Book Review: brat: an 80s Story

When anyone meets me for the first time, two things are obvious. I am a born-and-bred Jersey Girl and I am a Gen-Xer. I still love the music and movies of the 80s. Nowadays when I drive, there are very few radio stations I listen to; most of which are satellite and focus on music of the 60s, 70s, and 80s. My favorite movies included a small group of actors that came to be known as the Brat Pack. Everyone had their favorite. For me, it was Andrew McCarthy.

I saw a lot of myself in the characters he portrayed. In St. Elmo’s Fire, he played a wannabe writer who gets his first byline. I grew up wanting to do two things as an adult: be a writer and a photographer. While I never became a full-time accomplished writer, I do have a few bylines to my name and have a few blogs where I get to scrawl and scribble, even if no one really reads them.

So why am I telling you all this? Stick with me.

Whether it was because I was a teenager or not, the 80s were an awesome time in history (and yes, I used “awesome” on purpose). And the Brat Pack movies had a lot to do with it.

There were times watching McCarthy it almost felt like he wasn’t acting. As if those roles really fit his style. I now know in some instances that was true. Enter his book brat: an 80s story.

brat: an 80s Story by Andrew McCarthy

This fellow New Jerseyan shares his rise – and fall – and rise again in the fickle world of entertainment in his recently published book. Of course as soon as I heard about its release, I needed to read it. Trust me when I tell you, it did not disappoint. I read it over the course of two evenings. The last time I read something so quick was a book from another important figure from my youth; fellow Jersey Girl, Judy Blume, and the book was Summer Sisters.

I quickly switched back to 16 again, watching those movies, listening to that music, and doing things, well, let’s just say I am thankful social media wasn’t around.

As I read, and he mentions places in Jersey in the first few chapters, I found myself wondering if the arcade on 22 he went to was at Bowcraft (a home-grown amusement park), how everyone in Jersey MUST be good at skee-ball and if his brother ever played golf at Hendrick’s Field, the public course in Belleville behind my house. He talked about hanging out in Washington Square Park, which made me remember my first job in the City and walking over to the park and eating my lunch there while I watched the street performers. He talked about going with a friend to the second-hand clothing shops, which made me think of my regular visits to the Unique Boutique.  Like him, I went to the Raccoon Lodge. The biggest difference, however, is that he was 17. I wasn’t allowed into the City on my own until after I graduated from college. But I remember feeling just as wide-eyed as he describes his experiences of familiar places to me.

He spoke of the awkwardness of his high school years. While he was always self-conscious about looking too feminine, I was often self-conscious about looking too masculine. By the time I hit high school, my mother started to give up on getting me to “dress like a girl,” and I fell into the habit of oversized sweatshirts and jeans. I stuck to my denim jacket (complete with a music note of safety pins on the back), an Army Class A jacket I picked up at a second-hand store in Bloomfield, and my father’s camel-hair coat. Add to that my voice was kind of deep for a girl my age, which was quite obvious when I would shout over the marching band as drum major. Sophomore year I felt compelled to chop my long hair off, which completed that perfectly boyish look, even if that really wasn’t the goal. When a teacher from the high school first met my brother, he said to a colleague once he thought I was out of earshot “I’m trying to figure out if he’s more feminine or she’s more masculine.” And so it was and so it has been for most of my adult life. Many years later at a full-time job, I learned some of my colleagues referred to me as “Man Benschoten” instead of my proper last name. I never seemed to be able to outrun that “boy thing.”  Sometimes it still bothers me, sometimes I shrug and don’t care in full Gen-X fashion.

Like him, I enjoyed my time alone. For him, he smoked pot. For me, it was riding my bike over to the high school, climbing to the top of the stadium, sitting in the corner and reading. Smoking pot never even crossed my mind. As far as I knew, none of my friends did and my mother could have worked for the CIA. She found out everything. It wasn’t worth the risk.

“Like the first light of dawn, there is a transitory magic in it, a singular quality, something so fresh it seems it must be occurring for the first time.”

Like McCarthy, I found solace in the arts program. For him it was (obviously) drama and it started him down a successful path that led him to NYU. Me? Well, I never got out of the chorus/background dancers, with the exception of one actual line in the production of “It’s Christmas Charlie Brown” (“watch it lady, you almost made me drop my packages!”). I was in concert band, jazz band, chorus, orchestra, drama club, and marching band. I wasn’t “officially” on stage and light crew, but I helped out backstage with the plays before I summoned up the courage to actually try out. For me, that’s as far as my artistic journey went. I didn’t have “it.”

1986 Mercury Cougar
Me in my Cougar, 1988.
Yes, I thought I was that cool.

His announcement to major in acting when he went to college went over about as well as my announcement to major in journalism. I was pushed at every opportunity to become an attorney. When I came home with my declaration form for the Communication Department, well, I’ll just say it didn’t go over well and leave it at that. Like McCarthy, I stuck to my guns and kept with it. And I discovered I did have an aptitude for certain parts of the process. For me, it was print production and typography, along with writing.

We both had our own departmental champions. For him it was Terry Hayden. For me, it was Dr. Don McKenna and Professor Pete Rosenblum. That dynamic duo were my supporters at every turn. They told me about this thing called “prepress.” Where I get to be involved in the actual process of preparing work to go to press. I was in love. Like McCarthy, I was eager to learn all I could. Also, like McCarthy, some teachers were less than thrilled with my feeble classroom attempts. We both struggled with speech class. My prim and proper professor attempted to remove the Jersey from my accent and teach me a proper mid-Atlantic speech pattern (think Katharine Hepburn). Shocker – it didn’t work. I passed, but I think only because I just kept showing up to class. I didn’t care. I dove head first into learning all I could about prepress and writing.

Throughout the book, he has the ability to weave stories of experiences of his past and how those experiences affected his career as he continued to learn and hone his craft. I took special attention to how he handled anxiety while shooting his first feature movie, Class, and how as a director he quietly says “aaaand… action” instead of yelling “ACTION!” like we all see in the movies.

He told his mother he was a pessimist. I call myself a realist. I think they are two sides of the same coin.
Just about the same time he was becoming interested in the technical aspects of filmmaking, I was becoming more and more interested in the technical aspects of photography and press work. As a girl, however, opportunities at the time were limited. At one job, I did become friendly with a stripper (not THAT kind) and would let me watch him work during my lunch and would occasionally let me make bluelines. Every so often I was told I was told I had aptitude. And just like McCarthy was told “you became a pro on this one, Andy,” I would fly high.

One page 130, he finally gets to my favorite of all the Brat Pack movies; St. Elmo’s Fire and devotes a solid twenty-something pages to it. His character, Kevin, felt like it had followed me around my entire life. Cynical, sarcastic, in the background of the group, the oversized clothes, the camel-hair coat. His behind-the-scenes account of the “Respect bongo” scene, my favorite of the entire movie, was just wonderful.

He talks about his use – and abuse – of alcohol. The year he went into rehab was the year I graduated from college. He faced his demon head on and won. Instead of thinking of it as the end of his career, he continued to push forward. He found his way to… writing.

I also give him a lot of credit for how he handled the end of his father’s life. Gracious is hardly enough to describe how he faced the situation.

Overall, I really enjoyed his writing style and his ability to construct some beautifully written sentences. Over time he came to accept his role as a member of the Brat Pack. He now understands that for many of us fellow Gen-Xers, those movies hold a special place for us. For that, I am thankful.

I hope it is a little easier bein’ you now, Mr. McCarthy.

Fall Festivals: Jersey Style

Van Ripers Farm

10/22/1975 Woodcliff Lake. The witches, ghosts, and goblins are making a return visit at Van Riper’s Farm in Woodcliff Lake as Holloween draws near. Photo Credit: Peter Monsees

Many people look forward to fall. The turning of the leaves. Picking pumpkins. Apple cider donuts. It helps make the thought of the cold winter on the way much more tolerable. As a child, I fondly remember going to Van Ryper Farms in Woodcliff Lake, carefully passing the scary witch, to pick the perfect family pumpkin and bring home a bag of hot cider donuts. Sadly, as Joni Mitchell laments, they paved paradise and put up a parking lot.

Thankfully, there are still many great fall festivals up and down the Garden State. From the food and drink to pumpkins and cider, New Jersey has something for everyone! Here are some to wonderful events for everyone in the family.

Fall Fest Food Truck and Music Festival, Wildwood

Many times I have shared stories about my love of Wildwood and Wildwood Crest. Well, the fun “down the shore” doesn’t end on Labor Day. The Fall Fest Food Truck and Music Festival takes place on September 21st. This years Fall Fest will take place in Fox Park, from 11am – 4pm. There is a “kids zone” for the little ones and plenty of great food and music!

Fall Festival & Classic Car Show, Union

Enjoy some chili while checking out beautiful classic cars at the Fall Festival & Classic Car Show in Union. This is a relatively new event and takes place at Stuyvesant Ave from Vauxhall Rd. to the Cannon and it sounds like a lot of fun!

Cranberry Fest 2019, Bordentown City

The history of cranberries is older than the recorded history of America. Long before the first European settlers arrived, the Indians not only ate cranberries, but also used them as medicine and clothing dye. New Jersey is one of the top farming locations in the country for our this little tart berry. The Cranberry Fest in Bordentown City is in its 30th year and offers over 150 crafters, artists and vendors, and 40,000 visitors annually.

Bloomfield 2019 Harvest Fest

Right nearby my beloved home town of Belleville is the Bloomfield 2019 Harvest Fest. This wonderful event includes the best food from local restaurants, rides, and even a petting zoo for the kids!

So what are your favorite festivals?

 

 

Memorial Day Events 2017

MemorialDayMemorial Day weekend is upon us. While everyone enjoys an extra day off and barbecues, it is important to remember what the day is really about – remembering those who paid for our freedom with their lives. There are a number of events throughout the state where you can pay respect to these men and women we should never forget.

Memorial Day Ceremony at NJ Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial:
The annual ceremony will take place at 11:00 a.m. on Monday. In addition to honoring our Veterans, five Vietnam Veterans will be inducted into the “In Memory Program.” Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno will be the Keynote Speaker and musical entertainment by Sandra Ward. The Museum will remain open until 2:00 PM following the ceremony.

Fleet Week at Liberty State Park:
May 28, 2017; 10:00 AM until 05:00 PM
1 Audrey Zapp Dr.
Liberty State Park
Jersey City, NJ
Event is free and open to the public.
This family event features performances by the U.S. Coast Guard Silent Drill Team, the U.S. Navy Band and the U.S. Marine Corps band.  Attendees will also get to experience parachute, helicopter, and search and rescue demonstrations by the Navy and Coast Guard. Military tactical vehicles, a U.S. Navy dive tank. More exhibits will also be on display throughout the day along with kids activities, and more.

Bedminster Memorial Day Parade:
The parade will begin at 10am at the old Bedminster school on the corner of Elm St & Lamington Rd. A parade will follow down Lamington Rd, a ½ mile to the Far Hills ceremony which will take place at approximately 10:45 at the municipal building on the corner of Prospect St & Peapack Rd. (across from the fairgrounds). After the ceremony we will be serving hot dogs and refreshments in the fairgrounds.

Livingston Memorial Day Parade:
This year’s Memorial Day services will start at 9:30 am, Monday, May 29, 2017 with a ceremonial service at the Oval to commemorate those who have died defending the United States. At 10:00 am, after the ceremony, the parade will start on S. Livingston Avenue and will end at Congressional Way. In the event of inclement weather the Ceremonial Service will be held at the LHS Auditorium.

Oakland Memorial Day Parade:
The annual Memorial Day Parade and Ceremony, sponsored by the American Legion and the Borough of Oakland, will be held on Sunday, May 28th, 2017 beginning at 1:00 PM at Grove Street and Ramapo Valley Road. The parade will close with a ceremony in Veterans Park. Complimentary food and refreshments will be served at the American Legion Post at 65 Oak Street immediately following the parade.

Memorial Day Weekend Fireworks:
Sunday, May 28, 8:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.
Asbury Park Boardwalk
Ocean Avenue Between Asbury and Sunset Avenue
Asbury Park, New Jersey
For viewers who want to get in on a private viewing, The Mezzanine Room & Balcony of the iconic Paramount Theatre will be open to the public for a special birds-eye-view of the 2017 Memorial Day Fireworks, complete with music provided by a favorite Asbury Park DJ. Doors open at 8:00 p.m. and fireworks will begin at approximately 9:00 p.m. There will be a cash bar for guests 21 & up. All ages are welcome, (please note that children must be accompanied by an adult). Standing room only. This event will take place weather permitting. Full refunds will be issued if the event is cancelled due to weather.

NNJ Veterans Memorial Cemetery:
Memorial Day Service
Monday, May 29
11:00 a.m.
75 North Church Road, Sparta

Shop Small in New Jersey this Weekend

Small Business SaturdayWhile many are focused on Black Friday and the big box stores, what I am really excited about is Small Business Saturday. Depending on the study and the area, anywhere fom 50% to 80% of money spent stays right in that local community. Many towns are planning special events this upcoming Saturday. Here are a few:

Hackettstown: They are extending Small Business Saturday to Small Business Week! Some of the events include a Luce Decor Holiday Open House, Hackettstown Historical Society is having a special event on December 6th from 5:00 p.m. until 9:00 p.m., the Old Souk Trading Company Semi-Annual Sale takes place from Saturday, Nov. 30 to Friday, Dec. 6.
Collingswood: Earthen Treasures will be at the Art Within Reach Event December 6-8, Grooveground is offering special deals that include extra gift cards when you purchase a gift card. Blue Moon Premiun Oil & Vinegar is giving a $5 off a “make-your-own” sampler. There are also plenty of specials at stores for the kids like Duck Duck Goods and ExtraordinaryEd. You can find the complete list at the Collingswood Patch.
Denville: The town of Denville starts on Friday with plenty of activities, including a tree lighting, story time with Mrs. Claus, and choirs from the local schools.
Middlesex, Union and Somerset Counties: the Tri-County Chamber of Commerce will host its first “Shop Small Business Saturday” at the Somerville Elks Lodge located at 375 Union Ave. (Route 28) Bridgewater, NJ 08807.  The show will have a variety of vendors offering unique boutique-like items and services as well as merchandise from consultants for larger companies.
Morristown: The Morristown Patch is lending a hand to Morristown’s Small Business Saturday by offering free parking when you come to “shop small.”

These are just a few of the events going on around the state. Know of others? Add to the comments section below. Or better yet, post them on my Facebook page! And make sure to shop small this weekend!