web analytics

Category: Opinion & Reader Forum

In search of Christmas spirit

The term “Christmas spirit” is tossed around so frequently during the Yuletide season that it’s hard to gauge its true meaning. From a commercial standpoint it exists mostly as a syrupy lure. Here’s an example: “When the ‘Christmas spirit’ tugs at your heartstrings, our super-deluxe (fill-in-the-blank) makes the perfect gift for that special someone,” reads some typically sappy ad copy. When used this way, Christmas spirit serves as a mood inducer to help pry wallets open.  I just checked mine and it feels a bit light. Foiled again!
For many people Christmas spirit is measured in decorative trim and colorful lights. It goes without saying that such expression runs the gamut from mild to wild.  On the latter end of the scale, we all know at least one festive house that wraps itself in lights so very profuse, its glow rivals that of Alpha Centauri. “What’s Christmas without temporary blindness?” its proponents seem to be asking us. Note to self: This year remember to wear my welder’s shield when neighbor Kyle O. Watts gets his Christmas spirit on and trips the lights fantastic. Also, don’t forget the sun block!
Another form of Christmas spirit springs from the innocent hearts of our wee ones. “Daddy, I want an X-box 360 Kinect and $500 worth of I-Tunes gift cards! If you or that fat guy in red don’t get ‘em for me, I’ll throw myself on the floor and scream for an hour, or a day, or a week. Maybe I’ll even do it when we’re at the supermarket in a really l-o-n-g checkout line. Your choice. Feel lucky? Well do you, punk?” Wow. It’s one thing to be shaken down by a hoodlum or a paid solicitor; quite another when it’s your pint-sized daughter. Well, not this year! “Little Princess” must learn respect and the value of money! She’s getting the X-box and only $475 in I-tunes cards!
Finally, there’s a form of Christmas spirit that’s in woefully short supply these days. It doesn’t always look the same, but most know it when they see it. While jogging down East Passaic Ave. in Bloomfield, I happened upon it. Honestly, I felt as if I had been plucked from our graceless age and embedded in a Norman Rockwell painting.
What was it that had such an overpowering effect on me? Well it was nothing grand, like the overpriced baubles that I just bought for my fiancé (you win again, Madison Avenue!), and not nearly as blinding as Mr. Watts’ annual Xmas shrine to alternating current (I can’t see!). It was in fact a simple table with a hodgepodge of Christmas-themed bric-a-brac spread across its top. But what really set it apart was its unusual sign.
“Free Christmas Stuff!” the placard proclaimed with a bold exclamation point. “Take whatever you want or leave some items for others.”
Hmm… How could I even process such a thing in the year 2011?  The sign didn’t ask for money, and the display certainly wasn’t flashy. But many of the items (Xmas glassware, ornaments, pot holders, etc.) were indeed nicer than mere cast-offs. Most importantly, the anonymous homeowner(s) who had set up the table were inviting strangers to help themselves to any or all of the items on top – for free. Were they nuts?
Not even close! For those (myself included) who have had their senses dulled by years of meaningless keep-up-with-the-Joneses faux Christmas spirit, this was a genuine wake-up call. In fact, this was the simple but profound Christmas spirit that I knew as a child but had somehow lost sight of as I morphed into a self-absorbed adult. As I continued with my run I felt a little guilty but I also felt renewed. I made a mental note to drop by the table again with a few of my own Christmas items to place on top. “Just to add to the Christmas Spirit,” I told myself.
Merry Christmas!

— Jeff Bahr

Plenty of parks … where are the kids?

When I was a kid growing up in Kearny, I remember that getting friends together for a game of basketball or football was an easy thing.
Whether it was sunny and 70 degrees or snow was on the ground, we were always ready to play, and most likely would join a game already in progress.
Where did those days go?
And it’s not like I was a kid back in the 1960’s. I’m currently 22.
I understand why my group of friends doesn’t play; between the need to avoid black eyes, cuts, and miscellaneous injuries while going to work, plus the age factor, but why do I now drive past Manor Park in Kearny or many of the other places I used to frequent and see no games going on?
Older people complain that all children do nowadays is spend time on Facebook, or sit in front of the television screen. But when it comes time to get their own kids involved
in sports and such, these same parents often hold their kids back.
I understand that the dangers are great. I lived in North Philadelphia for four years while attending college. But we can’t shield our kids from every potential hazard. If we do, they’ll never learn to grow in life.
One of the excuses I’ve heard is that the people from outside communities who go to suburban parks make it unsafe for children. I’ve played with those same people. If you had the choice, would you choose a park one of those towns over a park in Kearny? I
don’t think you would.
All I’m saying is this: Be smart by trusting your kids. The more you trust them, the less they’ll have to lie to you about where they’re going.
And for the children, get up and get out! There’s no reason to let a 60-degree weekend in November pass you by.

—Anthony J. Machcinski


To the Publisher:
I feel the need to express my thankfulness to the North Arlington Police Department, especially to the following names which hopefully I spelled right due to the very hectic day on Nov. 16: Detective Horton, Det. Heddenberg, Capt. John Hearn, Officer
Ballinger, Officer John Hoffman and also the dispatcher on duty for his quick response to my call and also the woman from the Port Authority that spotted my father right away at the airport.
Rarely does it seem there are positive remarks and words of gratitude or appreciation for the many good things, which are done by our police department, but instead constant negative remarks that the officers are not around when you need them.
From my perspective, (it was) my extreme worry and emotional state from the problem in the disappearance of my 90-year-old father who speaks broken English and at times would act confused which was the reason for my desperate call to the
North Arlington Police Department, during which a dispatcher answered and connected me to the appropriate department of the Silver Alert.
They quickly acted upon my request and communicated with me all the needed information and requested a picture of my father. Within minutes they had reported to me that he was found by a Port Authority officer who located him at the airport and that I was to go there and pick him up.
On Nov. 16, as I stepped out for about 15 minutes to get my dad his daily paper, I came home to find him missing from the home with his dog and suitcase and other handbags and communicated quickly to the North Arlington Police that I felt my dad was on his way to the airport but had no idea how he could have gotten there.
I had a lot to be thankful for this past Thanksgiving Day as my father was found quite
quickly uninjured and relaxed and waiting for his family at the Newark airport when were able to take him home.
Once again, thank you all that helped in this situation and the great job that was done quietly and quickly and without any confusion.

Maria H. Furtado
North Arlington

Don’t judge all cops by actions of few

Images coming across TV screens of late go beyond troubling. If you think I’m referring to the senseless acts of terrorism and the myriad atrocities playing out across our world, I am not. Terrible as these are, they already receive ink from a wealth of news sources. I doubt that I could cast any more light upon them.
What I am referring to is something that I had hoped had gone the way of the Edsel. But before I delve into this, let me first explain my perspective, lest misunderstandings
My family features two members who work as cops in one of New Jersey’s largest cities. They take their positions very seriously. I have nothing but respect for them and the many other career officers who strive for integrity and professionalism in their work. Therefore, what I am about to say about certain law-enforcement officials isn’t a nod to cheap journalism, but rather a plea on behalf of these dedicated public servants
whose good names and reputations will be sullied if a few bad eggs aren’t reeled in.
You may have noticed that the Occupy Wall Street protests are on the move. I have personally seen small groups assembling within our coverage area. These gatherings have been peaceful for the most part, with the exception of one incident that I witnessed personally. It involved a lanky student protester and a rather large cop.
As I was sitting at a stoplight in my car, I saw the two men exchanging words. OK, these things can happen. But then something alarming occurred. As the protester remained seated, the cop inexplicably pushed him. In no way, shape or form was this
citizen inciting the crowd, challenging the officer, or attempting to resist arrest. Yet he forcefully pushed him. Luckily, the matter ended as quickly as it began without any apparent injury to the student.
Recently, a few cops sprayed military-grade pepper spray directly into the faces of seated, non-violent protesters at UC Davis, California. The act was so over-the-top and sadistic that School Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi denounced it as “appalling.” The two officers involved in the incident were suspended from duty on Nov. 20. Their final fate
hangs in the balance.
If the moral of this isn’t already apparent to you, it should be. Police officers move throughout our communities each and every day. The vast majority keep the peace by assisting those in need and arresting those who have broken the law. In order to do
their jobs properly an element of trust needs to be maintained with the very citizens that they serve. When rogue cops like the aforementioned bullies come “off of the rails,” so to speak, it obviously does harm to those citizens that they have pushed, peppersprayed, or otherwise assaulted without cause. But an even more insidious form of damage will exist long after the incident has passed.
After watching the UC Davis incident on TV, one of the cops in my family put it bluntly: “Man, this isn’t good. It’s hard enough for us out there! These cops obviously don’t have the right temperament for the job, but in the end it won’t be just them who
end up hated and mistrusted – it will be all cops.” No matter where your views on the current protests fall, truer words have never been spoken.
— Jeff Bahr


To the Publisher:
To the person who found my house and car keys, a great big thank you. I lost them on Tuesday, Nov. 15, near the Henrietta Benstead Center. It was very thoughtful of you to leave them on top of the mailbox at the Senior Center.
Some friends and I had asked St. Anthony for help in locating the keys. The next day, I received a phone call informing me that the keys were found. We honestly believe He answered our prayer through you. Thank you.

Catherine Pirrello

Relax… It’s only Black Friday

As November comes to a close, everyone’s other favorite holiday is coming… Black Friday.
Sure, Thanksgiving is all well and good, but let’s face it, in this recession, people are more concerned about saving money on Christmas gifts than being thankful for the idea that they even have the money to buy those gifts.
As in years past, people will be out at all hours of the night, hoping to catch the best deal that they can. Doors to some businesses open at 4 a.m. to accommodate the presumed rush, but are there really any good deals to be had?  If you’re in the market for a big screen TV, I’d say yes, but if you’re going for small items or just doing general Christmas shopping, you’re better off waiting until later in the weekend instead of getting up before sunrise.
Will I be huddled with the bargain-chasing masses in front of Wal-Mart at 4 a.m.? There isn’t a shot. The way I see it, if you care about someone enough to buy him or her a gift in the first place, you probably don’t need to wake up at 4 a.m. to get it.
The real reason people should be happy about Black Friday is that it is the official start to the Christmas season. It’s a time when people begin to gather their Christmas decorations and spend more time with their families.
Personally, it means that I will use Noel Drive in North Arlington more frequently just to see what displays the residents put up this year.
Without a doubt, the Christmas season is upon us, but don’t get caught up in the stress of Christmas shopping. Enjoy what’s around you, even if you don’t decorate. The minute the stress catches up to us, it just won’t be Christmas anymore. Relax. It’s only Black Friday.

—Anthony J. Machcinski


To the Publisher:
While President Obama is pardoning two turkeys for Thanksgiving, every one of us has that same presidential power by choosing a non-violent Thanksgiving observance that spares a turkey’s life.
And here are some good reasons:
•You are what you eat. Who wants to be a “butterball”?
• Your kids can tell their friends about their cool “Tofurky.”
•You won’t have to call Poultry Hotline to keep your family alive.
• Fruits and vegetables don’t have to carry government warning labels.
• Animal advocates, including some of your best friends, will cherish you.
• You won’t sweat the environment and food resources devastation guilt trip.
• You won’t spend a sleepless night wondering how the turkey lived and died.
• Your body will appreciate a holiday from saturated fat, cholesterol, and hormones.
Seriously, this Thanksgiving, let’s give thanks for our good fortune, health, and happiness with a life-affirming, cruelty-free feast of vegetables, fruits, and grains. Our own dinner will feature a “Tofurky,” lentil roast, mashed potatoes, corn stuffing, stuffed squash, candied yams, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie.
An internet search on vegetarian Thanksgiving provides more recipes and other useful information than you can imagine!

Kenneth Miller

‘JoePa’ brought himself down

On Nov. 9, a group of Penn State University students staged a riot. They were reacting in protest to the firing of long-time Penn State Nittany Lions football coach Joe “JoePa” Paterno. The back story to this has gone viral, but in case you missed it, here’s the condensed version.
In 2002, Penn State Assistant Coach Mike McQueary witnessed the alleged rape of a 10-year-old boy by 58-year-old Jerry Sandusky, a former coach under Paterno. Instead of summoning police or intervening after he witnessed Sandusky in an allegedly compromising position with a boy in a shower facility, strapping 28-year-old McQueary went home and told his dad about the incident. The following day, he notified coach Paterno. Paterno, in turn, punted this disturbing information up to Penn State Athletic Director Tim Curley. After this double-handoff, no further action was taken.
Details are sketchy and change by the hour, but the stench behind this apparent cover-up is worse than the Lions’ locker room after drills. Not one of these men saw fit to call the cops or alert Child Services. Nor did they even trouble themselves to learn the fate of the molested child. In fact, not one of these gridiron “heroes” did the decent thing; the proper thing; the moral thing; the right thing. They did, however, continue to win football games– a favored pursuit that crams Penn State’s coffers with millions of dollars annually.  Apparently, they were more concerned with guarding the sanctity of the organization – and their posts within it – than saving an innocent child, and potentially many others from a determined sexual predator.
Last week, Penn State honchos finally caved in to the war drums sounding for Paterno’s release. In a protectionist move, they unceremoniously canned Paterno after 46 years as their head football coach without as much as a thanks-for-the-memories handshake. That’s hardly surprising. Penn State is a business first and foremost; all the rest is simple window dressing. Anything that hurts the brand has to go–even Paterno. When a group of loyal students caught wind of this perceived injustice they went on a tear, flipping over a news van and committing other acts of vandalism. They had unwavering faith in JoePa to the bitter end. Blind faith.
A strange brain-fog sometimes engulfs sport fans. Who can forget O.J. Simpson and the infamous slow-speed car chase? During the pursuit a desperate and repentant O.J. nearly confessed to the horrendous crimes for which he would soon be charged. But even as it appeared almost certain that the “Juice” was a murderer, rabid football fans still cheered him on from overpasses as he ran from the law. From their perspective, O.J. was like a god, only swifter-footed. So what if he had a dark side. He still had that Heisman!
The JoePa scandal has triggered a similar response in some fans. Paterno, like Simpson, seems larger than life. His tenure and win record at Penn State is without peer. He is a living icon, plain and simple. But this icon, like Simpson, is in reality just a man and a flawed one at that. When presented an opportunity to become a real hero by turning over an alleged vicious child molester over to authorities, Paterno cowered.
No matter what his supporters say or do, no matter how many news vans they flip over, it’s a sad fact that they simply cannot escape. Paterno earned this fate as surely as he earned his bowl victories. Only time will tell what his legacy will be.
 — Jeff Bahr

Don’t discount Occupy Wall Street protests

The Occupy Wall Street (O.W.S) protests have affected individuals in wildly different ways.  If we take the nation’s pulse and describe the prevailing mindsets in their simplest terms, it becomes apparent that right-leaning types tend to question the movement, while those to the left generally welcome its emergence. But that’s the problem with oversimplification and blindly aligning with any single ideology. Such lazy thinking stifles compromise, allows for little nuance, and rarely gets at the truth.
If the message of the O.W.S. activists sounds jumbled and lacking in focus, the impetus behind the action seems valid. Not many will argue that the quality of life in these United States has decreased sharply over the past few decades. Lower salaries, dwindling benefits and vanishing overtime have now become the sad norm for the vast majority of working Americans. Unemployment now flirts with or tops the dreaded 10% figure nationwide, and this excludes the underemployed and those defeated souls who have given up the work search entirely. A demoralizing number of home foreclosures have sent many good, honest people back to square one, and the average college loan weighs in as heavily as a home mortgage – without the benefit of said dwelling when the balance is finally paid off.
To many, the situation seems bizarrely incongruent with the America that they once knew, or at least thought that they knew. Could this really be happening here in the richest of all nations, where the streets were once said to be paved with gold? The disparity seems all the more curious when it’s learned that only a few hundred individuals hold nearly half of the nation’s accumulated wealth. It’s not too much of a stretch for some to imagine such fat-cats – “one-per centers” in protester-speak – peering down at the struggling masses from their lofty mansions and arrogantly declaring, “Let them eat cake.”
In a country that has long stood for fairness, it’s easy to see why people have grown suspicious. Republicans and Democrats alike took part in the great bank bailout, yet hordes of middle-class citizens – the hard-working, self-sacrificing “cogs” that drive our nation’s economy in the first place – were allowed to go belly-up when they couldn’t make their mortgage payments. Sound a bit lopsided? It certainly does to the protesters. In fact, this is one of their favorite battle cries.
Those who lived during the Vietnam era may feel a sense of déjà vu these days. Back then, scruffy hippies in tie-died shirts decried the ongoing war in Southeast Asia on a number of grounds. To say that their brazen movement was questioned by the establishment would be like saying that Yippie leader Abbie Hoffman – a member of the infamous “Chicago Seven” – was a rebel. In fact, many were labeled cowards, bums, or traitors for questioning America’s role in the war. Now, nearly four decades  later, we realize that our nation was indeed involved in a politically questionable and highly unwinnable effort, just as the protesters had asserted. What if, this time around, the protesters have it right again?
Recently I overheard a group of middle-aged men discussing the O.W.S. protests. One man denounced the activists as nothing more than “spoiled brats.” Another said that the protesters “should get off their lazy butts and find a job.” Then, a more reasonable man spoke up.  “Come on guys, let’s be honest about this,” he said to his friends. “This thing [the movement] goes well beyond some punk college kids looking for attention. Life in America has eroded for most people since we went looking for our first jobs – you guys know that! If it keeps going like this, I doubt that a middle-class will exist much longer.”
To a rag-tag, disenchanted group that sleep in tents and refer to themselves as the “99%,” more valid words have never been spoken.

— Jeff Bahr


The Veteran

Let us never forget their sacrifices.
It is the veteran, not the preacher, who has given us freedom of religion.
It is the veteran, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech.
It is the veteran, not the campus organizer, who has given us freedom to assemble.
It is the veteran, not the lawyer, who has given us the right to a fair trial.
It is the veteran, not the politician, who has given us the right to vote.
It is the veteran, who salutes the flag, who serves under the flag.
Oh Lord, grant eternal rest to them and let the perpetual light shine upon them.

(Submitted on behalf of the North Arlington Elks)
Pete Blair,
North Arlington