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Category: Opinion & Reader Forum

‘Sprung from cages on Highway 9’




Just twice in my life have I been frozen in my tracks because of music — music so unlike anything I had heard before that it was stunning.

Later in this column, I’ll get to the first time it happened. But I’m starting with the second.

That occurred on a Friday (Saturday?) night in 1975, and I was getting ready to go out. (I ended up being late for the party.)

WNEW-FM was broadcasting a live performance from the Bottom Line in N.Y.C. — some group that was new to me (and a lot of other people, as it turned out).

In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine would cite the show as one of the “50 Moments That Changed Rock and Roll.”

When the music started, I stopped — standing in the middle of the room, mesmerized. Who was performing? Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.

I have been a fan ever since — although not nearly as big as Chris Christie.

I love Springsteen’s music, but I do not always agree with his political stance. To everything, though, there is an exception, and I am still laughing at the Springsteen- Jimmy Fallon duet on the latter’s show last month. If you missed it, just go to Google or YouTube; the video is all over the web.

Fallon and The Boss took the spotlight about a week after the governor’s two-hour Bridgegate press conference, with a rewrite of “Born to Run.” Below are the lyrics, so you can sing along. Enjoy! Read more »

Thoughts & Views: Now his voice is still; rest easy, noble sir




We live in an era where most politicians and public figures – exceptions noted – flip flop so much, you never know where they stand. Expediency and convenience are, typically, the determining factors that dictate the outcome.

Pete Seeger, the folk singer, environmentalist and human rights advocate who died Jan. 27 at age 94, was always consistent.

Just when he was breaking into the big time music scene as a member of the Weavers, Seeger wouldn’t sell out his political beliefs and, after refusing to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1955, ended up unofficially banned from network TV until the Smothers Brothers welcomed him back in 1967.

Even so, the network censored his singing of the anti- Vietnam War song, “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy,” although, after pressure by the show’s creators, Seeger returned to the show the following year to sing the song for broadcast.

Seeger’s purity of vision was all-embracing: It extended from the simplicity and grace with which he treated family, friends and strangers, to his respect for international musical culture, to his defense of the environment culminating in the creation of the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater.

Seeger’s affinity for nature drew him to the upstate New York riverfront community of Beacon where, in the 1940s, he built a log cabin and continued to make that his home. It was in that setting that Seeger drew inspiration for his campaign to begin cleaning up a polluted Hudson River, using the Clearwater as a focal point for that goal.

The ship first sailed in summer 1969 and Seeger and other musicians sang at benefits to heighten awareness of the fouled waterway and to push for action to do something about it. Four decades later, his unflagging efforts – coupled with federal legislation – resulted in General Electric dredging PCBs from the river.

An annual two-day Clearwater Great Hudson River Revival music and environmental festival, founded by Seeger and his wife Toshi (who died in July 2013), continues as part of the couple’s legacy. This year, it will be held June 21-22 at Croton Park in Croton-on- Hudson, N.Y.

I never had the good fortune to hear Seeger perform but I was lucky enough to catch Peter, Paul & Mary’s version of Seeger’s anti-war classic “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” and “If I Had a Hammer” (co-written with Lee Hays) at a Central Park concert.

It is said that Seeger was the bridge from Woody Guthrie to Bob Dylan in folk song tradition, even if Dylan did stray from the fold by playing electric guitar at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival.

Even into his 90s, Seeger continued to sing at benefits for the causes he championed. And while he performed for the high and mighty, such as President Obama’s inaugural, Seeger preferred playing for kids. At a Beacon, N.Y. concert in October 2009, he said: “Singing with children in the schools has been the most rewarding experience of my life.”

Perhaps he identified with the youngsters’ innocence and saw them as symbols of hope for the future.

Indeed, the perennial optimist always felt that, no matter how desperate the struggle, “We Shall Overcome.”

– Ron Leir

Thoughts & Views: I’m not ‘bowled’ over by football




Believe it or not, there are some of us who don’t give a hoot in Hades about the Super Bowl.

I mean, it’s nice that New Jersey is getting some national attention for something other than mobsters, political corruption and Snooki, and it’s even nicer that MetLife Stadium is in our own backyard (wave to it as you cruise past on Route 3), and I have even picked a team (the Broncos because I like horses), but do I really care? No.

I will watch, of course. At least some of it. Just in case something newsworthy happens that I should know about. And because on Monday, everyone will be talking about the commercials.

But I have never understood football.

They run. They fall down. They run. They fall down. This is exciting?

I have only just learned what “first and 10” means. No, I am not joking. It never made sense to me. First and 10 WHAT? Yards? But if they already got the first yard, where are the other 10?

I asked a friend to explain it to me the other night (no, I am not joking), and I think I now have a grasp on it.

Still, I will be channel jumping during the game, to catch the action in the 10th annual Animal Planet Puppy Bowl. This year, there will be penguin cheerleaders and a half-time show featuring Keyboard Cat.

Unlike the Super Bowl, all the Puppy Bowl players are adorable–and have better hair.

My sport has always been baseball. (Not playing. Watching.)

Its rules are far more complicated that football’s, but I learned them literally at my daddy’s knee, sitting on the floor at age 3 or 4, watching the N.Y. Giants on a grainy old B&W television, while he explained the basics. (Daddy had been a semi-pro baseball player back in the days when semi-pro baseball was a big deal. Not only a player, but an MVP, with the trophy to prove it.)

Anyway, I was raised on baseball. I can appreciate the skills needed. Which are far more than the ability to run and fall down (although run and slide is a different matter).

In any case, all this has reminded me of the classic George Carlin routine on violent, gladiatorial football vs. far gentler baseball, with which I am sure you are familiar, but I’m going to quote from it anyway:

“Baseball is a 19th century pastoral game; football is a 20th century technological struggle.”

“Baseball is played on a diamond, in a park. Football is played on a gridiron….”

“Baseball begins in the spring, the season of new life. Football begins in the fall, when everything’s dying.”

“Baseball has the seventh-inning stretch. Football has the two minute warning.”

“Baseball has no time limit; we don’t know when it’s gonna end. Football is rigidly timed, and it will end even if we’ve got to go to sudden death.”

“Football is played on an enclosed, rectangular grid, and every one of them is the same size; baseball is played on an ever-widening angle that reaches to infinity, and every park is different.”

“In football, they have the clip, the hit, the block, the tackle, the blitz, the bomb, the offense and the defense; in baseball, they have the sacrifice.”

“In football, you march downfield and penetrate enemy territory and get into the END zone. In baseball, the object is to go home. And to be safe. ‘I hope I’ll be safe at home!’”

This part, I had not heard before. It compares American football to Britain’s quest for empire:

“. . . that’s what football is, football’s a ground-acquisition game. You knock the crap out of 11 guys and take their land away from them. Of course, we only do it 10 yards at a time. That’s the way we did it with the Indians – we won it little by little. First down in Ohio – Midwest to go!”

Gosh, I miss George Carlin.

–Karen Zautyk


To the editor,

So soon again, I’d like to commend Chief James O’Connor and the Lyndhurst Police Department, DPW, Commissioner Matt Ruzzo, Parks Commissioner, Tom Di Maggio, and also Superintendent Rich Gress; for their organized efforts on their job well done during this most recent snowstorm. Our departments’ professional response to any such immediate event, certainly reassures the security, safety, welfare and wellbeing of our also very cooperative Lyndhurst residents.

Thank you,

with appreciation,

Mayor Robert. B. Giangeruso


Thoughts & Views: ‘There is no Frigate like a Book’

When I was a kid growing up in Jersey City, we had a single first-run bookstore called Pritchard’s occupying a cramped space next to the old Public Service bus terminal in the heart of Journal Square.

Then the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey – the same folks who aided and abetted in the recent Bridgegate snafu – built that monstrosity, the Journal Square Transportation Center, and promptly ruined the Square.

Their machinations in reshaping the retail space around what we used to call the Hudson & Manhattan Tube ended up hiking rents and displacing longtime tenants – including Pritchard’s – leaving a city with more than 200,000 residents bereft of for-sale books.

Thank goodness, we still had the Public Library and the two college libraries (assuming you had access). But still, no bookstore?

Only in the past year did we get one and, sometime this year, we may have two. Glory be!

Not that long ago, Hoboken – the city of yuppies that’s been home to now-ex-Gov. Corzine and now-U.S. Sen. Menendez – lost its Barnes & Noble.

Now, it appears that Rizzoli Bookstore will soon be gone from W. 57th St. in Manhattan to make way for big-time developers’ projects. This comes in the wake of the B&N at Sixth Ave. and Eighth St. folding its tent. And on and on.

In the scheme of things, does it matter? Does it mean that fewer folks are willing to support the cause of literacy? Or that many of us just can’t afford the price of a hardcover book in this economy? Or that we’ve abandoned the written word for the Kindle reader or the Internet. Maybe we just want instant information from Google; we don’t want to ruminate over a best seller, a spellbinding mystery, a sci-fi puzzler or a tasty biography.

When I was a fourth-grader, I remember being so engrossed in the book I was reading (which I’d brought from home), I was oblivious to the fact that our class had begun reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. And I was promptly chastised by my teacher for doing so.

Well, I haven’t quite shaken the habit of allowing the printed page to take me on an unscheduled adventure of the mind. So all I can say is, please support your local library because it may turn out to be the last resource for a hungry mind.

Still unconvinced about the need for gun control legislation?

Well, here’s another reminder: A 4-year-old kid was fatally shot by his cousin as they were playing in the victim’s Detroit home on Jan. 16, according to the Detroit Free Press.

The cousin, a 4-year-old girl, dragged a loaded rifle out from under a bed, aimed the gun at the boy and pulled the trigger, hitting her cousin in the chest, police reported.

Finally, from the Department of What Could They Be Thinking?, there was this development from the Country Down Under:

The people running the Australia Tennis Open didn’t suspend play even though the temperature exceeded the 100 degree mark for four days. Apparently, officials didn’t feel the conditions that disabled several players and many spectators met their “extreme heat” specifications so as to justify closing the roof or shutting down the proceedings.

Just a little dab of sunscreen, a cap, and you’ve got it made in the shade, right?

– Ron Leir

Thoughts & Views: Here’s looking at you, gov

Even before Gov. Chris Christie’s lengthy pity-party press conference last week on the George Washington Bridge “traffic study,” I was thinking of one of the famous lines from “Casablanca.” The one where Capt. Renault (Claude Rains), the prefect of police, having himself won a bundle at roulette at Rick’s Cafe, orders the place to be shuttered.

Rick (Humphrey Bogart): “How can you close me up? On what grounds?”

Renault: “I’m shocked — shocked! — to find that gambling is going on in here!”

The Christie version turned out to be more verbose but similar: “I had no knowledge or involvement in this issue, in its planning or its execution, and I am stunned by the abject stupidity that was shown here . . . “

Stunned, he is. Stunned!

Thanks, gov, for living up to the script.

Later, I realized that many of the lines from “Casablanca” could, with little revision, be applied to the ongoing Bridgegate drama. Even the classic opening voiceover is adaptable. So, with apologies to screenwriters Julius Epstein, Philip Epstein and Howard Koch:

“With the coming of September 2013, many eyes in imprisoned New Jersey turned hopefully, or desperately, toward the freedom of the George Washington Bridge. It was the great embarkation point.

“But, not everybody could get to the bridge directly, and so a tortuous, roundabout refugee trail sprang up – Main St. to Lemoine Ave…. across Fletcher Ave. to Hudson Terrace… The fortunate eventually make their way to Manhattan. But the others wait in Fort Lee… and wait… and wait… and wait.” “

It’s still the same old story/ A fight for votes and glory…”

“Who are you really, Bridget, and what were you before? What did you do and what did you think, huh?”

“We said no questions.”

“You said I was to do the thinking for both of us, Bridget. Well, I’ve done a lot of it since then, and it all adds up to one thing. You’re getting under that bus with Bill Stepien where you belong.”

“Of all the governor’s offices in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.”

“Let’s see, the last time we met…”

“Was at the GWB.”

“How nice, you remembered. But of course, that was the day the Port Authority marched in.”

“I remember every detail. You wore blue, the cones were orange.”

“What in heaven’s name brought you to Fort Lee?’

“Faster traffic. I came to Fort Lee to beat the traffic.”

“The traffic? The traffic is backed up to Ohio.”

“I was misinformed.”

“I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people (Kelly, Stepien, Wildstein) don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you’ll understand that.”

Media pundits: “You know how you sound, Gov. Christie? Like a man who’s trying to convince himself of something he doesn’t believe in his heart.”

“We’ll always have Trenton.”

And, of course: “Round up the usual suspects.” As for advice to the governor: If anything you said last week proves to be less than completely truthful, you’ll regret it. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.

–Karen Zautyk


A story in last week’s Observer mischaracterized Kearny Mayor Alberto Santos’s length of service as the town’s chief executive. He is beginning his 15 year as mayor.


Lett-NA Srs_web


To the editor,

I would like to thank all of the senior citizens and friends of the North Arlington Senior Activity Center for their generous gift donations collected at our center for The Tomorrow’s Children Institute at Hackensack University Medical Center. Our center tree was surrounded by the many gifts given with much love and wrapped with great care by our staff members Faryn Cooke, Louise Malinchak and Yok-Siong Wong.

As always, I am extremely proud of our community and all of our amazing seniors for their care and concern for others. I love them all and am so grateful to be part of their lives at the North Arlington Senior Activity Center.

Connie Keeler

Center Director

North Arlington Senior Activity Center


To the editor:

As a member of the Woman’s Club of Lyndhurst and chairperson of the Lyndhurst Food Pantry, along with my Co-Chairperson Judy Candella, we would like to thank the many residents, clubs and businesses who have donated to the Lyndhurst Food Pantry during the year. The generosity was overwhelming, especially during the holidays, which made a difference to many of the less fortunate residents of our town. We are proud to live in a community who cares. Again, thank you to all.


Diane Cichino

Women’s Club of Lyndhurst,

Co-Chairperson of the Lyndhurst Food Pantry

Thoughts & Views: Keys to my newspaper kingdom



On New Year’s Eve, a typewriter repairman in Manhattan hung up his ribbons, so to speak, after spending almost four decades working in the business.

A New York Times story, published Dec. 28, 2013, told how Bino Gan, a Filipino immigrant, now 60, learned the trade from his brother and, in 1987, opened his own shop, Typewriters ‘N Things, in the West Village section of Manhattan.

Among his customers, according to the Times, were filmmakers Woody Allen and Francis Ford Coppola, but also plenty of regular New Yorkers, too, who simply prefer using the instrument.

Learning to operate a manual typewriter was key (no pun intended) to getting my first newspaper job at The Jersey Journal, when I was a very raw rookie, still an undergrad at the time, in the late ‘60s.

Having been weaned on the TV “Superman” serial, I had high hopes of grabbing a coveted spot on the City Desk as a wanna-be Jimmy Olsen (minus the camera he carried as sometimes sidekick to the Man of Steel…. The camera would come to me, much later).

Anyway, you had to know how to type before you could even be considered for employment. No, you wisenheimers, they weren’t still using feather quills.

I hadn’t taken any typing course in high school, so, what to do?

At my mom’s suggestion, I “enrolled” at Drake’s Secretarial School, now defunct, but, then, still going strong on the second floor of a commercial building in the Journal Square section of my hometown, Jersey City.

I was assigned a hardback seat in front of an enormous black Remington equipped with equally enormous keys. Each one could probably accommodate two of my fingers.

But the keys were blank! No lettering. No numbering. No nothing. Yikes! This was going to be a challenge, for sure. I think they had a big wall chart diagramming the layout of the keyboard for us students to master, which, eventually, I managed to do.

Boy, those keys were not only big – they were heavy – so you really had to exert your finger muscles with sufficient strength to ensure the typebar impacted your ribbon to make a legible imprint on the paper curled up on the roll. And, of course, you had to make sure your ribbon didn’t get tangled up as you pounded away.

Luckily for me, my mom – using uncanny precognition – had previously arranged for me to take lessons on another type of instrument – a Winter & Co. upright piano. On these keys (I see a pattern developing), I was compelled to play many selections of classical music during six long years of trial and much error.

Still, the forced labor got my fingers in fighting trim.

And so, when it came to the real test at Drake’s, I had had, as it were, my basic training. Now I was ready for the real deal. Which, in this case, turned out to be a musical application of key power to the highest degree, as our Drake D.I. ordered us to bang out a copy of a written form, as fast as we could go in three minutes, as a loud recording of a John Philip Sousa march blared from a phonograph record, after which our papers were checked for mistakes.

Now that was one heck of a way to learn how to type, let me tell you. And when I finally got that job, I discovered that several of my more veteran colleagues somehow managed to get by, very nicely thank you, using just two fingers on the keyboard – at lightning speed and with amazing accuracy. They knew their way around telling a story, too.

Looking back on my experience, though, I would maybe have added one more test, worthy of anyone wishing to soldier on as a member of what Ted Williams used to call the “Knights of the Keyboard.”

In that test, our D.I. could have ordered each of us to change our ribbon – or, if she’d wanted to be true to the cause – disassemble and reassemble our instrument while blindfolded. I bet Ernie Pyle could’ve done it in his foxhole, if he had to.

A whole lot of ribbons, tons of copy and carbon paper later, we evolved to electric typewriters (adjusting my keyboard action accordingly, from bashing to a light touch, to avoid bumping the wrong key) and, finally, to an actual computer keyboard.

Would I ever go back to the Remington, Royal or Underwood? Only to admire them as noble antiques that helped me along the path I chose so long ago.

– Ron Leir

Thoughts & Views: Have yourself a merry Little Christmas



On Monday, the N.Y.C. Sanitation Department began its annual curbside pickups of discarded Christmas trees.

Monday! Less than a week after Christmas Day. Who gets rid of their tree that fast?

Obviously, a lot of people. But then, in recent years, some folks appear to be putting up their trees around Halloween, so by Dec. 31, the things are nothing but dead stalks holding brown needles.

For shame. This is what has happened because the holiday has become so commercialized that some stores start selling Christmas cards in August. (I will not name the stores; they deserve no free advertising.) The first time I saw this, I complained to the store manager, who explained he had no control over the premature promotion; it had been ordered by “corporate.”

Whatever happened to the 12 Days of Christmas? And I am not talking about partridges in pear trees.

In olden days, happy golden days of yore, the Christmas season did not start until after Thanksgiving. But it lasted through Jan. 6.

If you count them, the 12 Days of Christmas actually extend from Dec. 25 through only Jan. 5. But the 6th, Epiphany/ Feast of the Magi, has long been the traditional final day of Christmastide. This was the day that the Three Wise Men finally arrived in Bethlehem, bearing their gifts for the Christ Child. The importance wasn’t the gifts; it was the manifestation to man that this infant was the Son of God. (If I’ve got that wrong, theologians correct me please!)

In any case, the 6th is what we marked as Little Christmas in my home, a tradition linked to the Ukrainian side of my family. (And, I have just discovered, apparently to the Celtic side, too. Who knew?)

Because my father had long since “converted” to Roman Catholic from Ukrainian Catholic (not to be confused with Ukrainian Orthodox or Russian Orthodox; it all gets very confusing), we had no special Little Christmas celebrations, other than going to church for the Feast of the Epiphany. But the day did mark the official end of the Yuletide season. And it was on Jan. 6 that our Christmas tree and other decorations came down. Never a day before. From the scattershot research I have done on (pass the salt grains please)

Wikipedia, Little Christmas appears to date to the Julian Calendar, which was succeeded by the current Gregorian Calendar, which marked Christmas as Dec. 25. However, also according to Wikipedia, even before the Gregorian Calendar was adopted, western churches had begun celebrating Christmas on Dec. 25. Wikipedia also reports that Little Christmas is traditional in Ireland (Jan. 6) and the Scottish Highlands (Jan. 1). I had never heard of that before. I’d be happy to have that confirmed by any of you Irish or Scottish readers out there.

In the west, Jan. 6 is also known as Three Kings Day, cause for particular celebration in Hispanic communities. And just as children put out milk and cookies for Santa on Christmas Eve, some Spanish youngsters reportedly put out boxes of grass for the camels of the Magi on the eve of Jan. 6. I had never heard of that before, either, but it is very sweet.

Whatever its origin, Little Christmas is still a tradition in many families, mine included. (The reindeer antlers and red Rudolph nose decorating my car will remain until the 6th, by the way.)

If you have never marked the date before, may I suggest you start, if for no other reason than because it extends the season of peace and joy. For more practical purposes, it gives you an excuse to delay the ornery task of removing the lights on your roof and deflating the giant snowman on your lawn. But, please, try to get them down sometime before Easter.

– Karen Zautyk