Saturday, December 15, 2012

Thirty years, sixty one mass shootings... Can we talk about it now?

Friday morning, I spoke to my writing partner, Ambarish Manepalli, and we sent off two scenes for a network diversity showcase in Los Angeles.  The scenes, from a screenplay we’d written a few years ago, is one of our favorites and the script is one of our next projects. 

The script is about two office drones from accounts payable who are bumbling their way through their first job as hit men.  (It is registered with the WGA, so, no, you can’t steal the idea…)

The end of one of the scenes is as follows.



Walt and Mikey flanked by fishing gear, camping equipment and badminton sets.  In front of them is an arsenal.  A wall of guns and ammunition.  A pimply high school kid stands in front of them.  A SIGN sits on the counter.

Walt reads it.

No background checks, no waiting period, no permits required.


Welcome to WalMart.


A little jab at the ridiculousness of our gun culture?  Yes.  

A funny bit?  Yes.

Deadly serious?  Absolutely. 

We hit "send" and off went our bit of tongue in cheek comic brilliance.  Only the two of us knew the truth of our script:  That Mikey and Walt never end up using the guns.  This was not a political decision, just worked in the scheme of the film. 

I went to the park with my toddler, passing the school where we go once a week for a pre-pre-K class, and we ran and played.  Then I checked my phone for email and dipped into Facebook. 

I wish I hadn’t. 

Twenty children and six adults, dead. 

One gunman.

This is becoming all too common in this country and it is unbearable. 

There was a flurry on Facebook and Twitter.  Expressions of grief, outrage and the typical gnashing of teeth associated with a mass shooting.  (There were three this week, in case you’re keeping score.)

And there was also the immediate call from gun advocates that, “This is not the time to discuss gun policy.” 

I grew up with a healthy respect for guns, taught to my by an uncle who made sure my cousins and I were educated in gun safety.   I’m not a hunter, fishing is more my speed, but I have no problem with people having guns.  None at all.   I will say that if you need an assault rifle to hunt, you're doing it wrong.  If you need one to protect your home, you might want to rethink what you're doing what would cause an army to invade your house.

But, I truly don’t want your guns.  I'm not asking for a ban on guns.  Seriously.  

I do want us to have a conversation about them.  I do want us to discuss the gun lobby and their power in the halls of our government.  (I lump the NRA in with the manufacturers, not gun owners.  It’s been a long time since they actually represented the desires of gun owners…)

For the last thirty years the gun lobby has dominated the debate.  When there’s a tragedy, they tell us it’s not the time to discuss gun policy.  When there’s not a tragedy, they sit on the shoulder of our elected representatives and remind them of campaign cash given and the promise of more. 

It doesn’t matter what party.  Republicans suck at the teat of the gun lobby with glee and Democrats are too feckless to do otherwise.

This time the victims aren’t adults strolling through a mall or grocery shopping at their local Albertsons or watching a movie.   The perpetrator is not a high school kid who has been bullied and taking revenge on his peers.  This time it’s an adult with a history of mental illness who took his mother’s legally purchased weapons, killed her, and then went into a classroom of six and seven year olds and killed them. 

There’s a rule in movies:  “You can’t kill the child.  The audience will disengage and hate your movie.”    Why?  Because it hits too close to home.   Parents project their own children onto that child on screen.

Just like every parent projected his or her children onto every victim in Newtown. 

I did it.  I knelt down in a sporting goods store, my child asleep in his stroller, surrounded by toddler sized soccer balls, and cried.  And I spent the rest of the day holding him any time I could.   My wife came home after work and sat on the floor, Turtle in her lap, and immediately engulfed him in hugs and kisses.

The people who make and sell guns have, for thirty years, had advocates and lobbyists to pursue their best interests in Washington.  It’s not about the Second Amendment, which is often mis-stated as “the right to bear arms, shall not be infringed.”  (The actual text says: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”  People forget the pre-amble.)   This fight has been about profit.  Gun manufacturers have a product to sell.   Relax gun laws and you can sell more powerful guns.  Keep gun owners scared that some unseen boogey man will take away their arsenal, and they’ll buy more and more.

It’s time those of us who don’t own a gun have the same kind of voice. 

It’s time that those too young to own a gun have advocates. 

It’s time we reclaim the discussion; pry it from the cold, dead hearts of the gun lobby, and talk about sensible measures that will ensure gun owners their right to have their guns but that protect the vast majority of us who don’t have them. 

According to Think Progress:

“a poll conducted in May (2012) by Republican pollster Frank Luntz for the group Mayors against Illegal Guns, gun-owning Americans, including National Rifle Association (NRA) members, overwhelmingly support a raft of common-sense measures typically described as “gun control:”
 1. Requiring criminal background checks on gun owners and gun shop employees. 87 percent of non-NRA gun-owners and 74 percent of NRA gun owners support the former, and 80 percent and 79 percent, respectively, endorse the latter.
 2. Prohibiting terrorist watch list members from acquiring guns. Support ranges from 80 percent among non-NRA gun-owners to 71 percent among NRA members.
 3. Mandating that gun-owners tell the police when their gun is stolen. 71 percent non-NRA gun-owners support this measure, as do 64 percent of NRA members.
 4. Concealed carry permits should only be restricted to individuals who have completed a safety training course and are 21 and older. 84 percent of non-NRA and 74 percent of NRA member gun-owners support the safety training restriction, and the numbers are 74 percent and 63 percent for the age restriction.
 5. Concealed carry permits shouldn’t be given to perpetrators of violent misdemeanors or individuals arrested for domestic violence. The NRA/non-NRA gun-owner split on these issues is 81 percent and 75 percent in favor of the violent misdemeanors provision and 78 percent/68 percent in favor of the domestic violence restriction.
 The poll, which sampled 945 gun owners around the country and had a margin of error of +/- 3, also found broad support gun-owners for the principle that “support for 2nd Amendment rights goes hand-in-hand with keeping illegal guns out of the hands of criminals.” In fact, more NRA members (87 percent) supported the statement than non-NRA members (83 percent).”

Maybe it’s time for we non-gun owners to unite with reasonable gun owners and force the NRA to represent it's member's best interests, the best interests of all Americans, not the industry.

Maybe I'll start with the guy who showed up at my son's school Christmas party brashly wearing his NRA hat in the middle of an auditorium full of elementary school kids - the same night as the Newtown shooting.  It displayed the kind of insensitivity that has marked our national discourse on gun control and gun safety for the last thirty years, but maybe, just maybe, if we have this conversation, we'll find common ground and can effect change.

Today, I’m adding this to the list of things for which I advocate for my son. 

The true tragedy is that I even have to.

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Saturday, December 1, 2012

Turtle, Disney's Rockin Ever After, and a Lesson in Small Things

I had the good fortune to be invited to the latest Disney on Ice show, Rockin Ever After.   

I should preface this by telling you I got free tickets for my family simply for sharing tweets and writing something about it.  I know there are plenty of bloggers out there who write these things to get free stuff.   

I’m not one of them.   

I prefer to pay for a product and then, if it’s horrible, I’ll be free to say so.  But this was an experience and one that my son would probably not get otherwise.  I’ll happily accept those.

I should also say I wasn’t a huge fan of ice shows, although one well-kept (until now) family secret is just how much I know about ice-skating every four years during the Olympics.   (I’ve recently become a convert to ice shows.  My toddler changed my mind.)

I am now the father of a two and a half year old son who is obsessed with princesses, quite specifically Belle from Beauty and the Beast. 

Turtle is the kid who memorizes every song from Mary Poppins after a single viewing and then spends the next four months singing them in an ongoing medley. 

His only exposure to Belle was a Disney book we bought him and the library’s copy of Beauty and the Beast.  We watched it once.  It was decided shortly thereafter that we would be having a Beauty and the Beast birthday party for Grandma B while she was in town.  He watched it again.
I’m sure you can see where this is going. 

 “We going to Book’n to Barky Center?” 

Yes, son.  We are.

On Tuesday evening, November 27, my son and I jumped on the train from Queens and trekked to the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn.

It was my first time at that venue and it’s amazing.   A Nets practice court you can watch from the Starbucks?   Genius. 

Our hosts led us to a reception with other bloggers to meet the people behind the show, the Feld family.  The Felds, Kenneth Feld and his daughters Juliette and Nicole, produce Disney on Ice and were kind enough to spend time with us.  (More on this in a second.)

Skaters from the show came and talked to the kids and there was a special visit with Merida, star of the hit film, Brave. 

My kid is not shrinking violet and he has more girlfriends - actual beautiful adult female girlfriends - at our local coffee shop than I did all through college… and that’s quite a number. 

Merida was no exception.  Turtle was one of the youngest kids there and the line to meet her may have made him a little shy, but he found his way in.  He took the program for the show (which he’s slept with every night since and still carries with him everywhere) walked up to her, opened the page to her picture and sat on the floor in front of her.   Instead of a photo op, this turned into Turtle and Merida sitting on the floor, hanging out.

Yeah.  Hide your daughters. 

When it was time for the show, the wife and I strapped on our Mickey ears and the three of us head to our seats. 

Two observations:
  1. The Barclay’s Center is a great venue.  I can only imagine basketball games there… Or I can get tickets.  Which I will do right now.
  2.  Two, the food is great.  (Especially for a sports arena)  Get a burger.  Seriously. 
The show was great, a contrived talent show where each of the featured stories basically did a greatest hits from their films, only on ice.   The Little Mermaid, Tangled, Brave, and Beauty and the Beast were all well represented.

My son managed to sit, enthralled, well past his bedtime.

Therein lies my only critique:  the set pieces can seem long.    

But the show was great and Turtle has been singing the Gaston song and talking about his “friend Merida” non-stop. 

Fellow NYC Dad’s Group blogger, Adam Gertsacov, wrote a wonderfully thorough review of the show here.

What struck me most about this show was an announcement before the performances even started. 

Bruce Ratner, the Feld family, and Brooklyn Borough president Marti Markowitz (straight out of central casting) made a few announcements.  Much glad-handing ensued.

Then they dropped this bomb. 

The Feld Family donated ten thousand tickets to victims of Hurricane Sandy.

10,000 tickets.  Free. 

I have been trying to put together a post about my experiences heading out to Far Rockaway and Broad Channel after Hurricane Sandy.   I have some friends who deserve a shout out, Andrea Ciannavei, who helped coordinate much of the initial response through InterOccupy and Occupy Sandy, Ed Vassallo who has been on the ground since the first car could get out there (with the lovely Annabella Sciorra).

What is painfully clear is that so many of us don’t know what to do after a major catastrophe.  We want desperately to help and run headlong into the fray.  We want to do big things.

A good friend, actor Anson Mount, has been spending a good deal time out there ripping homes apart and doing yeoman’s work.  He initially thought giving away free gasoline out of a gigantic drum in the back of a truck was a brilliant idea until it turned into an episode of The Walking Dead.  (Ironically on the same network as his show.)   

The last thing I wanted was to look at my son and have him ask what I did and say, "Nothing." I spent time spreading information, sorting clothing, talking to victims, carrying the odd thing here or there.  These were all things assigned to us by some group or another.  

At one point I turned and found some guy trying to hack his fingers off while attempting to chase an onion around a cutting board with a knife.  I thought he worked for the food truck that was giving away free food but he was just a volunteer.  I walked up and said, “I’d love to help.  I’ve got mad knife skills.”  One of the guys handed me an F.Dick chef’s knife that had somehow lost its tip.  (Someone tried use it to open a can of beans.)

I worked my way through a bag of onions and carrots and celery and we fed people.. 

I ended up finding a place where my skills could be put to use.  Cutting vegetables, making a soup – these things still seemed too small.  I wanted a bigger task. 

So they sent me to pick up shells off a football field. 

I should have stayed with the soup.

The Felds had a show.  They had entertainment and a warm arena filled with laughter and cheers. 

For a family who has lost everything, this is a moment of joy that they will never forget.  A moment away from filling out FEMA forms, finding shelter, tracking any belongings that weren’t washed away with the storm. 

It’s a cup of warm soup in the cold when your power is off and the winter wind is picking up. 

That’s not so small a thing.

Disney on Ice at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn through December 2.

Tickets via the Barclays Center web page here.

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