2016: Bad for Celebs, Pretty Darn Good for Gutmans

I’m not a big fan of the year-end holiday letter, mostly because I don’t care if your cat had a bladder infection in August. But the busier we all are, the less opportunity we have to connect in real life — and frankly when you have 1,000 “friends” on Facebook it’s easy to miss big life events. It turns out we’ve had some pretty big life events in the past few months alone, so in the spirit of connecting I figured I’d write a quick blog post to share the biggies.

There’s no question 2016 will go down as one of the worst years in memory for celebrities, who died at an alarming rate. The NYT ran a list of 2016 celebrity deaths earlier this week and it was scary (RIP Fyvush Finkel). And of course, 2016 will always be remembered as the year the lunatics took over the asylum that is the American government. Yet, for some reason, 2016 has been a pretty good year for my immediate family. We’ve had some big career events, some big life events, and one third of us moved across the country for a big adventure. Here are some highlights:

  • Leslie passed her Certified Financial Planner license exam last month after what seemed like a lifetime of studying. Big kudos to my amazing life partner!
  • I took a lateral move at the American Heart Association in June in order to better position myself for the future, and that move was rewarded this week with a promotion to a Foundation Relations Adviser role. The position is on our national Mission Advancement team based in Dallas, and I’ll be focused fully on building relationships and writing grant proposals to support the AHA’s mission. My territory will include foundations across the organization’s western region that makes up 16 states. I had my three year anniversary with the AHA this month and can say with all certainty that deciding to work in the nonprofit sector was the best career decision of my life.
  • Also this week I landed the largest single foundation gift of my short nonprofit career, a $75,000 grant to provide CPR training kits to high schools in rural Arizona. I hope this is the first of many partnerships I will develop to help improve the cardiac care of Americans across the western U.S.

    madison-place

    Madison Place at Greer Manor

  • This morning we found out that the offer we made on a townhouse has been accepted. My financial adviser (AKA brilliant wife) made it clear recently that given the financial climate and our desire to actually retire one day, we needed to get off the sidelines after nearly five years of renting. We have had a blast in downtown Phoenix in our luxury apartment in the sky, and while we like downtown we didn’t want to buy here. Our new townhouse is located in a great neighborhood (16th St. and Missouri) that is a nice mix of urban and suburban appeal, and it’s only 1.2 miles from Leslie’s office and zero miles from my office (yep, I will continue to work from home in my new role). So, we’ll be moving to the “Biltmore” area in February. If you live in Central Phoenix I look forward to seeing you soon at Luci’s Healthy Marketplace or Duck and Decanter – both walking distance to our new home!
  • 2016 has been a bittersweet year for us in terms of our amazing son Connor. In May he informed us that college was not his cup of tea and that he was dropping out of ASU after one year (this coming as we received a letter from ASU that he’d made the dean’s list). On top of this news, he also informed us that he was moving to New York to follow his dreams (and his amazing girlfriend Clare, who was accepted at the New School in Manhattan). After a few months of going back and forth to the Big Apple, he will be leaving us permanently next week (that’s the bitter part). The sweet part is that he has a great apartment in Brooklyn, he’s making a living as a freelance web developer, and this week, thanks in part to some dual enrollment credits from high school, he’ll be completing his associate’s degree from Rio Salado College. In January he’s enrolling in an innovative Nanodegree program through Udacity that will ultimately lead to him learning even more advanced web development skills. Whether he continues as a freelancer or decides to join a company, after the program he’ll be well positioned to earn a great living in this very competitive field. I am ridiculously proud of him for chasing his own dreams and doing it own way.

There’s more, but these are the big ones. Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!

I Am Spartacus!

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In the early 1940s, as American workers still recovering from the Great Depression found themselves still facing difficult working conditions, upwards of 75,000 Americans joined the American Communist Party as a way to rally around worker rights. The movement was focused solely on improving America and not on aligning with the Soviet Union. One of those who joined the movement was novelist and screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, who along with a handful of his friends in Hollywood, fought to improve working conditions for everyone involved in the film making industry — not just studio heads and famous actors.

But as the “Red Scare” grew across America, fueled by political rhetoric and fear, Trumbo and his friends were called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee and when he and others refused to name names he was blacklisted from Hollywood and jailed for 11 months. Trumbo was an American citizen, born and raised in Colorado, and he spent time in prison because of an idea. For years during his Hollywood exile, Trumbo continued to write screenplays under a series of pseudonyms and won two Academy Awards he could not collect. After more than a decade on the blacklist, he was finally able to return to public life and work under his own name thanks in large part to actor and producer Kirk Douglas who hired him to write Spartacus and despite significant pressure against doing so from the industry and congressional representatives, credited Trumbo publicly with writing the screenplay.

I am writing about this today because yesterday I watched the film Trumbo starring Bryan Cranston and it struck me as eerily familiar. I knew a little bit about the Hollywood blacklist and the Red Scare, but I didn’t know Trumbo’s story and I certainly didn’t know how things exploded so quickly in Hollywood toward the exclusion of some of the best talent in the movie industry. The film was fantastic by the way, and Cranston undoubtedly deserved his Academy Award nomination. If you have not seen it, do so right away. And tell your friends to see it. Frankly, the story is so timely every American should watch it today.

It’s 2016, nearly 70 years since the blacklist began and Trumbo served time for an idea, and I’m afraid America has learned nothing from its own history. Nada. Bupkis.

Here we are experiencing another “red” scare. And while nobody has been blacklisted or jailed yet, we are one election away from sheer madness and a repeat of one of the darkest periods in American history. Back then, the red scare was fueled by people we knew — John Wayne, Ronald Reagan, Hedda Hopper, Walt Disney and a great many members of congress and the political landscape. Americans were being divided. It was madness.

Today, we are experiencing the exact same thing. Exact. Same. Thing. Except instead of Communists, we are being systematically told that the enemy are Mexicans and Latino-Americans, Muslims and Muslim-Americans, African-Americans, and members of the LGBTQ community. Anyone who conservatives and xenophobes consider “others” or different from themselves can’t be “real” Americans and must therefore be a threat to our country. You know, the country that Donald Trump wants to make “great” again. In this case, “great” means white and Christian and male.

But you know this. We all know it. Trump and his goon squad aren’t even attempting subtlety. They are proud of their blatant racist and sexist rhetoric. And what’s worse, it seems to be working. This is another “red” scare, make no mistake about it. But the bigger issue is, what can we do about it?

Which brings me to Spartacus. For those of you who haven’t seen it, the climactic scene of the film occurs when Spartacus steps forward to his accusers and exclaims: I Am Spartacus. He knows that by doing this he will be killed, but he knows too that he is right and that he’d rather die for doing the right thing than run away or hide behind others. But it’s at that point when everything changes — one by one each of his fellow gladiators step forward and exclaim: I Am Spartacus. Frankly, it’s one of the greatest scenes in film history and yes, it was written by Dalton Trumbo while he was on the blacklist. How friggin’ cool is that?

The blacklist began to end when Americans stood up and said: No More. First Kirk Douglas and then Exodus director Otto Preminger. Then one by one the blacklist fell and Hollywood got back to the business of making films. Yes, it took a while to heal, but eventually Hollywood healed. Three words took down the blacklist. I Am Spartacus.

So to those of you who think what Donald Trump is doing to America is OK, I say this:

I Am Mexican-American.

I Am African-American.

I Am Muslim.

I Am Gay.

Stand up for the “other” with me. Scream it loud and scream it wide. I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!

 

Go ‘Un’-Confidently in the Direction of Your Dreams

It’s graduation season and that means graduates around the country are being ushered off into the world with a never-ending series of clichés about the future. Take the Road Less Traveled. The World is Your Oyster. Oh the Places You’ll Go. Be Less Afraid. The Future Belongs to Those Who Believe in the Beauty of Their Dreams.

Great advice…that hardly anybody ever takes. The vast majority of people do exactly what’s expected of them. They graduate from high school, go to college, get a job, slave away for 50 years until retirement, then shuffle off this mortal coil. I think people take the road most traveled because they are afraid of the unknown. The common path is predictable and safe and nobody can fault you for following the herd. Unfortunately, that leads to a life that resembles another famous quote — Most Men Live Lives of Quiet Desperation.

I’m not one to talk. I played by the rules, went to college, and then worked in a series of not very fulfilling  jobs. It was only by accident that I veered off path, thanks in some part to a major health crisis followed by an ill-advised move to California. Frankly, I think my journey has been more about serendipity than anything I planned. But hey, I’ll take it. I’m finally really happy in life and hopefully I still have some time left on this earth.

road-less-traveledI bring this subject up because it’s graduation season, true, but it’s also the start of what looks like is going to be the last summer Leslie and I will have with Connor at home. And ironically, it is this particular 18-year-old who continues to teach me about life. It was supposed to be the other way around! As I said, most people don’t realize they are living an inauthentic life until they are in their 30s or 40s and decide to make a change — at a time when change is perhaps most difficult. This summer Connor has taught me to think hard about the choices I made in life and question what motivated those choices. In fact, I’ve been boasting about my life-changing decision to go to work for a nonprofit all while I’ve been questioning his motivations for doing what he wants. What a hypocrite I have been. He is choosing to take the road less traveled for real, at age 18, and rather than be concerned I should be thrilled for him. Instead I have been wary…but that changes today.

Connor, I am proud of you for following your bliss even though it flies in the face of so-called mainstream decisions. It took me until my late 40s before I did something controversial, and here you are at 18 going for it. You truly are an inspiration to me and I respect you immensely. It doesn’t matter what I did when I was 18. It doesn’t matter what most people do when they are 18. What matters is that you do what you want to do. And even if it doesn’t work out, I’m proud of you for trying. Now is the best time to try new things because you have plenty of time to adjust your path. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

One thing I can say I’ve learned in my 50 years is that you never know what life is going to throw at you. Here’s a popular quote that I actually like: Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans. If you are graduating from high school this month, or college, do me a favor and don’t listen to your parents. Don’t go to the local college because it’s what everyone else in your class is doing. Don’t take the job because it’s safe. Take a gap year. Travel abroad. Go work on a farm. Move in with your boyfriend or girlfriend. Start an alternative rock band. Work for a cause.

Or do what Connor is doing after one year at ASU — drop out, go to work for yourself, and follow the love of your life across the country. You have the rest of your life to wonder what if.

 

 

10 Things Every American Should Know About Jackie Robinson

Colorado Rockies v San Diego Padres

Today is April 15 and it’s the 69th anniversary of the day Jack Roosevelt Robinson stepped onto the diamond at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, NY and broke the Major League Baseball color barrier. Major League Baseball retired Jackie’s number 42 for all teams a few years back, but each year on this day MLB celebrates by having every player on every team wear #42. It’s a beautiful tribute and an important day for reflection on how far we’ve come (and how far we still must go) toward racial equality in America.

Jackie Robinson is one of my personal heroes for several reasons. As a Brooklyn native, I am proud that my birthplace was the place where this amazing man stepped into the national spotlight. As a baseball fan, I love how he played the game. And as an American, I’m proud of how Jackie impacted race relations in America. Jackie Robinson truly represents all that is good and possible in this country.

Along with having just the right temperament needed to be the first black major leaguer, Jackie Robinson was in fact a tremendous baseball player. While his health limited him to just 10 years, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame and his statistical marks are outstanding. But this is not a post about Jackie’s baseball career, because while baseball remembers him on this day all Americans should honor Jackie Robinson for his contributions to racial justice off the field as well. For baseball fans and non-baseball fans alike, here are ten things about Jackie Robinson that every American should know:

  • In 1942 after Jackie’s graduation from UCLA (where he was the school’s first athlete to win varsity letters in four sports: baseball, basketball, football, and track) he was drafted into the Army and was later court-martialed for refusing to move to the back of a non-segregated bus. He was eventually acquitted but his trial kept him from serving overseas during WW II.
  • Following the 1956 season, with his legs hobbled from diabetes, the Dodgers traded Jackie to the crosstown rival Giants. Rather than play for the Giants, he retired and took an executive job at Chock Full o’Nuts, a chain of coffee shops with a large African-American employee base. From 1957 to 1964, Jackie was the vice president for personnel at Chock full o’Nuts; he was the first black person to serve as vice president of a major American corporation.
  • In December 1956, the NAACP recognized him with the Spingarn Medal, which it awards annually for the highest achievement by an African-American.
  • Jackie was very political and following his baseball career he was actively involved in American politics. In 1960 he campaigned for Richard Nixon because his record on race relations was better than that of Nixon’s opponent, Senator John F. Kennedy. However, following Republican opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 he switched party allegiance.
  • In 1966 Jackie was named special assistant for community affairs under New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller.
  • In the late 1960s Jackie was publicly critical of the fact that there were no African-American managers in baseball. In 1972 after reluctantly agreeing to throw out the first pitch at the World Series he said, “I’m going to be tremendously more pleased and more proud when I look at that third base coaching line one day and see a black face managing in baseball.” Frank Robinson was named the first black manager in 1974; however, Jackie did not live to see it.
  • Jackie spent a lot of time in the South during the racial unrest of the late 1960s, even appearing with Dr. Martin Luther King. Jackie was a hero to southern blacks for breaking the color barrier in baseball.
  • Jackie and his wife Rachel had a difficult time finding a suburban home to buy in the greater New York area in the 1960s because of discriminatory real estate practices. They eventually found a home in  North Stamford, Connecticut, but only after being taken in first by Simon & Schuster co-founder Richard Simon and his family (which included Simon’s young daughter Carly.)
  • Robinson’s eldest son, Jackie Robinson Jr., had emotional trouble during his childhood in part due to being one of the only black kids in Stamford. He enrolled in the Army in search of a disciplined environment, served in the Vietnam War, and was wounded in action. After his discharge, he struggled with drug problems, later became a drug counselor, and tragically was killed in a car accident at just 24 years of age. Jackie Jr.’s struggles with drugs turned Jackie Sr. into an avid anti-drug crusader later in his life.
  • Jackie suffered from diabetes and heart disease at a young age and died of a heart attack on Oct. 24, 1972. He was just 53 years old.

If you haven’t seen it yet, there’s a great new documentary by Ken Burns on PBS about Jackie’s life. Look for it on TV or watch it online here.

From Russia With Love?

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Yesterday my ancestry research introduced me to the term Landsmanschaft, which is German for “cultural society”. When Jewish immigrants arrived in the U.S., they joined societies made up of other immigrants from their village. One of the many things these societies did was provide for burial in the society area of cemeteries. It turns out, if you know the name of the society where your Jewish ancestors are buried, you can find out what town they came from in the old country. There’s even a neat database where you can plug in the name of the society and it’ll tell you the town it’s affiliated with. So, mystery solved — the Gutmans (including my great grandfather Samuel and his brothers and sisters, as well as his parents Benjamin and Mollie) came to New York around 1900 from a village called Pechora in central Ukraine.

But before I buy a Ukrainian flag and celebrate my new found ancestral home, it should be noted that the reason they were in Pechora in the first place was likely because around 1800 Russian Empress Catherine II declared that all of the region’s Jews were to be relocated into one area of the empire known as the Pale of Settlement. Once they got to the Pale, they were considered second class citizens and eventually the locals started burning down their homes and businesses and killing them in what were called pogroms. I suspect that by 1900 my ancestors knew they were in danger and decided to get out of dodge and head to America. It’s a good thing they did, because a few decades later Pechora became home to a German concentration camp and thousands of Jews were killed and buried in mass graves.

I don’t know from where my ancestors were forced out of in order to end up in Pechora, but I suspect the non-Semites didn’t like them there either. It was probably some other part of Russia, but it’s tough to identify with any country that hated your ancestors enough to round them up, force them out and/or kill them. So am I Russian? Ukrainian? Something else? My DNA suggests my bloodline is mostly Eastern European and West Asian. Of course, I believe all mankind came from the first humans who came into existence in Northern Africa. Does that make me African?

Which leads to an even more esoteric question: aren’t we all African? Americans typically have a lot of pride in their heritage or “home country.” We like to identify as Irish Americans or Italian Americans or African Americans. But it’s not that cut and dry, especially if you agree with the majority of scientists who now believe that we do indeed all come from a common ancestor who lived in Africa. Here’s what National Geographic has to say:

Our species is an African one: Africa is where we first evolved, and where we have spent the majority of our time on Earth. The earliest fossils of recognizably modern Homo sapiens appear in the fossil record at Omo Kibish in Ethiopia, around 200,000 years ago.

Doing ancestry research is a fun hobby, and it definitely provides a unique window into how we got where we did. But for all the work, it’s good to remember that if we go back far enough we are all related. That’s a great lesson to keep in mind, especially in a world full of so much geographic and ethnic hate.

 

Are You Being Eaten by Lions?

My wife Leslie and I have a little saying for when things get rough: Are you being eaten by lions? The reference is from David Eggers’ outstanding book What is the What, which tells the story of a “lost boy” of the Sudan named Valentino Deng. In the book, Valentino and the other boys from his village have been forced to flee and are making their way through the Sudanese countryside without knowing where they are going or what awaits them when they get there. Every so often during this trek, a lion would randomly attack and run off with one of the boys. Thus, no matter how bad one’s life may seem, you have to keep it in perspective. After all, you could be dinner for a hungry beast.

For the past few days I have had a nasty sinus infection that has been kicking my ass. I’ve had some time to kill on the sofa, and so I’ve watched a few movies. Without really planning it, I ended up watching three movies with the common theme of people overcoming hardship. The first of these films was Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken, the tale of WWII veteran and Olympic athlete Louis Zamperini. Louie was shot down over the Pacific during WWII and after surviving nearly 50 days at sea in a tiny life raft was “saved” by the Japanese who proceeded to send him to a prisoner of war camp where he was singled out because of his Olympic pedigree. Zamperini survived and went on to live a productive life which he dedicated to the God he believes spared his life. The following day I watched Tig, the story of comedian Tig Notaro’s surprising way of handling her life after being diagnosed with breast cancer. She used comedy to cope and her attitude helped her recover, but also helped her rededicate her life to her dreams. Finally, I watched Life Itself, a documentary about the life and last days of legendary film critic Roger Ebert. This film, which not surprisingly deserves an enthusiastic thumbs up, shows us Ebert’s remarkable climb to success, but more importantly his will to survive and continue his work even after his body was ravaged with jaw and bone cancer. The dude kept smiling even when he no longer had a face. That is attitude!

All three of these films, and frankly the Eggers book as well, left me with an urgent desire to give myself a little attitude adjustment. In the weeks and months following my heart attack in 2011, I told myself I wasn’t going to take life for granted anymore and I was going to live life to its fullest. For a while, I was true to my word. I got the car of my dreams, I moved to California (and back), and I eventually got a new job that I love. But even while I was singing my own praises for these actions, I was beginning to fall back into old habits. Part of it had to do with the complacency that came with time, but in truth I have also been dealing with another medical issue that I have not been public about and which has caused me a lot of physical pain. I have been down on myself while trying to battle this issue, and it has challenged me mentally as well (and challenged my wife’s patience). It has definitely been a struggle, and throughout it I’ve tried to remind myself that it wasn’t life threatening and…well…I wasn’t being chased across the Sudanese savanna by hungry lions. Nevertheless, I was letting it keep me from doing the things I want to do in life.

These films reminded me to quit whining and get back to living life. Frankly, I was most struck by Tig Notaro’s journey. She isn’t the first person to deal with a family death and then a devastating diagnosis, but she may have been the first person ever to confront these issues on stage at a comedy club. If you don’t know the story, just days after getting diagnosed with cancer, Notaro decided to talk about it on stage. The resulting stand up routine became legendary, it went viral, and soon after Tig’s entire life changed. She became hugely famous, she did every talk show, she sold thousands of copies of her “comedy” routine, she got a TV show, and more. Here’s a few minutes of the actual routine from that night if you haven’t heard it:

You can download the entire set online if you like. Of course Tig beat cancer, but afterward she started to live the life she dreamed for herself, including finding the love of her life, getting married and having kids. She literally smiled her way through cancer. She joked about it wherever she went. She didn’t let her health issues define her. Tig Notaro understood that she wasn’t about to be eaten by a lion. She was certainly frightened, and she thought she might die, but even during the worst time in her life she kept things in perspective.

I needed this little reminder that I wasn’t about to become lion supper. My health issues are not life threatening. In fact, aside from this little battle with my sinuses I’m actually feeling better these days. For a while there, I was feeling all woe is me about life. I was starting to let it get the best of me. But Tig Nitaro is right — you gotta laugh at this shit.

Something Happened and We’re Head Over Heels

TearsForFears

Connor and I posing backstage at the Wild Horse Pass Casino with Curt Smith (left) and Roland Orzabal (right), also known as Tears For Fears.

Last Friday I blogged about the pleasures of a father sharing his love for music with his son, sparked by the Tears For Fears show that night at Wild Horse Pass in Chandler. The post apparently touched a few readers and it got shared quite a bit on Facebook and Twitter. Well, we had no idea it would lead to such a memorable moment for my son Connor and I, but that it did. Here’s the story that led to this incredible photo of Connor and I back stage with Curt Smith and Roland Orzabal.

One of my friends, Barb Harris, shared my blog post with her friend Eric Schaefer. I didn’t know Eric, who lives here in the Valley, but apparently he too is a big Tears For Fears fan and somehow over the years he had befriended none other than Curt Smith. Well, Eric enjoyed my blog post so much that he tweeted a link to Curt Smith. A little while later, I had two new followers on Twitter — Eric and Curt! Imagine how I felt when I was notified that I had a new follower and it was one of my musical heroes!

But the story gets better. A few hours later, Eric sent me a note that there would be two backstage passes for Connor and I at the box office and that after the show we were going to get to meet Tears For Fears. Eric and his daughter went to the venue early to meet up with Curt and apparently Curt was touched by my post. Needless to say Connor and I were thrilled. We drove over to the venue, picked up our passes, and went into the theater to watch the show.

The concert was spectacular — I had seen Tears For Fears three times previously, but it was obviously Connor’s first TFF show and it was really great to enjoy it along with him. At the end of the show we lined up at the back of the theater to be escorted back stage to get our photo with Curt and Roland. As we moved our way up to the front of the line and got closer to the band, we noticed Curt looking our way. Then he caught our attention and said, “Are you Connor?”

He proceeded to give Connor a hard time about having a beard, then we chit chatted a bit while we took our photo. Roland was quite shy, but I decided to put my arm around him anyway! Curt seemed genuinely pleased to meet Connor and it was certainly more than we expected. He gave Connor a nice firm handshake as we left and thanked us for coming. As we walked out of the theater we couldn’t believe how the day turned out. It was a father-son bonding experience that we will never forget.

That’s the thing about social media — you just never know who might be paying attention.

A Very Public Love Letter

00001060Let’s be honest, when it comes to marriage I am a major overachiever. Just take a look at this photo for all the proof you need. How the hell did Farmer Ted from Sixteen Candles score the hottest girl in town? I must have had a great personality.

Today is my bride’s 45th birthday. But when I look at her now I still see this gorgeous young object of my desires. Sure, she has remained remarkably youthful in appearance, something she adorably credits to Dove moisturizing bars. But I think it’s more than that. I think she lives her life with a youthful exuberance, something I find very difficult to do but it seems to be embedded in her DNA.  Sometimes we’ll be sitting on the sofa surfing the web on our devices and she’ll just start giggling and I realize she’s still a little girl at heart. I’m jealous of that attribute.

It’s no secret I’ve had a rough couple of years health wise. I’ve been very public about my heart attack but in truth there have been a few other issues I’ve kept more private. The good news is I’m doing great, but health issues will certainly put a strain on a relationship. I’d like to publicly thank Leslie for being there for me and for being so strong, not only dealing with my mood swings but taking such good care of me. The marriage vows may feel a bit cliché, but I really understand the meaning of “for better or for worse, in sickness and in health.” They also say married men live longer, and I am a true believer in that cliché as well. Throughout this ordeal she has been by my side, taking notes at doctors appointments, cooking healthy food for me, nudging me (sometime shoving me) when I attempt to make a bad food choice, and generally advocating for my health. I am lucky as hell and if you ever have a health issue I hope you have your own Leslie by your side to help you along.

But back to her 21658_4928203685754_1864494528_nyouthful appearance. Check out this photo taken recently. This is Leslie as she hits her mid-40s. Compare it to the one above, taken when she was around 23. Can you say fountain of youth? The girl still gets carded on occasion for crying out loud! Yep, she’s still fucking gorgeous.

But more important than her external beauty is her internal beauty. She’s a loving, caring, generous and warm person. She goes out of her way to help people, even people she barely knows. I think that’s one reason she has been so successful at her job for going on 21 years. She doesn’t just think of customer service as a job, it’s also in her DNA. She would literally give you the shirt off her back if you needed it.

Leslie is also the most amazing mother you’ve ever seen. We have some friends who had kids with very serious health issues and the doctors were useless. The mom took it upon herself to learn everything she could about her kids conditions and even when doctors gave up she kept pushing and pushing until she helped identify a treatment. It’s basically a Lorenzo’s Oil situation. Well, Leslie likes to give lots of credit to those particular parents but when I think about what she’s done for our son I think she’s the superhero. Luckily Connor’s health issues have never been life threatening, but they have been a  constant pain in the rear and Leslie has been relentless in her pursuit of better health for him. At 16 he is now in the best health of his life and you can see how his quality of life has improved. I know she’ll say that’s just her job as a mom, but trust me when I say she is a hero.

We are coming up on our 21st wedding anniversary. For those of you who are married, you understand what a feat that is. It’s remarkable that one of us hasn’t killed the other yet. And while we’ve had our share of downs, the ups have far outweighed them. We’ve made some stupid decisions (like moving to Atlanta, and moving to San Diego) but we’ve made some great decisions (having a kid, moving to Phoenix, moving back to Phoenix, moving back to Phoenix again) and through it all we’ve stayed by each other’s side. No matter what we do, Leslie always creates a path to making things better. She has counseled me through multiple job changes and a career change, she cheered me as I went back to school to get a master’s that I don’t use, she stood by me when my dad got sick, and kept her family strong when her mother died. She plans every vacation, every major purchase, every detail of our lives. She’s even getting better at letting go of planning things when Connor and I want to go with the flow even though it’s hard for her.

I like to say Leslie is high maintenance but worth it. I think she’s finally comfortable with that description. In fact, she’s embraced it. And I should also mention (stop reading right now if you’re under 18) that she still knows how to rev up my engines. Sure things have slowed down in the intimacy department, but for crying out loud we’re middle-aged! We work hard and we’re tired all the time! But we still got it baby! Almost 21 years and she still knows how to surprise me.

45 is a monumental birthday. You’re closer to 50 than 40, and that milestone has got to be epic. But if you know Leslie I bet you find it difficult to believe she’s 45 today. I sure do. Because when I think of her in my mind’s eye I always think of that photo above with her sitting on my lap and how amazing I felt that a girl like that would go out with a guy like me. That’s my favorite picture of Leslie in case it isn’t obvious. And twentysomething years later sometimes I walk into the house after work and look at her and I still see that young woman and that big smile and I think,no, I know, I’m the luckiest guy in the world.

Happy Birthday Leslie Gutman!

 

The AFI Top 100: Final Thoughts

AFI_logoNow that I have completed watching the American Film Institute’s Top 100 American films I wanted to close the book on the project by providing a few general thoughts as well as offering up some of the biggest surprises (both good and bad) about the list. I do have to say right off the bat that I am a sucker for lists. I like to read them and then debate them and/or compare them to my own experiences, which is why this was a fun project. It should also be noted that lists are all the rage right now thanks to websites like BuzzFeed and Mental Floss and the emergence of listicles. It appears we all love a good list.

So, is the AFI Top 100 American Films a good list? I’d say yes, with some caveats. The biggest issue I have with the AFI list is that it was voted on by so-called film experts who tend to err on the side of tradition and safe. The AFI list is safe. There are really no indie films or quirky films anywhere to be found. And that’s a shame because I am a huge fan of quirky independent films. Additionally, because the AFI list was voted on by film makers it does not truly reflect the pulse of the viewing public. All you have to do to see the difference is to look at a list of top films as voted on by viewers, such as the 250 Best Films on the Internet Movie Database (IMDB). In the IMDB top 10 alone there are three films that didn’t even make the AFI Top 100 (The Dark Knight, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and Fight Club). Note that the AFI list came out in 2007 and the IMDB list is current so a few films on the IMDB list weren’t even out when the AFI list was published including The Dark Knight and Fight Club, though I can assure you these two would not have made the AFI list regardless.

Another criticism I have with the AFI list is that it included far too many very old films…silent film old. Some of the silent films it included in its Top 100 list were downright bad films, and in my opinion the majority of the pre-war films on the list just don’t hold up. Just because something is old does not mean it’s great (see Zsa Zsa Gabor). But generally, the AFI list did a decent job. Looking back at my reviews I enjoyed the vast majority of the films on the list even if I didn’t always agree about their place on the list.

So, I said there were some surprises. Here are five films I hadn’t seen and loved (links to my reviews included):

And of course, here are a five films that I hadn’t seen but flat-out hated or otherwise didn’t think had a place on this list or any other list:

If you missed it, last week I posted a list of my favorite 25 films of all time and of course many of them were not on the AFI list.

So, there you have it – my AFI epic quest has come to a close. As I mentioned in my last post, I need a new project so if you have any ideas for a list for me to watch send it along.

Run credits. Fade to black.

AFI #12: The Searchers

“I don’t feel we did wrong in taking this great country away from them, if that’s what you’re asking. Our so-called stealing of this country from them was just a matter of survival. There were great numbers of people who needed new land, and the Indians were selfishly trying to keep it for themselves.” — John Wayne, 1971

I’ve never been a fan of John Wayne. I find his real life persona so despicable (see the above quote for example) that I can’t get past it when I see him in films. So I was not looking forward to screening The Searchers, which is considered by many critics to be not only a great Western but one of the best films in American cinema history. After seeing it today, I have one thing to say: poppycock!

searchersI have never had such a visceral reaction to a film in my life. Yes, I was biased from the git-go given my feelings toward the Duke, but I don’t know how anyone can watch this film and not think it’s one of the most racist films ever shot. The story is simple. A Civil War veteran (Wayne) returns home to the Texas territory just as a band of marauding Comanche Indians ransack his family home, kill the adults and steal the women. Wayne then spends the rest of the film hunting down the tribe who killed his relatives to seek revenge and retrieve his niece. I get that this film was shot in 1956, but for me that doesn’t excuse the blatant racism and vitriol spewed from Wayne’s mouth regarding the Native Americans. It’s quite disgusting really, especially when you consider Wayne’s real life racist rants about Native Americans and other minority groups. The film treats the Comanche tribe as if they are subhuman, going so far as to imply that the women who are taken by the tribe “go Injun” to the point that they are no longer human or even worth bringing back into society. I seriously couldn’t get past the racism to make a decision as to the artistic merits of the film.

I have read some meaty reviews and commentary about The Searchers. Scorsese thinks it’s a great film. Academic papers have been written on John Ford’s technique and the subtext of the plot relative to one man’s search for something (in this case his niece). Supposedly it influenced a lot of today’s great directors and paved the way for great films like Dances With Wolves. Maybe that was Ford’s point — to make a Western in which white America’s hatred and disdain for the Native Americans is portrayed in all its ugliness and that was his commentary. If that’s the case, why is there no realization by the characters that their racism is wrong? Dances With Wolves is a tribute to the Native Americans of the same time period. It’s a much better film than The Searchers yet it didn’t even make the AFI list.

Next: City Lights