Friday, June 22, 2012

Henry Hill was a pusher.

 "As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster."
                                           -Henry Hill, Goodfellas

Recently, Henry Hill, the infamous mobster who "ratted" out his crew to avoid incarceration and whose biography inspired Scorsese's Goodfellas, died, to which Twitter fans, including well-known comedians and actors, tweeted micro-eulogy after micro-eulogy after micro-eulogy. Many quoted the movie in homage. Some simply wrote, "RIP Henry Hill." Ray Liotta, the actor who portrayed Hill in Goodfellas, even wished his family well. I wouldn't say it was an outpouring of emotion and I wouldn't say I didn't briefly experience nostalgia -I spent many a day after school memorizing lines from Goodfellas and imitating Joe Pesce's f-word pronunciation- but let's have a little perspective, my good people.

Henry Hill was not what one might consider an upright citizen:  a) he was abusive to his wife, b) he was a drug dealer, c) he was an accomplice to murder, d) he was abusive to his wife, e) he was a drug dealer, f) he was thief, g) he was a philanderer, h) he was abusive to his wife, i) he was a drug dealer, and j) he probably didn't claim his earnings from the NCAA basketball scandal or the Lufthansa heist as profit.

I'm not saying we should rejoice. It's not like an Osama bin Laden type of death -I rejoiced at bin Laden's demise after living in the chaos and sorrow of New York City after the Towers collapsed- but we might not want to celebrate Mr. Hill. After all, how often does the Witness Protection Program actually de-protect their informants? Their character standards are pretty low. Hill was such an offender that, after reaching his law-breaking quota while under protection, the Department of Justice had decidedly had enough of the Hills and released them back into the wilds of everyday citizenry.

I know, I's bad juju to speak ill of the dead. Perhaps, though, we might use slightly more discretion when paying our respects. Not that we should be happy, just somewhat more selective.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

"May you be safe in storm."

I "broke into" a local college graduation ceremony to see Robert Krulwich's commencement speech. Not really appropriate daddy behavior but they weren't exactly taking tickets.

Mr. Krulwich is, of course, known for accomplishments in journalism, television, radio, and, by his own accord, offering Arthur Miller financial advise while urinating into the neighboring urinal. But, what I love Mr. Krulwich for most is his co-hosting role on Radiolab, a National Public Radio program and podcast. I've drawn on this program for inspiration on several short stories and felt that I couldn't pass this opportunity to see the man behind the voice.

His speech was nothing short of compelling. He spoke of designing and redesigning who we are or who we think we are or who will think we'll be so that who we'll be becomes who we hope we'll be. He said that this endeavor of determining who we are as individuals, though we think it's a "singular" struggle, is really a pluralized effort. He spoke of the people who say, "Why not?" instead of, "Yes, but..." He told witty anecdotes and pithy universalities.

But, the comment that most stood out in this speech was rather tangental to his theme. He made mention of the families of the graduates, the parents who would say only of the graduates hopes and dreams, "May you be safe in storm."

In the interest of full disclosure, that I did too many things I shouldn't have done when I was fourteen may have caused me to confuse pronouns...the actual quote may have been "May they always be safe in storm." He was, after all, speaking in third person of multiple people.

Regardless, I prefer "you" for a specific reason: I am a father.

I love being a father. I love being a husband, too. I worry about them often, though my daughters are only one and three. I worry about the future my wife and I will lead them to. I worry that I will lead them to worry too much, themselves.

It is very Jewish of me, to always worry of the next calamity, suffering from what Sarah Silverman diagnoses (tweeted) as "nervous diarrhea." I suppose that is part of the condition of my heritage. I am definitely a "Yes, but..." person. I think plans. I think logistics. I think too much.

I think, "Yes, but they might get hurt." I think, "Yes, but they might get sick." I think, "Yes, but it might be cancer."

However, Mr. Krulwich, you are right. We must confront our individual design repeatedly, as we redesign our individual. We must face worry and threat. At times, when we say, "Yes, but..." we should remember that it's okay to say, "Why not?"

And, if change is the only storm they face, I wish for my girls, "May you be safe in storm."