The Lovers of Valadro

Thoughts from Dr. Joe They died young, probably during late adolescence. However by the looks of it, they were in love. Two 6,000-year-old prehistoric skeletons from the Neolithic period were found locked in an eternal embrace in Valdaro, near Verona, Italy, hidden from the eyes of humanity. It could be the oldest love story. Verona is where Shakespeare set the star-crossed lover’s tale "Romeo and Juliet." Incidentally Verona is the same area where Giuseppe Verdi set the opera Rigoletto, the story of doomed lovers. Archeologists believe the find has more emotional than scientific value. The lovers were adolescents of the Neolithic age, a formative period in the evolutionary development of society. It was during the Neolithic era when religious, societal and emotional sentiments were formed, particularly relative to family and village. Thus scientists and anthropological experts assert that the lovers’ embrace with arms and legs leave little doubt that their final connection was born out of deep sentiment. The remarkable story of the Lovers of Valdaro aligns with the aurora of love. Although we compose music, write love songs, prose and love stories we hardly scratch the surface attempting to intellectualize love’s phenomenology. Subsequently we encapsulate its mystery Read more

Channeling Father Flynn

Thoughts from Dr. Joe I first came face to face with Father Flynn in 1957; I was in the 5th grade. I had to answer for the D’s Sister Mary Judith gave me in behavior. Father told me I would hang from the flagpole at Saint Frances of Rome if I were to continue such antics. For the rest of that fall, I was his indentured servant. My servitude continued well after the fifth grade. I became his eyes and ears in the neighborhood, his muscle, and prosecuted his will in a tough Italian/Irish neighborhood in the Northeast Bronx. I was conscripted for life and couldn’t break the hold he had on me. Although Father Flynn has passed, I am linked to his memory. He was the reincarnation of Saint Ignatius Loyola and Genghis Khan. Saint Ignatius was a soldier before he found the Jesuits; Father served with the China Marines prior to ordination. It was rumored he became a priest to atone for the mayhem he cause growing up Hell’s Kitchen and what he did to the Japanese in the war. He was shrouded in mystery; that’s what made Read more

Thoughts from Dr. Joe

To Get Her There

Peter Pan was the first movie I ever saw. It was in 1953; back then a movie cost no more than 25 cents.  The story is from the work of J.M. Barrie, circa 1904. Barrie was fascinated by the enthusiasm of youth. Peter, an adventurous boy was from Neverland, the second star on the right, you’d get there in the morning if you kept on going all night.  He would never grow up and lived free and unencumbered from the responsibilities of the adult world,

“I’m youth, I’m joy,” said Peter; “I’m a little bird that has broken out of the egg.”

I’ve always been fascinated by the exuberance of kids.  Perhaps the endeavors I have followed are suspect of one who would shun the adult world. Nevertheless, I remain captivated by youth; they defy gravity as they set themselves in fight and continue to prove that nothing is impossible to a valiant heart.

To my good fortune, Julie Battaglia invited me to a luncheon celebrating the emerging leaders, the Girl Scouts from Los Angeles.  The luncheon was particularly significant as it marked 100 years of Girl Scouting and honored 100 girls.

The theme of the afternoon, “To Get Her There,” was a metaphor touting the contributions of Girl Scouts, a vehicle for building the leaders of tomorrow. “To Get Her There,” references the mantra of Girl Scouting, empowering girls to overcome the social disparities between boys and girls.  It was Peter Pan who said himself, “Wendy… one girl is more use that 20 boys.”

I read the biographies of the 100 honorees.  Their enthusiasm and vision toward the future gives hope: 94% are student athletes, 90% are honor students, and 100% have college aspirations.

These girls are striving to write a meaningful verse to life.  And when they do, they will elevate the rest of us. Benjamin Disraeli said, “Every production of genius must be the production of enthusiasm.”  Where would we be without the passions of the young?

To the young, life is burning urgency. The world is life-and-death; everything is either/or, and is either all or nothing. The irony is absurd; what consumes youthful exuberance is the exuberance itself.  To see truth amid the fog of our passions, to hear that very same truth amid the din of our slogans is the secret of remaining youthfully exuberant.  History has shown that passion rebuilds the world and that’s how we remain significant.

The power elite of the corporate world mentored the scouts. There were ceo’s, presidents, coordinators, and managers. It was the afternoon of the goddess.  I’ve never been in the presence of so many powerful women.  Believe me, I was on my best behavior. I applaud the achievements of the mentors, and am humbled by their stature. But there are many other roads for girls to travel other than the pinnacle of Corporate America.  We were firing on seven cylinders.

“To Get Her There,” was the mentors’ charge. But I wondered, “To get her where?”  So how do we define, “There?” Is rising the corporate ladder the only Mecca? Arthur Miller’s “Death of A Salesman,” paints a different picture. Where were the mentor teachers, artists, soldiers, writers, engineers, stay at home moms, philosophers etc., etc., etc.? I thought of the words of Shakespeare, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, 
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

The pursuit of nobility floats on a wide sea of endeavor.  As we “Get Her There,” I am led to believe that where she winds up is incidental to who she becomes. Sufi Philosophers tell, “A path is just a path.  Does it have a heart,” they ask?





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A Philosophy from Arthur Avenue

In the 60’s the safest place in the Bronx was on the corner of Arthur Avenue and 187th street. That was ground zero.  All the wise guys hung out there: The Arthur Avenue Boys, The Fordham Daggers, and The Boys from Napoli.  They kept their sections of the Italian ghetto safe.

Regardless of the physical prowess of the Bronx Boys, Frankie Falani was the caporegime, the captain. He answered to Mr. Davia, the boss. If you had a problem, you went to Frankie.

In Italy there was man called a codega.  At night, he would walk in front of you carrying a lantern, and show you the way. He would scare off the bad guys and protect you from anyone who would harm you. Frankie was a codega.  You’d often see him escorting women home at night.  He also hi-jacked trucks loaded with valuables crossing into the Bronx over the Macombs Dam Bridge. I am intrigued by the duality of the soul.

In the Italian Ghetto, families were safe; you could walk the streets with impunity.

It’s different today. Have you read the crime blotters in the local newspaper?  The neighborhoods of La Canada are being pilfered by roving thieves preying on unsuspecting residents.  Thousands of dollars in cash and valuables have been stolen.  We have a prowler sneaking in the night bringing terror to our neighborhoods.

Communities have rights just like individuals,

the right to live in peace, and feel safe and free from criminal intrusion. However, in the village of La Canada, there is a “Clear and Present Danger.”

We have drugs in our schools, alcohol at children’s parties, businesses under siege, homes being violated, and a prowler. Robert Kennedy said, “Every society gets the kind of criminal it deserves.”

I have a different philosophy of what it takes to protect a community.  I’ll never defer to the police to guard my well-being.  Where I’m from it wasn’t done that way.  We have to arm ourselves, but we do that in different ways.  Some of us with real guns, some of us with more passive weapons: like vigilance and a resolve to end this malaise or a plan that will protect us and keep us safe.  But a weapon nonetheless!

Please forgive me!  I’m not trying to tell law enforcement how to do their job, but guys! You have to leave Foothill Boulevard! Go beyond the wire! Stop writing tickets, and do some aggressive patrolling into the heart of La Canada.  You gotta’ get the bad guys! And when you get them, show no quarter and prosecute them to the full extent of the law.  Aggressive patrolling has saved me more than once.  Sometimes we capitulate too easy deferring to others to do our bidding for us.

I became a Bronx Boy and did a few tours as a capo, a soldier under the guise of Frankie.  I learned that security is something that we individually build; it comes from our own initiative and is rooted in commitment.  It’s making an affirmation that the demise of our security will not happen under our watch.  Maybe we need our civic leaders to mimic the words of Lenny Kravitz from the movie, Apollo 13.  “Failure is not an option.”

I outgrew Frankie; I no longer saw life as he did.  I became a street gang counselor and brought tough love too the punks on the street.  However, I vividly remember Frankie’s message.  Although he didn’t express it, as I will, I think this is what he meant. We have a moral stature because we have a free will.  The will of man is often used for evil purposes, but in the world, there is more good than evil.  Evil cannot always be persuaded to the path of righteousness, so good men with commitment must correct them.  That’s exactly what we did!


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Finding Dolly

There were just ‘no two ways about it’, Dolly was gone and the likelihood of ever finding her again began to slip away with each passing day.  Where could she be; had someone found her; and if so, would they love her or simply   throw her in some nondescript corner allowing the dust mites to have their way?

Dolly is a rag doll and she wears only pink.  She is my daughter Simone’s first toy.  Her simple stitched smile radiates through a sweet face and upon a first glance it is easy to see how a child would connect with her soft and cuddly nature.  Tucked under an arm, or hauled around by one leg, Simone took her everywhere.  Dolly had been Simone’s most precious possession and her companion since birth.

She had been gone for more than a month; lost either on land or at sea during a vacation on Balboa Island.  There was no stone left unturned in the relentless search for her.  E-mails, phone calls, messages to friends; has anyone seen Dolly?

Soft cuddly dolls are faithful friends, good listeners, confidants, bedtime companions, and tea party guests for many children.  The initial love that flows from a parent to a child transcends to a child’s doll.  Little girls often learn to love and nurture by caring for their little rag dolls.  Other than with mom and dad, a child’s initial connections in life are formed with their faithful friends.

“Give me a break”, I thought, “It’s just a doggone rag doll”.  I can be such a jerk.

Simone continued to try and keep a ‘stiff upper lip’ but feared that Dolly was either an oddity in a garage sale or sat on the shelf in a second hand store.  Through the unyielding faith of Kaitzer, Simone believed that Dolly would be found and began to feel that, “Somewhere out there beneath the pale moon light someone’s thinking of me and loving me tonight”!

As I think back on the past days events, I am not sure at what point Dolly became real but nevertheless she did; for nursery magic is very strange and wonderful and only the oldest and wisest among us understand the powerful bond of love that exists between a little girl and her doll.

I got into this fatherhood business a little late and I’ve learned mostly from putting my foot in my mouth that “Life’s a dance and you learn as you go”!  Thus, in my quest to comprehend more about the relationship between a little girl and her doll I sought the wisdom of a Chai Late at Penelope’s and read “The Velveteen Rabbit” by Margery Williams.  I knew that the answer would lie somewhere in the pages or in the steamy aroma of the Chai.

In the story, the Rabbit, the new toy in the nursery begins to talk to Skin Horse, an old and wise toy of many years.  “What is real”, asks the Rabbit?  “Real isn’t how you are made,” said Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

But it had been four weeks and I had given up on Dolly and was ready for Simone to move on to marbles or jacks.  Kaitzer and the girls had not lost faith.

The story continues…last Saturday, with unbridled tenacity, Kaitzer and the girls hopped into the car, fired up their engines, donned sunglasses, turned up the radio blaring the music of KT Tunstall’s “Big Black Horse and a Cherry Tree” and drove off into the sunset heading to Balboa Island in search of Dolly.  “To believe only in possibilities is not faith, but mere philosophy”.

“Somewhere out there someone’s saying a prayer; that we’ll find one another in that big somewhere out there”.

I watched in disbelief as this scene unfolded and said, “You ‘gotta’ be kidding”!  I can be such a jerk.

For the next seven hours I worked like a demon installing windows in the girls’ bedrooms.

Then, around 8 PM, careening down the driveway listening to “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” by Charlie Daniels, Kaitzer and the girls returned with the pageantry of a Roman Legion.  In one swift motion they exited the car yelling, “We found Dolly”!  At that very moment the heavens opened and a chorus of 10,000 Angles appeared singing Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”!

Following a hunch, Kaitzer thought, “Dolly was somewhere in the rented house waiting for us to come and get her”.  Gaining entry via the cleaning service, the girls found Dolly waiting underneath the bed.

Faith and hope are once again reinforced in the hearts of believers.









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I Never Promised you a Rose Garden

Thoughts from Dr. Joe
I Never Promised you a Rose Garden

Finally some cool weather!

I headed to Starbucks to seek the comfort of new love, a café latte. Alas! Neither Grace nor Daina were working, consequently I settled for black tea. The girls have a special knack of making a latte similar to Ferrara’s Café in Little Italy.

I was re-reading, “With the old Breed,” by Eugene Sledge for the umpteenth time. It’s a historical account of the struggles of the 5th Marines in the Pacific. I was waiting for direction from Kaitzer regarding afternoon pickups, “Was I to take the girls to dance, violin, or cheer practice?” I hadn’t a clue!

At the adjacent table sat some seniors from LCHS. Their boisterous banter was filled with complaints regarding the election results of the previous night. Who would fix the world that they were to inherit dominated their discussion? I’ve been known to tune out a 122mm rocket attack; but their complaints resonated like a bee buzzing in my ear.

Reading about the guys who stormed Peleliu against entrenched fanatical Japanese infantry was not compatible to listening to the whining of kids who were most probably the same age as the guys on Peleliu.

The seniors were engulfed in a malaise of entitlement and believed that debilitating supposition that the barometer of life is perfection. Education, the economy, SAT’s, and college were their apprehensions. Nowhere in sight was a resolve to do something about it. Any deviation from Nirvana is beyond apprehension as they are children of the universe and entitled to the Garden of Eden.

I wanted to save them from themselves and scream, “Guys…I beg your pardon; I never promised you a rose garden!” Instead, I put down my book, picked up a pen, and began this write.

The novel, “I Never Promised you a Rose Garden,” written by Hannah Green is the origin of the saying and was made famous by country singer Lynn Anderson’s hit song of the same name. It was required reading in a philosophical psychology course I took in college. Deborah, a schizophrenic teenage girl created a fantasy world as refuge from her confusing and frightening reality. Her inability to cope with life sank her into the bowels of depression. Deborah’s strong-willed, empathetic, and brilliant therapist, Clara Fried, slowly wins Deborah’s trust. In an impassioned exchange, Clara tells Deborah, “I never promised you a rose garden. I never promised you perfect justice . . . and I never promised you peace of happiness. My help is so that you can be free to fight for all of those things. The only reality I offer is challenge. I never promise lies, and the rose-garden world of perfection is a lie!”

Eventually, Deborah realizes that life is not easy or fair, and that sometimes the only way to know that you’re living is if you are fighting. She eventually decides that she’d rather be fighting and alive than resigned to a world that exists only in her mind.

Eventually, Deborah leaves her fantasy world and realizes that life is not fair, and the only way to know that you’re living is if you are struggling.

In “What Makes Life Significant,” philosopher William James writes, “Our human emotions require the sight of the struggle.” The struggle is a metaphor for life and that’s reality.

I hope the seniors will learn that life is not a rose garden and that any deviation from perfection is not problematic? Life is life; it is neither perfect nor imperfect. Life defines us and our ability to play with the cards we’re dealt with becomes our epitaph.

In my notes I wrote the name Walt Whitman. I wondered if the seniors had read him. Whitman’s “O Me! O Life!” contains the answers to the insecurities of youth.

In the maddening problematic inertia of life, Whitman looks for purpose. He answers his own inquiry. Regardless of life’s imperfections, “…you are here and life exists, and the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.” The antidote for the seniors is a resolve to make a contribution to life and not wait for Obama or Romney to solve their plight.

The seniors finished their Marble Mocha Macchiatos and their Maple Streusel Muffins, jumped into a Suburban adorned with inscriptions saying “Seniors Rock,” and left in a whirlwind. I picked up “With the Old Breed,” and sipped on my black tea.

I’ll leave you with Whitman’s poem in its entirety.

O Me! O Life!
O ME! O life!… of the questions of these recurring;
Of the endless trains of the faithless—of cities fill’d with the foolish;
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light—of the objects mean—of the struggle ever renew’d;
Of the poor results of all—of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me; 5
Of the empty and useless years of the rest—with the rest me intertwined;
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?

That you are here—that life exists, and identity;
That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.

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Musings on Veterans Day

“Dr. Joe, I hope you enjoy your Veteran’s,” remarked my buddy Jack. “I’m not sure how I’m supposed to enjoy Veterans Day when considering it’s significance,” I said. “Are you writing about Veterans Day,” he asked? I hate being so darn predictable, but I said, “Why yes I am.”

He pulled up a chair and explained, “Healing is forgetting and moving on. In order to progress veterans must find some resolve with the past. Why do so many veterans cling to pain?” he asked? “There’s nothing you can do about the past.” His analysis was prophetic but all I could lend to the conversation was a simple smile.

Jack is a writer, a professor, and a laurite in the field of psychology; his opinions are consummate. His argument was inclusive of intellectual jargon found in the subjectivity of psychology. Jack had found the path toward emotional peace and the veteran need only follow it.

After Jack left I shot him an e-mail and cited an excerpt from Eugene Sledge’s book, “With the Old Corp.”

“Every time I looked over the edge of the foxhole, that half-gone face leered up to me with a sardonic grin. It was as though he was mocking our pitiful efforts to hang on to life in the face of constant violent death. Maybe he was mocking the folly of war itself: I am the harvest of man’s stupidity. I am the fruit of the holocaust. I prayed like you to survive, but look at me now. It is over for us who are dead, but you must struggle, and will carry the memories all your life.”

“So Jack! You wonder why I can’t forget,” I wrote.

On Veterans Day, my thoughts end with mothers who have lost a child in war. How do you console a grieving mother? There is a hole in the heart of a beleaguered nation because this scene is much too prevalent.

A mother’s being is intertwined with the children she gave birth to and subsequently raised and nurtured. I can’t image the pain felt by a soldier’s mother when learning of the demise of her child. It must be a dagger through the heart. I understand T.S. Eliot when we says, “We die with the dying; they depart and we go with them.”

I’m haunted by the bond between a mother and a soldier. As a Marine in Vietnam I often thought, “If our mothers could only see us now.” I was glad they could not. I was distressed to learn from a combat medic that often the last word of a dying soldier was, “Mother.” And please…tell me… how does a nation send mothers of toddlers to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan?

When I think of the sea of crosses in gardens of stone, I realize for every soldier lost there is a mother, a wife, or a sister whose life will never be the same. The lament of mothers over the loss of their children tears at my soul and there is no cure. For this reason, I write to say…I’m sorry. Those of us who made it back…we did the best we could. To all the mothers, wives, and sisters of lost and forgotten soldiers, I am so sorry…we could do no more.

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