New Book Coming March 27th! Autism Dad 3!

Autism Dad 3: Life Skills & Life Lessons: Preparing Our Special-Needs Child For Adulthood

My new book, Autism Dad 3: Life Skills & Life Lessons: Preparing Our Special-Needs Child For Adulthood,  comes out March 27.

Order it here!

Teenagers with autism need life skills and job training. Life Skills & Life Lessons: Autism Dad 3 is a personal memoir told with humor and grace that looks at the unique challenges facing special-needs children transitioning into young adulthood. This collection of essays not only details a father’s take on raising a special-needs child, but tells the story of a family shaped by the everyday challenges and rewards of raising a child with autism.
Essays include…
* What Causes Autism And Can It Be Prevented?
* Teething Pain Is Only The Beginning
* Autism And The Art Of Toilet Seats
* Help Wanted: Employers With Open Hearts And Minds
* Celebrity Autism Insults Real People Struggling With ASD
* Precocious Pre-Teen And Racy TV Ads Yield Parental Torment

Autism Dad 3: Life Skills and Life Lessons
ISBN-13: 978-1983499593
ISBN-10: 1983499595
$10.99 print/$3.99 digital

Tiny Writing On Bath Bottles Is Cruel Joke On The Naked

“Argh! I can’t tell the shampoo and conditioner apart!”

Every time I wash my hair I feel like the victim of a cruel joke…and not just because I’m naked in the shower. It’s because I can’t figure out which bottle is shampoo.

My wife and daughter use a lot of different products, from shampoos and conditioners to body washes and cleansing gels. Everything comes in pretty, decorative bottles with cleverly designed logos and packaging. It’s all too clever for me, who has weak eyesight, and can’t read the labels very well.

What’s in this bottle? I know the brand, and I know it’s called “Hello Hydration,” or “Body Envy,” but what is it? What’s Brazilian Keratin Therapy? Do I need that? One bottle promises “nourishing oils,” while another offers a soupy mixture of rosemary and eucalyphus. Am I really supposed to pour this on my head?

I’ve frequently have to exit mid-shower and find my fogged-up glasses so I can read the labels on bath products. Even with corrected vision it’s hard to tell what some of this stuff is. I know it will “strengthen, enhance, and heal” my hair, leaving it, “sleek and shiny, full of bounce and body.” I know it’s made with exotic-sounding ingredients like kukuli oil, moroccan argan oil, and teatree mint. These things are clearly legible on the bottle. But where are the words telling me what this stuff is?

Ah, there. Printed in a miniscule font usually reserved for legal documents are the words, “shampoo,” “conditioner,” or “body wash.” It’s usually written on the very bottom of the bottle, or stuck in the middle, sandwiched between two larger-type phrases. (Superior Shine / Rejuvenate and Revive).

Thanks to my friends at PhatLabels.com, I can differentiate between my hair care products!

Manufacturers in the cutthroat hair care industry have over-designed their product packaging to the point of uselessness. They are so focused on making their bottles look appealing, they forget to tell you what’s inside.

Admittedly, I’m out of touch when it comes to hair care. My wife and daughter speak the language; they know what all this stuff is and does. Many products use small-type on labels (“100% Spring Water” / “Chocolate Flavored Drink”) and I don’t demand such explanatory packaging from my hot dogs or potato chips.

But bath products are always used when you’re wet, naked, and vulnerable. You squint to protect your eyes from water and soap, so your vision is automatically impaired. If you wear glasses you’ve got double trouble. How are we supposed to see clearly in the tub or shower? Hey, Mr. Shampoo Guy, how about an easy-read label here? Better yet, put Braille bumps on your plastic bottles. This type of universal design would assist users of all ages and bathing levels, while teaching everyone a bit of Braille and the importance of touch. We’re all blind in the shower.

I’ve learned to pick out my bath products before I get in the tub, an essential procedure for anyone who wears glasses and/or shares a bathroom with a woman. There are so many strange and mystifying products in a lady’s bathroom, it’s best to keep your male toiletries to yourself. More than once I’ve fumbled out of a slippery shower, groping for my glasses, only to find myself holding a bottle of Nair.

Near miss! Lesson learned.

This column ran in TODAY Newspapers in January 2016. Thanks to my friends at PhatLabels.com for the life-saving labels!

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The Death of Local News—Why Gannett Media Sucks

I used to be “Part of the USA TODAY Network.” (Sigh).

Big fish eat little fish. That is the law of the sea as well as the law of business. Smaller companies get bought up by bigger companies. It’s happened in the telephone and cable business, and in many retail markets—giant box stores like Loews and Home Depot have put nearly all of the Mom-and-Pop hardware stores out of business. Big businesses keep getting bigger, until the government steps in and breaks them apart into a bunch of smaller companies again.

Publishing is a business like any other. Local newspapers and magazines were once family-owned businesses serving residents and business owners of a certain geographic area. Eventually those small weekly or monthly publications are bought up by a regional daily newspaper. Then the regional newspaper gets bought by a state newspaper, and, ultimately, the state newspaper gets consumed by a large publishing conglomerate.

FU TODAY ... and every day!
FU TODAY…and every day.

As a reader, this may seem beneficial at first. Your local newspaper is suddenly filled with a broader range of writers and articles than ever before! But, before long, readers find what’s gone missing from their local newspaper is local news. Big companies don’t want to pay a bunch of small-time, small-town journalists to cover local news. They’ve already got plenty of writers cranking out content under their corporate umbrella. Why waste money on more?

I’ve been a bystander to corporate buy-outs before. As an employee of the “little fish,” you’re made to feel about as important as an old office chair or outdated computer while the “new boss” assesses your functionality and worth. What does it do? Does it still work? Do we need it? Ah, let’s keep it around for a while until we either upgrade or scrap it altogether. My post-employment record after a buy-out is usually a year or two before the new boss cleans house. The big boys (and girls) at Gannett Media brushed me out the door in ten months.

So dashing in 1996. So fired now.

I’m not alone. Last month, Gannett fired me, Nancy Rubenstein, and a slew of other longtime writers from its “weekly” division—TODAY Newspapers, Dateline Journal, and the South Bergenite among other publications. I’ve been writing my column “Hmm…” twice a month for the last 25 years, covering issues and events that affect Wayne, Totowa, Little Falls and beyond. Nancy’s written “Believe Me” every week for 55 years!

When Gannett bought The Record in October 2016, its didn’t just buy a bunch of newspaper publications to use as advertising vehicles. It bought a staff of writers that embody the voice of hometown news, and a readership that appreciates and trusts those voices. With those local voices gone, I expect the readership will soon follow. Why read a local newspaper that no longer features local news and opinions?

Print journalism, kids! Wave bye-bye!

I knew I was in trouble when my contact person at Gannett was a “print planner” and not an editor. The “print planner” was more concerned with how I submitted my articles than what was in them. I’d occasionally submit story ideas to my print planner, who was supposed to pass them on to an editor, but I never heard back from anyone. I never got any editorial feedback from Gannett other than the email informing me of my dismissal. Are there still real, live people who assign, shape, and publish stories (aka “editors”) somewhere inside the giant Gannett machine?

By cutting local writers from its local newspapers, Gannett lost one of the major assets that made its weekly division valuable. Without real writers, weekly newspapers become nothing more than “shoppers,” advertising circulars without substance, and readers will view them as such, using them to wrap fish, line birdcages, and not much else. The readers will leave and the newspapers will die. Writers like me, Nancy, and the rest will try to find new markets for our work in the few remaining print publications or on the digital publishing frontier.

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Fighting A Losing Battle Against Roots, Wings, and Time

She’s going, and that’s all there is to it.

My nine-year-old daughter got invited to spend a week with her cousins at their lake house in New Hampshire. It’s been in the planning stages for weeks, and she’s got everything worked out. She knows what outfits to pack, which shampoos to bring, and which stuffed animals will make the trip with her. She’ll be under the watchful eye of my brother and sister-in-law the entire time. She’s going to have a blast, the time of her life.

But I don’t want her to go.

“Look, Dad, you have to be reasonable,” my daughter says, her expression so serious, she looks 19 instead of nine. “I’ve been to sleepovers before. And I spent the whole week with my cousins when we were at the shore. I’ll be fine!”

She’s done two sleepovers. The first was a Girl Scouts campout at a park across the street from our house. I spent all day — and most of the night — staring out the window, wondering if she was okay. The second was a slumber party at a friend’s house. She was fine both nights.

But I wasn’t.

Home Alone

Our house feels strange when a family member is missing at lights out. I feel the same when my wife spends the night away. (A rare occurrence — the only times I recall her being gone overnight were when her Mom was dying, and when she was in the hospital following her stroke.) Our home doesn’t feel right — doesn’t feel like our home — if the entire family isn’t present and accounted for.

I know I’m fighting a battle that’s already lost. My daughter has her mother’s support.

“It’ll be good for her to get out of the house for a week. And she’ll be with family,” my wife says. “You know the old saying: ‘The best thing you can do for your kids is give them roots, and give them wings.’”

“Wings suck,” I say. “She’s only nine. Too young to fly.”

“Didn’t you have sleepovers at her age? Didn’t you spend vacation with your cousins?”

Yes, I had sleepovers, and vacations away from my parents at her age. I remember having fun. But what I remember most is the feeling of freedom and independence. I was a big boy. I didn’t need my parents so much anymore. I could take care of myself. I had my own life, and they had theirs.

It was the start of a detachment from my parents, my first stumbling steps toward adolescence.

I don’t want my daughter to detach from my wife and I. I don’t want her to taste freedom. I want to stop it, squelch it. I want to stunt her growth. I want to seal my wife and kids up in a bell jar, freeze time so none of us gets any older.

Like I said, I’m fighting a losing battle. But this isn’t about being an overprotective father, or a visit to my brother’s lake house.

I fear my daughter is growing up too fast (Well, too fast for me — too slow for her.) Before I know it, she won’t be lecturing me like a 19-year-old, she’ll be a 19-year-old, wings fully spread, and she’ll be able to fly wherever she wants.

I hope my daughter never gets an ugly "roots & wings" tattoo.
I hope my daughter never gets an ugly “roots & wings” tattoo.

I’ve seen my daughter’s wings. They are beautiful, powerful, colorful, and strong. I know they will carry her far in life.

But I’m also afraid that someday they’ll carry her away from me.

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Originally published in Wayne TODAY, August 2013
Blackjack spill

New Jersey’s Death Row A Comfortable Wait

Some people deserve to die. Jesse Timmendequas is one of those people.

In 1994, Timmendequas lured 7-year-old Megan Kanka to his home by saying he wanted to show her a puppy. He then raped her, beat her and strangled her with a belt. A day later, he led police to her body. His crimes lead to the passage of Megan’s Law.

But Jesse Timmendequas is not going to be executed for his crimes even though he was sentenced to death in 1997. Last month New Jersey became the first state in more than three decades to abolish the death penalty. A state commission ruled the punishment “inconsistent with evolving standards of decency.” Jesse Timmendequas’ death sentence – along with the death sentences of the other 12 prisoners on New Jersey’s death row – was commuted to life in prison.

The way I see it, the standards of decency, both in New Jersey and abroad, seem to be devolving rather than evolving. Society is breaking down, falling apart. The only way to halt the decline is to draw a clear line in the sand: some crimes are going to cost you your life. Serial rapists and murderers. People who commit heinous crimes against the young, the old, or the vulnerable. There is no place in society for these people. If civilization were a tree these are the diseased limbs that need pruning.

Wait-Comfortably-Until Death Row

Just down the hall from Jesse Timmendequas (on what’s now called “wait-comfortably-until-you-die row”) is Robert Marshall, subject of the best-selling book “Blind Faith.” Marshall, a once-prominent Toms River insurance broker was sentenced to death in 1986 for hiring three men to murder his wife, Maria, so he could collect $1.4 million in life insurance and begin a new life with another woman. Marshall, who maintains his innocence, also had his death sentence commuted to life in prison.

Jesse Timmendequas, the scumbag who inspired Megan's Law, enjoys a cozy life in prison courtesy of your tax dollars.
Jesse Timmendequas, the scumbag who inspired Megan’s Law, enjoys a cozy life in prison courtesy of your tax dollars.

Death penalty opponents have a million arguments, the most significant being “we’ve taken dangerous criminals off the streets; do we really need to take their lives, too?” I say yes. A life in prison is still a life. You can still read, write, pray, meditate, whatever. You can still grow as a person, even behind bars. I don’t think hardcore criminals deserve the opportunity to grow. They certainly denied it of their victims. Death penalty opponents also contend that, once you factor in all the appeals, it is more expensive to execute a prisoner than to keep him or her in jail for life. If this is true, it says more about the flaws of our legal system than it does about the quest for true justice. Three strikes and you’re out, three appeals and you’re done. Why does it have to be more complicated than that?

Perhaps a just resolve to New Jersey’s death penalty ban would be to put the former Death Row prisoners back into general population. A guy who kills his wife for insurance money like Robert Marshall would probably be allowed to spend the rest of his life in jail. But a child rapist and murderer like Jesse Timmendequas wouldn’t last more than a year or two before the other inmates kill him, in some way that is decidedly cruel and unusual. That’s what happened to Jeffery Dahmer, who was beaten to death with a piece of gym equipment by a fellow inmate who believed he was doing “the work of God.” Harsh as it seems, perhaps that is what’s meant to happen. There is an honor among thieves; rapists and murderers, too. All agree that child molesters are the lowest of the low. Even the wicked have a moral code, a pecking order of bad, a line they won’t sink beneath. Elected officials and bleeding-heart bureaucrats may bungle it, but maybe the “prison justice” of convicted felons can set it right again.

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Originally publish in Wayne TODAY, January 2008

Modern Concerts Are Big On Spectacle, Short On Feel

Once upon a time, I loved going to rock concerts.

It didn’t matter what the act was. Tickets were cheap in the 1980s: $15-$20; maybe $27.50 for fancy seats.

One week in the mid-80s I saw REO Speedwagon on a Monday night, and KISS that Thursday. I was at an Ozzy Osbourne/Metallica show where the crowd ripped open the seats and tossed seat cushions around the arena until a swirling cloud of cushions hovered over the arena floor. I thought there was a fire when Rage Against the Machine played the Lollapalooza Festival in 1993, but it wasn’t smoke; it was the mosh pit kicking up dry dust in front of the stage. A decade earlier Brian Johnson walked down our aisle with Angus Young on his shoulders during an AC/DC concert at the Brendon Byrne area. It really impressed my girlfriend at the time.

Back in the day, the Brendan Byrne Arena and Giants Stadium were the main concert venues for big touring acts. Both venues are still around but they’ve sold their names for corporate sponsorship; they’re the Izod Center and Metlife Stadium now.

Even though I haven’t been to a big rock concert in over a decade, I was happy to take my 10-year-old daughter and her friend to see One Direction at Metlife Stadium recently. Live music is awesome and I was eager to indoctrinate my daughter into the rock concert experience.

1D For Me

One Direction takes the stage.

Making our way into Metlife Stadium I noticed a trend; it seemed most parents were waiting in the parking lot, tailgating, while their kids went into the concert. Not me. I was there for the music, man! Plus, my daughter’s only 10, I wasn’t going to send her and her friend into Metlife Stadium by themselves.

One Direction played a fine set, though the emphasis seemed to be more on explosions, fireworks, streamers and balloons rather than the music. During the power ballad everybody held up the flashlight app on their cell phones and waved them back and forth. I wondered what happened to all the cigarette lighters, but then I realized that nobody smokes anymore, and lighters are dangerous.

The One Direction concert came off a bit impersonal, but I can’t blame the band. They’re just following a trend that began years ago, back when I was still a regular concertgoer.

Giant video screens have been around at rock concerts since the early ‘80s, and while it’s supposed to make big stadium shows feel cozy, instead they reduce live performance to a TV show. Why watch the little man with the guitar from 200 yards away when you can watch the video screen and get a close-up? Why even go to a live concert at all when you can watch the same video footage from the comfort of your home?

Cell phone flashlights have replaced lighters at modern concerts. Safer but boring.

Before the use of big video screens, bands used stage effects that enhanced the music rather than distract from it. From the mid-‘60s and into the ‘70s rock bands had liquid light shows or psychedelic light shows projected behind them while they played. The swirling, colorful amoeba shapes were eventually replaced by elaborate lighting rigs that synched with the dynamics of the music. The Genesis light show was a selling point for their live performances well into the 1980s.

Lost In Techno Translation

But as technology advanced, an intimacy was lost in the concert going experience. Giant video screens simultaneously brought audiences closer to the performers and reduced them to characters on TV. During the One Direction concert I saw several fans recording the concert with their camera phones, but instead of focusing on the members of the band, they were recording the images on the giant video screens. Why?

One thing that hasn’t changed about modern concerts is the energy created when fans gather together to celebrate the music they enjoy. This is the core essence of the concert experience, the same blueprint as religious gatherings. I saw many Grateful Dead concerts over the years, and the atmosphere was very close to a church mass. There was the same sense of reverence, respect, ritual, and release.

And hopefully that will never change. Long live rock-n-roll!

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Originally published in Wayne TODAY, October 2014

Insect Omen: Wooly Bear Caterpillar A Sign From Above?

When life gets confusing, sometimes you look to the universe for answers or a sign. This is especially true if you’re facing a big life choice, making a major decision, or, like me, looking for a new job.I took our dogs out for a midnight bathroom break the other night, and I noticed a small, black shape on our landing. At first I thought it was a blackened leaf, or maybe a little “gift” from one of the dogs. I bent down for a closer look and the black shadow wiggled.

It was a big, thick, fuzzy black caterpillar. It was equal parts creepy and beautiful. I’d never seen one like it before.

Where did it come from? Maybe it fell from the trees above. It certainly didn’t belong on our back landing; that was way to close to being inside our house. This multi-legged, furry-backed creature belonged deep in the Great Outdoors. I helped Mr. Caterpillar get one step closer by flicking it into the grass with the end of a broom. It was better suited there among the roots, shoots, and dirt.

But after giving the dogs their biscuits and locking up for the night, I wondered if the mysterious black caterpillar wasn’t the heavenly sign I sought. Caterpillars represent change. They mean fall is coming.

Good Luck, New Birth

Some cultures consider caterpillars a sign of good luck and new birth. Caterpillars mean it’s time to start a new project or endeavor, shed the old and welcome the new.

Old farmers claim you can predict the severity of next winter’s weather based on the amount of fuzz on a caterpillar’s back. According to the guy I met the other night, we’re in for a rough one.

Caterpillars transform themselves like no other creature in nature. They’re built for change. Trading in ten little legs for a pair of colorful wings is what they do. Caterpillars become butterflies, and butterflies are free to fly, fly away. (Though I’m pretty sure the “wooly bear” caterpillar I met the other night will become a Giant Leopard Moth, but you get the idea.)

An Internet hippy named Presley Love puts it this way:

“Caterpillar holds the grand dream of becoming all that it can be, with no limitations. It reaches out to become its greatest expression of self, spirit, and soul. Putting everything aside, it follows the drive to evolve. Caterpillar teaches us to do the same, to find our power to transform in deep meditation, to go into the cocoon and emerge as a greater aspect of self…believing in the possibilities that with faith all things great and small are possible and to remember that the grand and beautiful things have very humble beginnings.”

Creepy Bug At The Door

What was my role in Mr. Caterpillar’s future? Did I sentence him to death by flicking him into our yard, where he might fall prey to birds and other wildlife? Or did I provide him with a “relocation opportunity,” a chance to start over someplace new, a place he’d never considered, a place he would have never reached, without my intervention?

Being unemployed gives you time to think (maybe too much!) Sometimes you feel like a caterpillar, or some other creepy bug, lying on a stranger’s doorstep, waiting to be either crushed or brushed aside. Other times you can feel the wings growing on your back, waiting for the right moment to break free and send you soaring skyward.

Either way, it’s time for a change.

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Originally published in Wayne TODAY, September 2015

Cheap Gas Is Great, But Where Are The Other Savings?

“Can I have $40 regular? Cash.”

This used to get the gas tank on our SUV nearly full. But the other day something miraculous happened. The pump clicked to a stop after $29.50.

“That fills it,” the gas station attendant said, seemingly as astonished as I was. “Here’s your change, sir.”

Wow. I couldn’t have been more astonished if a chorus line of Rockettes had danced out to clean my windshield and check my tire pressure. Gas was cheap! Well, cheaper than it has been. Back in February 2009, at the tail end of the 2008-2009 recession, I wrote about Exxon’s record-setting profits ($46.6 billion in 2008 and $40.6 billion in 2007) that were due, in part, to gas selling for $4 a gallon the previous summer.

Why So Cheap?

So what happened? Why is gas selling for half of what it was? Did we unexpectedly find double the amount of crude oil underground? Have gas engines gotten doubly efficient? Are more dinosaurs dying off, increasing the overall reserve of fossil fuel?

No, no, no. Economists say it’s simple supply and demand; oil companies pumped more fuel than people needed, so gas prices dropped. But there are other reasons gas prices are so low, like:

  • Fracking Up—Environmentally un-friendly technologies like hydraulic fracturing (Fracking) and horizontal drilling have helped America increase its oil output by 50 percent over the last several years. Why import expensive Saudi Arabian oil when we’ve got plenty of crude right here under the slate bedrock in Texas and North Dakota? New drilling technologies are even extracting crude from oil-rich sands in Alberta, Canada. Oil extracted from shale or tight sandstone is called “tight oil,” and business is booming.
  • OPEC is a Mess—The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, whose oil embargo caused America’s “energy crisis” back in 1970s, can’t figure out how to stabilize current gas prices. Iran, Venezuela, and Algeria pushed to cut oil production to firm up prices, but Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other Gulf nations refused. Iran has actually increased its crude oil output. The leaders of OPEC met in November, but failed to come to an agreement, leading oil prices to tumble further.
  • Cold War Over, But Still Chilly—Soviet Communism may not be the threat is was 50 years ago, but Russian leader Vladimir Putin is still an unsettling world leader. By supporting rebels in former Soviet states like Moldova, Belarus and Ukraine, Putin seems on a relentless quest to return the Motherland to its “Glory Days” as a Soviet Union. But cheap petroleum is crippling the Russian economy, and may foil Putin’s expansionist plans. Economists estimate Russia’s Gross Domestic Product will shrink by at least 4.5 percent in 2015 if oil stays at $60 a barrel. Bad news for Russia, but good for those branches of American government responsible for keeping Putin in check.
The bad old days, when a gallon cost nearly $5

Gas prices in the US are expected to creep lower throughout 2015. Economists estimate US drivers will spend about $550 less on gasoline in 2015 than they did in 2014, and $750 less on home heating fuel. Great news!

But where are the rest of the savings?

Trucking is the backbone of American commerce. If fuel costs are half of what they used to be, then the cost of shipping and delivery is less, too. The price of groceries and goods everywhere should be coming down, right? When gas was expensive in 2008, NJ Transit raised bus and train fares. So where are the discount bus and train tickets now that gas is cheap? Why aren’t airline fares coming down? Consumers and commuters need a price rollback here!

Don’t hold your breath waiting.

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Originally published in Wayne TODAY, January 2015

 

 

The Mystery of Superstar Forgiveness in the Age of Apology

A trio of talented awful people: Woody, Bill, and Roman.
A trio of talented awful people: Woody, Bill, and Roman.

We live in the Age of Apology, where knee jerk reactions are the norm, and thin-skinned political correctness reigns. Politicians, pop stars, athletes, actors, comedians, talk show hosts, and church leaders are pressured into insincere public apologies if they “offend” some special interest group or another.

But the Age of Apology has little to do with true forgiveness. Forgiveness in the court of public opinion serves another function altogether.

Send In The Creeps

Exhibit A: Woody Allen. Woody Allen was in a relationship with Mia Farrow for years, helping raise her adopted daughters. But in 1992 Allen separated from Farrow and began a romantic relationship with her adopted daughter, Soon Yi Previn (when Woody was 56, and Soon Yi was 19.) Recently, Woody Allen’s biological daughter with Farrow, Dylan, accused him of molesting her when she was a child.

Woody Allen is a creep.

But he’s also a brilliant artist whose career spans over 50 years. Critic Roger Ebert called Woody Allen “a treasure of the cinema.” Woody’s latest film, “Blue Jasmine,” is amassing award nominations. Audiences and actors alike look past Woody’s personal faults and continue to enjoy his art.

Roman Polanski is despicable, too. In 1977 he admitted to drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl. He worked out a deal that would spare him jail time, but when that deal fell apart, he fled the country and hasn’t set foot on American soil since.

But Polanski still makes great films. In 2002 he won the Best Director Oscar for “The Pianist.” Actors are eager to work with Polanski, and producers finance his films. Evidently his crimes can be overlooked, too.

Mel hates Jews, but makes awesome movies!
Mel hates Jews, but makes awesome movies!

Despicable Hollywood Creep #3: Mel Gibson. Gibson’s drunken anti-Semitic rants, and hate-filled voicemails to his ex-girlfriend show serious personal problems. Mel Gibson isn’t on Woody Allen or Roman Polanski’s level (either as an artist or a criminal) but — for whatever reason — he DOES NOT get a pass. Nobody wants to work with old Mel anymore … at least not at the moment or for the foreseeable future.

Why are some loathsome artists forgiven while others aren’t? Why is Alec Baldwin A-list and Mel Gibson on the blacklist? They’re both entitled jerks with explosive tempers. Why can we separate the man from his art in one case, but not the other?

Time heals wounds, and public perception and political climates change. Death helps, too. When an artist is long gone, his work can finally be viewed objectively, apart from the way he lived life. Charles Dickens was a terrible husband and father. Pablo Picasso was a philanderer. Writers Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot were anti-Semitic, as was composer Richard Wagner.

“We Forgive You, Rock Star!”

Today we forgive Chris Brown for beating up girlfriend Rihanna, though a generation ago we couldn’t forgive Ike Turner for doing the same to Tina. We absolve Marv Albert of sexual assault and Michael Vick of animal cruelty, but come down hard on Paula Deen for racial slurs she uttered decades ago.

There are parallels in the world of sports. Alex Rodriguez (baseball cheat) is on brink of flushing his legacy down the toilet. Lance Armstrong (cycling cheat) already did, along with Barry Bonds (baseball cheat), and Aaron Hernandez (serial killer).

Others athletes are forgiven. Tiger Woods (adultery), Pete Rose (sports gambling), Kobe Bryant (sexual assault), and Ben Roethlisberger (sexual assault) have all outdistanced their checkered pasts.

My job as a journalist is to try to make sense of things, to look for repeating patterns, find consistency in apparent chaos. But I can’t find any logic or order in Public Forgiveness. Apparently it works on a sliding scale based on the severity of your crime versus the magnitude of your talent, but as Woody Allen and Roman Polanski show, the scale is far from accurate.

He may have been a kid toucher, but that didn't stop people from loving the King of Pop!
He may have been a kid toucher, but that didn’t stop people from loving the King of Pop!

Forgiving celebrity sins isn’t about true absolution anyway. It’s a plot device to move stories forward. People love familiar stories, and we look for them in the lives of wayward actors and athletes. We love to see the mighty fall. We love even more when they get back up and keep fighting, battling against the odds. Everybody loves an underdog. Forgiveness is the device that allows our heroes to rise from the ashes.

Disgraced actor Shia LaBeouf  (drunk/violent/plagiarist) is reinventing himself while begging Public Forgiveness. LaBeouf recently did a live performance piece called “#IAMSORRY” wearing a paper bag over his head with the phrase, “I’m not famous anymore,” written on it. LaBeouf sat silent and alone at a table full of props while art goers milled around him. Props included an Indiana Jones whip, a Transformer toy, daisies, a ukulele, a bottle of Jack Daniels, a bowl of nasty Tweets, a bowl of Hershey’s Kisses, and a book by author Daniel Clowes, whom LaBeouf was accused of plagiarizing. One reviewer of “#IAMSORRY” said, “it was apparent LaBeouf had been crying, and the experience was surprisingly touching.”

Maybe turning apology into performance art is the next evolutionary step in the Age of Apology.

If so, Roman Polanski and Woody Allen need to put on Oscar-worthy performances.

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Originally published in Wayne TODAY, February 2014