learning where their academic, social, and emotional development can take place free of bullying, ridicule, and violence.”

How tired I am of our national fetish to turn kids into mean, lean competitive machines, starting with T-Ball, while our humanity skills are atrophying by the day. In simple English: teaching children to be competitive is putting the cart before the horse.

Wouldn’t there be a bigger payoff in the long run if we groomed children into thoughtful, compassionate human beings who are given explicit instructions and concrete examples of how to be considerate and empathetic toward others?

Instead of buying into the win-lose mythology of the sports world, why not give kids trophies for practicing The Golden Rule? No genetic gifts or talents required to win this one. Simply tapping into one’s innate ability to care is enough.

Clearly, this isn’t just a teacher issue (they have their hands fuller than ever these days); it’s society’s issue.

And spare me the sticks and stones rationale.

Anyone who’s not lobotomized knows that ridicule does, in fact, damage.

And we should be so lucky were it only sticks and stones…nowadays, the range of weaponry is far more sophisticated.

Friday, April 20, 2007

My Favorite Places

L.A. - Yes, L.A. Despite there not being a George Clooney sighting during my visit. The daily sun was Manna for my Northern New York Soul - and Miss Mary was the perfect Tour Guide. My visor & I had a fantastic time.

Israel was an odd, magical elixer of Ancient and New. Words don't do it justice. I urge you to visit someday and experience it.

Paris - It was everything I expected and more. And the French? Don't believe the hype. They were delightful!

Cal-A-Vie Spa in Vista, Calif. - A seamless blending of fitness and luxury. Even in the face of a 1,500-calorie-a-day diet, I wanted not to leave.

I love everything about Amsterdam and The Dutch. They are a kind and laid-back people. Best yogurt I've had anywhere and their Frittes alone are worth the plane ticket.

Amelia Island Plantation, Florida - Where even the stop signs are Green.

Vieques, Puerto Rico - For once, it really did look like one of those travel ads: The sun was constant, the water sparkling turquoise, and...we had the beach to ourselves. Need I say more?

Arthur Avenue, The Bronx - Italian-Imports Central. Teitel Bros. Imports, Mike's Deli, Terra Nova Bakery - Ti Amo!

All of Me

As the blog title suggests, you're getting all of me, in a manner of speaking. How I react to the world around me, whether it's a current event, something momentous or moving in my personal life; and my thoughts on what Inspires, angers, disgusts, tickles me, etc.

I'm a longtime writer who stepped out into the world of freelancing after 11 years at a daily newspaper. The only thing I miss are the weekly opinion columns (ok, and a few people) that I treasured writing. So here I am.

Thanks for stopping in. I welcome your Reading and your Reaction.

- Stacey

A Quintessential Class Act

Even though she was 96, I still felt a tug at my heartstrings when I heard that Ms. Kitty Carlisle Hart had passed two nights ago. Here's my tribute to her via one of my old opinion columns (2003) I've dusted off. She was quite remarkable and an inspiration. I'll probably always be in awe of her eternal elegance. In recognition of Kitty Carlisle Hart's zest for life, my goal is to master that thing she did (right up until the end, according to a recent issue of Vanity Fair) to stay in shape: lying prone and placing her feet behind her head on the floor. Oy Vey, my palms are sweating thinking about it. Thanks for the memories Ms. Carlisle-Hart. From your jewels and floor-length gowns on To Tell The Truth to that Enchanted August Evening I saw you perform on stage at The Southern Vermont Arts Center in Manchester - you were Superlative.

Hart Defeats Nature with Grace

With all the promised elixirs of youth out there, from Botox injections to dropping $1,000 for a jar of Creme de la Mer, there seems to be one tonic that's been overlooked by the masses.

I'm guessing it doesn't get a lot of press because a.) it's intangible and b.) it doesn't cost a cent.
Webster's dictionary defines the graciousness as "having or showing kindness, charm or courtesy," and Kitty Carlisle Hart had it in spades Saturday at The Southern Vermont Arts Center.

Any mention of the legendary performer and arts patron these days is usually prefaced or followed with the incredulity that she's 92 and hardly looks it.

My curiosity about how this borderline centenarian looks, feels and acts a good three decades younger intrigued me to the point where I made the 90-minute journey to Manchester over unlit country roads full of hairpin turns to see Hart in person.

I already knew some of her secrets: yoga, remaining active with things that interested her and refusing to ever get a facial (the excessive pulling on the skin does more harm than good, she said).

But there had to be more to the equation, aside from blessed genes.

Hart was, not surprisingly, incandescent onstage Saturday night.

So much so that I now maintain that you haven't lived until you've seen Kitty Carlisle Hart's sparkling eyes look out at you as she sings the lilting "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes." That may not sound like your idea of high-octane living, but witnessing someone about to turn 93 so vibrant and in love with life is, by definition, inspirational.

But here's what I found most admirable about Hart: she made no attempt to conceal her years.
There was no subterfuge of tightly pulled facial features or the one-dimensional inkiness of overly dyed hair.

Seeing her up close as she signed books after her performance, two things were clear: Hart's face was lined handsomely from the thousands of smiles she gave during the past nine decades -- and she wasn't bothered by it.

Otherwise she would have long ago paid a surgeon to pull the offending skin back to her ears.
The moment I realized it was the longest book signing I'd ever stood on line for was when I understood Hart's true beauty secret was graciousness.

She took each person who approached her aside like a close confidant. Whether they bought a book or not, she beckoned them from in front of the table to where she sat, leaning close, listening, laughing with them.

As book signings go, it was truly odd to see no one rushed off the line or treated brusquely.
Throwing her head back to laugh along with a white-haired fan or clutching the hand of a man in his 20s who knelt at her side, Hart was kind as kind could be -- and Honey, did it show.