Saturday, November 16, 2019

Repost: Resources for Grieving Children

One of the books available on the list.

I posted and compiled a  list for grieiving children about a year ago, and with all the recent school shootings, I thought it worthwhile to remind people about it.

This is a list of books and resources about what to do when your kids experience death or criminality, either within the family or within your community.  There are a lot of resources, and if you find one that is out of date or no longer available, please let me know and I will amend it on the website.

Contact me!

Of course, these are books about how to deal with the aftermath of a terrible situation.

 I wish I had better answers on how to prevent these situations from occurring.

Two thoughts that might help.

1. We clearly need stricter control on access to guns (although the barn door may be swinging wide open already on this issue, it makes sense to close it so that it doesn't keep happening)  The idea of arming teachers (or mall officials, or anybody else) is ludicrous.  What's to stop them from going on a rampage?  Or shooting innocent people by mistake?  And kids without access to guns can't shoot up malls or schools or workplaces or anywhere for that matter.  For that matter, parents with guns  need to have a stronger security method than leaving them under the bed or in an unlocked gun cabinet.  (or a locked gun cabinet with the key in the lock.)

2. Parents need to do a better job of communicating and listening  Lots of young disaffected kids would benefit from better parenting.  Many of them would be more apt to come to their parents with problems, to talk to somebody, if there parents were able to model that behavior.  I'm not indicting or blaming the parents of school or mall shooters, so if you happen to be one, please understand:  THIS IS NOT ABOUT YOU.

I'm saying that people who feel disaffected and alone feel that way because they feel unheard and not listened to, and everybody (yes, even parents such as myself who already spend a lot of time thinking about parenting and writing about it) can do a better job of listening to and understanding their kids.)  For parents who haven't already been consciously listening and communicating with their kids, this could be the start of a better relationship and could literally be saving lives.

If you've got other ideas on what might help, I'd be happy to listen to them.

Please note that I am ruthless about taking down comments  that I don't like or that I think are helpful.  As the blog owner I get to make up those rules, and I reserve the right to take down comments whenever I want.  This is not a free speech issue-- you have the right to start your own danged blog-- but I don't have to host your non-helpful opinions on mine.  I like to think I encourage polite debate.  Anything not in that vain will be excised.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Halloween-- The Blonde Bond

Here's my son as The Blonde Bond.  (Note the Martini glass, an essential element to any Bond costume)

During the evening he later decided that he was John Wick, but we know who he really was for Halloween.

"The Name is Bond.  Blonde Bond."

I think in the first photo (to the left) he looks more like a Bond villain.   All he needs is a nice little white cat....!

We had a weird moment when he was describing the costume to me and what he would wear, one of the big attractions was getting to bring his nerf gun.  He said to me "But we need to get some paint and some tape to make it black and look like a real gun."  I had to make it ABUNDANTLY clear that running around on Halloween (or anytime) with something that looks like a real gun is devoutly to be avoided.  In fact, if anything, I wanted to make his Nerf gun look MORE fake!

He and his friends had a good time, and grabbed a lot of candy even though it was pretty cold out there.  Pretty much nobody guessed who he was, but that's okay.  We have a bunch more Bond films to watch before he gets ALL the mannerisms right!

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

REVIEW: A Man of Good Hope at Chicago Shakespeare

South Africa's Isango Ensemble has brought a very entertaining and very deep production to Chicago Shakespeare that tells the odyssey of a young Somali refugee who battles poverty, crime, racism, and xenophobia in his journey across Africa.  The story is told through song and dance, and the 20 member company really works as an ensemble to tell this true story, based on a book by Jonny Steinberg.

Chicago Shakespeare Theater presents Isango Ensemble’s A Man of Good Hope, based on the book by Jonny Steinberg and adapted and directed by Mark Dornford-May, in the Courtyard Theater, October 4–13, 2019. Photo by Keith Pattinson.

The show features the story of Asad Abdullahi, an 8-year-old boy whose mother is murdered in front of him.  He realizes the need to leave his native Somalia, and follows a path throughout Africa, ending in a township in South Africa where he is bullied and attacked for being Somali.  Despite his travails, he manages to keep his dignity and to persevere.

The performance of the ensemble is stunning, with a number of characters taking on multiple roles, including Asad at various ages.  The direction is simple but effective, and music and dance are throughout the show.  One of my favorite aspects of the show happened as he journeyed through each country-- the country was displayed by the music and dance of that country.  Seeing that was a vivid and immediate reminder of how different each countries culture is.

One of the most moving and enlightening things about the show from a cultural perspective is seeing how South Africans feel about Somalian refugees.  There's a scene in this play that could have been in a play about 1930's Germany.   

Poor native South Africans blame the refugees for taking their jobs, and for the ills and problems that they face, even when they are simply outworking and outhustling them.  Asad and his cousin have their shop ransacked by their customers, who bandy about the word Friend as if it were a weapon.  It was pretty chilling.

Despite the tragedy, there's also a lot of comedy in the show.  The show has an operatic feel, with many of the words being sung.  This makes sense as it is a co-production of the Young Vic and Isango and the Royal Opera.  Almost all of it is in English. 

This is a show worth seeing, and one that will give you a really interesting insight into the life of refugees-- something that is sadly very relevant to our lives today.

A Man of Good Hope is presented at Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s Courtyard Theater for a limited engagement, October 4–13, 2019. Single tickets ($60–$90) are on sale now. For more information or to purchase tickets, contact Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s Box Office at 312.595.5600 or visit the Theater’s website at

For more information, visit

Saturday, September 14, 2019

REVIEW: A very entertaining Spamalot at Mercury Theatre

We saw Spamalot at the Mercury Theatre recently, and it is a very entertaining show, especially if you love Monty Python or silly humor.  Even if you don't know Monty Python, it would be very entertaining and well worth seeing.

DISCLOSURE:  We received review tickets in order to review the show.  This review has no relationship to the cost of the tickets.  I take my integrity seriously, and so should you.
All photos provided by theatre.

The show is (as the ad says) lovingly ripped off from the Monty Python movie "Monty Python and the Holy Grail."   That movie is a collection of absurdist sketches all themed in the world of Camelot, but Camelot is more of an excuse to do crazy comedy.  Many of the sketches from the movie have entered the classical lexicon of sketch comedy:   (I fart in your general direction, the Knights who say Nee, the airspeed velocity of a sparrow, the killer bunny rabbit, and many others)

The Trojan rabbit.  

Back in the early 2000's, former Python Eric Idle  came up with the idea to create the musical, and it premiered in Chicago before moving to Broadway. It's now back in a smaller, leaner production than the one that was on Broadway, and I think it's all the better for it.  The Mercury team has done a great job of keeping the show funny with minimal sets and props.  Director Walter Stearns keeps it going quickly from moment to moment, and musical director Eugene Dizon makes the most of his 6 piece live orchestra.
The Knights of the Round Table sing and dance.

The cast is uniformly excellent, including Jonah Winston as the ever-jaunty King Arthur, Meghan Murphy as the erotically charged Lady of the Lake, and all the other cast members do a great job.  Of particular note were Adam Fane with a number of memorable comic turns as characters and Adam Ross Brody who was a particularly fantastic cowardly Sir Robin.   (You might think that since my name is Adam, I am unfairly calling out actors named Adam.  Not true.  I calls them as I sees them.)  And all the voices were great.

At the end of the show, my wife marveled at how much talent we have in Chicago, which is definitely true.  My eleven year old son just laughed and laughed.  When musicality and comedy are both performed well, it's a joy to behold!

Ooh la la, the Lady of the Lake.

One piece of criticism from a comic point of view:

While I particularly enjoyed the Black Knight scene (a scene where Arthur and the Black Knight duel, and Arthur keeps on cutting off his extremities, to which the black knight says "It's only a flesh wound."  I felt that the mechanics of it the night I saw it were a little sloppy.  The mechanism of how he lost his legs was too obvious and not well-rehearsed enough.  It doesn't have to be perfect or an illusion, but it can't feel hurried, which is what happened the night I saw it.  I'm sure the actors will get the hang of it and do it cleaner by the end of the run.

All in all, a great night of entertaining theatre in Chicago's LakeView neighborhood!

The show was delightful from beginning to end.

SPAMALOT runs through November 3. The performance schedule for SPAMALOT is Wednesdays at 8 pm, Thursdays at 8 pm, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 3 pm and 8 pm and Sundays at 3 pm. Individual tickets range from $40-$70, and are available online at,  by phone at 773.325.1700, or in person at the Mercury Theater Box office at 3745 N. Southport Avenue, Chicago.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Grant proposals open to RI Schools and Organizations

My mom, Karel Gertsacov
As many of you might know.  My mom was an art teacher.  She taught grades 7-9 in Cranston for many years.  Her specialty as an art teacher was teaching creativity, working with kids who didn't think they were good at art, and giving them confidence that they could do it.  Many times she'd say, "Okay, turn the paper on its side, and look now how interesting your art is!"

A few years before she passed away, she started a fund using the insurance money from my dad's death to start the Arts in Academics Fund at the Rhode Island Foundation, which allows schools, artists, and arts organizations to collaborate on creating innovative programs that combine arts into the academic curriculum.

Since the fund began 15 years ago, it's donated over $40,000 to programming of this type, and the fund has grown an additional 50%.  We've funded creative murals for schools, student written plays about math, the beginning of a materials libary for the art and science department, a kiln for a high school, the beginning of a literary and artistic journal, and much much more.

The fund is administered through the Rhode Island Foundation, which is now taking applications for this year's projects.  Projects should take place between January and December of 2020.

To find out more visit the following

 Arts in Academics Fund page at Rhode Island Foundation.


Deadline for application submission is October 25, 2019. Please click here to apply.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Museum Exhibit: Virgil Abloh "Figures of Speech"

Before I left for Europe for the summer, I took in an exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art which I've been thinking about how to write about for almost two months.  The exhibit was a retrospective of Virgil Abloh called "Figures Of Speech."

Abloh is an artist, designer, engineer, and architect, who, while pursuing his masters degree in architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology, managed to hook up with Kanye West, and become the creative director of his creative team, working on album covers, concert designs, and merchandising.  He parlayed that work to create his own fashion brand Off-White, and recently became the artistic director of Louis Vuitton's menswear collection.

I was really struck by a couple of the pieces, including "You're Obviously In The Wrong Place" which quotes Pretty Woman with George Segal style sculptures in white that manages to be funny and meaningful on a number of levels, accessing racial discrimination, class discrimination, and impostor syndrome all at once. I loved it.

Another piece I really loved was the Figures of Speech mural, which incorporates a whole lot of imagery and signs and signals.  I did a video flyby of it, but it really deserves looking at and studying.

And a third piece I loved was the Black Cotton Logo.  With a simple inversion, Abloh manages to elegantly make a statement about consumerism, racism, history, and branding.  It's this kind of elegant and sardonic minimalism where I think Abloh is at his best.

There were lots of other pieces that I was not enamored of, but I'm not going to focus on them.

Abloh is an interesting character-- in 2002 he was a student, in 2006 a graduate student and in 2009 he was an intern at Fendi, and by 2019 he is a ruler of the universe.  One of Abloh's mandates in his work is "Question everything."  So here are my questions.  How did he rise so fast?  What is it about his work that is so fantastic that in 10 years he can rise to the literal top?  And could the next Virgil Abloh be a white female septugenarian?

I'm not exactly sure, but after listening to him talk at the opening of the exhibit (which runs through September 22 in Chicago, before going on to Atlanta (Nov 9-2019 to March 8, 2020), Boston (July-September 2020) and Brooklyn (Winter 2020 to Spring 2021) I'd say it's a combination of a few things.

Articulate  Abloh is a good talker.  He's got a lot of ideas and he likes to talk about them.  It was a little frustrating, someone asked him a straight forward question at the opening (about the difference between appropriating, stealing, and quoting) , and he preceded to talk for ten minutes, say all kinds of interesting stuff, and never answer the question.  He didn't even directly talk about the question, he just followed his own thoughts.  This is a guy whose trademark image is a quotation mark.

Actuator.  After looking through the entire exhibit, I think that Abloh is an actuator.  He takes his ideas and puts them on canvas/fabric/sculpture/whatever.  (He's come out with furniture, music, clothing, and a whole lot of other stuff.  It makes sense now when he has the money to make things happen, but I got the feeling from looking at his work that he was making stuff constantly, even if it wasn't very good.  He puts out his ideas concretely, even if they aren't fully formed or fully functional.  He lays it out there.

His Master's thesis project.  He redid it for this exhibition.
Iteration  The second part of that is that Abloh seems able to move on from one piece or idea and into another fairly effortlessly.  He has no problem releasing 10 or 15 different versions of something as he strives for what works (both aesthetically and in the marketplace)

Collaboration  Abloh enlists lots of other artists into his works and is able to use their contributions to fuel his own ideas and then take off even further.  He's worked with some powerhouses, including Kanye, Jenny Holzer, and Arthur Jafa, and has been inspired by diverse influences including the movies Black Panther, Pretty Woman and architect Mies van der Rohe.

Merchandising  Abloh seems to be a master merchandiser.  He's really great at putting price tags on things and getting people to buy them.  It's not so much a zeitgeist thing (I think) but a "knowing how to be the cool kid" thing.  Anyway you slice it, he knows what sells, and he seems to do a great job selling.  (By the way, that's the third artist who is a commercial success that I've seen have an exhibit at MCA- Virgil Abloh, David Bowie, and Takashi Murakami. Food for thought.)

These 5 elements seem to be at the heart of his work, and so I think the answer to my question lies somewhere in the middle here.

But whoever the next Virgil Abloh is, I'm going to guess that they will exhibit some or all of those traits above.

You can find out more about the MCA exhibit Figures of Speech at their website:   Timed tickets are being sold for this exhibition, which also allows you access to all of the other museum exhibits.  And the Museum has a particularly strong slate of events around the Abloh exhibit, including talks with the artist, performances, student opportunities, and more.  Click the link above to find out more.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Remembering my dad: Alan Gertsacov

Another August rolls around, and it's difficult to imagine that my dad would have been 82 years old today.  Sadly, he died a long time ago (in 1987, at the age of 49) due to a car accident.

It's never been completely resolved exactly what happened, and why he was out of his car at 2 am on a January night, trying to wave down a driver that apparently didn't see him, and he got hit instead.

At the time, it seemed like it was very important to try to figure out WHY it happened.  There was talk of suing the driver, of starting an inquiry, but my mom never wanted to do that, and so it didn't happen.  And at this late date, it's still a mystery.  But of course, it doesn't really matter.  The fact is, he is dead, and has been for a long time, and it's his memory that I'd like to preserve.

He died when I was 22 years old.  I had graduated college (Photo to the left is of him at my graduation from Penn in 1986) and against his wishes had just started an acting program at the Trinity Rep Conservatory.  He had wanted me to apply to law school, and I did, and I was accepted, but I felt like it was better to take a risk first and go to acting school.  If it didn't work out, I could always go to law school.  If it did work out (and the jury is still out) well, here we are. My dad never saw me perform as  a clown, or come into my own as a performer/entrepreneur/artist.

Here are some of my memories of my dad.

My dad loved practical jokes.  

He'd often hide behind something and scare you when you came in.  His nickname in the family was Boo because he loved to play peekaboo when he was a child.  That apparently continued forward as an adult (and all of my brothers like to do it as well.)  One time when I was probably 17 I was driving my brothers and my cousin somewhere in Warwick (near the Jewish cemetery where my dad is buried.) We spotted my dad's car, and so we pulled up next to him and my brother put himself out the window and yelled BOO!  My dad was so surprised he nearly had a car accident.  Later my dad loved to tell that story!

My dad had a fantastic memory and was great with numbers
He was a champion duplicate bridge player (grand life master) and could remember hands from years ago.  He taught me and my brothers to play cribbage, and backgammon, and gin rummy.  He loved games where he could use his memory and math skills to great effect.  He was probably a blackjack card counter because he did seem to like to play that game too.  When he played craps, he always bet against the player (The house always wins, he would say.)  He was also really good at doing large math problems in his head.  He was always giving me math problems to do, and he'd often say to me "Ad, work with your head, not your hands."

My dad grew up in poverty.
My dad is the tall skinny guy in the hat.
This picture appeared in the newspaper.
My dad's father left his family when he was one year old.  During the war years and after, my grandmother led my dad's family through a number of South Providence haunts.  My dad and his brother had tons of jobs, not for pocket money, but to feed the family.  He swept up at the barbershop, he went on the weekends to Nausauket to go quahogging and sell clams and quahogs on the beach.  During parades, my dad would sell balloons (I still have somewhere, one of the pedal balloon pumps he had.)

 This reminds me of something my friend (now deceased) Pat Cashin told me to tell my son when he wanted a light up toy at the circus.  It's something my dad didn't say directly to me, but he could have.

"Son, there are two kinds of people in the world, those that sell the light up toys and those that buy the light up toys.  We are the people that SELL the toys."

My dad loved flash
Despite growing up in poverty, (or perhaps because of it) he loved to buy people dinner and be "the big spender."  He had a flash of $100 bills, and he loved to peel off a few and pay for stuff.  (I remember once he peeled me of 15 $100 bills so that I could buy my first Macintosh computer!)  At the ice rink he'd wear a fur coat, and he had 3 or 4 gold rings on his fingers and a big gold necklace with a lion on it (he was a Leo!)  He drove a gold colored Lincoln Continental that he loved (oh my god, I'm started to realize that my dad might have been a pimp!)  At family gatherings he almost always picked up the check.  (I remember him telling me that nobody will ever remember the dinner, but everyone will remember who picked up the check.)

Buy this on Amazon!
He also took me to a burlesque show when I was 12 or 13.  We went to see Rusty Warren and he let me buy the album "Knockers Up"  I don't know what he was thinking!  My mom and brothers must have been out of town.  The joke that I have a vivid memory of her telling that I did not understand at the time was this:

"They say that women don't like sex.  Completely wrong!  You know how I know?  Take your finger and put it in your ear.  Go ahead, do it.  Now rub it around for a while.  Now take out your finger.  And now which feels better, your finger or your ear?"

My dad loved old movies.

Later on, my dad had a business that was pretty successful, buying and selling used textile machinery around the world. I once drove with him to Indiana and helped out for two days, counting bobbins in a textile factory that was probably on its way to China or Malaysia.  I remember we saw the movie The Shootist on that trip.  He was a big fan of John Wayne, and of Clint Eastwood.  His favorite movie was probably The Sting, and the nose signal is something that he used all the time and my brothers and I still use.  I've taught it to my son also!  (Even though he hasn't seen the movie yet.)  Another one  of his favorite movies was The Dirty Dozen  and Dog Day Afternoon  He loved movies about criminals that did good things.

My dad had a lot of favorite foods.
His favorite was Twizzler's black licorice, but he liked Black Crows, and red licorice, and bridge mix, and Chuckles, and Jujubes, and just about anything else you could get stuck in your teeth.  His favorite ice cream was Blackberry with a side of Butter Brickle, and when we got it at home he'd take Smuckers Jam and add it to his ice cream.  He loved Chinese food, and lobster, and eating cold Caserta's pizza along with the Whimpy Skippy, the pig in the blanket, and the spinach pie.

When he walked into Davis's (the local Jewish deli) they knew that a big order would come in, because he couldn't stop from ordering Nova Lox (cut only by Mr. Davis himself), three different kinds of white fish,all kinds of corned beef, tongue, pastrami, roast beef, pickles, sour tomatoes, and of course lots and lots of knishes.  He taught me to make an open faced bagel sandwich by adding a slice of cheese to the top, and now whenever I go to family gatherings, I'm usually disappointed if the lox and bagels don't come with cheese.)

He also loved to claim credit for the big Thanksgiving dinners, Passover dinners, and Rosh Hashanah dinners that my mom would cook.  We'd have 15 or 20 people over for dinner.  "Did you like the food?" he'd ask.  "I cooked it all myself!"  He said it to get a rise out of my mom, which it did, and later he'd give his bride all the credit.  "My bride did it all!" He'd exclaim.

My dad had his catch phrases. 

Like most dad's, my dad liked to retell the same stories and use the same jokes again and again.  He was also a little bit of a stretcher of the truth.  He used to tell me that he rode with the Jesse James gang.  He was the driver.  (Forget about the fact that this was before cars!)

Here's a few of the old jokes/catch phrases he used to use.  (and I've used more than a few with my kid.)

My dad and I are on our wedding days.
 "Hands down like a soldier."

"There will be a quiz later."

"I gave him the 1-5, 1-5. He gave me 2,3, and 4 back." (My dad said he was a boxer for a short period of time, but I am not sure I believe him.  My mom said it was true, but I want proof.)

"Can you take him?"  (Usually said to your friend, while you were greatly embarassed.)

"Did you hurt the ground?"
 (After you've fallen down.)

"Do I know him.... He and I had looonch together!"  (The punchline to a terrible and raunchy joke)

I could go on, but that's probably enough memories for one day.

I loved my dad, and after he died I had recurring dreams that he was still alive, but on a secret mission, for the government, or the FBI, or the CIA, or for somebody.  In a few of these dreams he came back home to live with us and it was as if he was never gone.  I cherish the memories of these dreams now, and thinking about them makes me feel good.  I don't dream about him anymore. (at least I don't think I do.)

What makes me blue of course is that he never got to see me (or my brothers) grow up and become the men that we are today.  He never got to meet my wife, or my son, or revel in the successes that I've had (or commiserate in the losses.)

Of course, there's nothing I can do about that.  The only thing I can do is hug my child a little closer and make those hard to forget memories with him all over again.

And of course, hide behind something when he enters a room.