By Jesse Mayfield-Sheehan & The Takeaway | Tuesday, July 3, 2012
July 4, 2012
BOSTON — As July rolls in and we celebrate our nation’s birthday, Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank is preparing to become the first congressman to have a same-sex marriage.
Frank, who is retiring at the end of this term, is getting married to Jim Ready, his partner of 5 years, this month. News reports are speculating the event will take place in Newton on July 7.
Planning the wedding has been “a little stressful,” Frank said in June in an interview with Todd Zwillich of The Takeaway.
However, Frank said he wasn't worried, and thinks the couple did a good job, in part thanks to some helpful assistance from Ready’s mother and Frank’s sister.
While there will be a disc jockey and decorations (although those will be left up to the hotel), a couple things will not be there: the press and the president.
The lack of the press is not surprising. In a November 2011 interview with WGBH News, Frank said one thing he intended to do when he retired was to "talk to the media less."
As for the president, it’s nothing Frank has against Obama, but rather the Secret Service.
“I was asked if I would invite the president,” Frank said, “and it’s not his fault, but he brings [The Secret Service] with him, and they can ruin a party.”
Excerpts from Frank's interview with WGBH News co-production The Takeaway
Q: So, how is the wedding planning going? Is it stressful at all?
A: It is. It’s a little stressful, but Jim and I called in some reinforcements. Jim’s mother and my sister, who, between them, you know, weddings are new for both of us but Jim’s mother married off three of his siblings and my sister married off two of her children, so they’ve been helpful to us. And I just spoke to Jim, he was up at his mother’s house today, they were going through the RSVPs. We’ve got it pretty well organized.
Q: Do you guys have any taste for wedding planning, do you guys get into decorations and whatnot?
A: No, we left that to the hotel. I’m not very focused on those things, but we are dealing with the hotel on that one, not getting into that much, we’re going to have a disc jockey, Jim has been talking to him about songs, and we’ve gotten suits for all of the guys who are going to be at the wedding for that.
Q: Are you at all worried about the wedding?
A: No, it’s under control, I think we’ve done a pretty good job of planning it. We have a certain issue of we don’t want it to be a spectacle. I suspect there might be some disappointed press people when we tell them they’re not invited.
By Sanjay Salomon | Monday, July 2, 2012
July 2, 2012
BOSTON — David D’Alessandro rose from humble roots in upstate New York to become one of Boston’s most respected business leaders. His flair for business battle is highlighted in his three bestselling books: "Brand Warfare," "Career Warfare" and "Executive Warfare."
In Greater Boston’s 1 Guest series, the former CEO of John Hancock Financial Services opened up to host Emily Rooney about growing up in Utica, his father’s gambling addiction and run-in with the mob and his early work history.
Childhood in Utica
D’Alessandro was born in Utica, New York. East Utica, to be precise.
“When you’re from Utica, you have to be distinctive about where you’re from,” he said. “Kind of like when you’re from New York, you’re from Brooklyn, not the Bronx.”
From an early age, D’Alessandro said, he had an aversion to authority figures. His own mother was no exception. “My mom told me I couldn’t go fishing. I was 4 or 5 years old,” he said. Undeterred by his mother’s orders, he constructed a fishing line out with a piece of string and a nail and proceeded to fish from the family goldfish bowl. Unfortunately for him, the goldfish just weren’t biting.
“Perhaps because the nail was bigger than the fish. And there was no bait on it,” he said.
D’Alessandro moved on to Plan B and scooped the fish out with a large pasta spoon then left them on the kitchen counter. His mother noticed them immediately when she came home.
“It didn’t work out so well,” said D’Alessandro. “I had them for dinner.”
D’Alessandro said his father was the smartest person in the family, boasting an IQ of 165 and speaking five languages, including Japanese. Unfortunately, he also struggled with compulsive gambling, a habit that “put the family through hell.”
“He was addicted to horses,” said D’Alessandro about his father. “He played every day. Every day, including the day he died.”
His father’s gambling habits also got him into trouble with some of the neighborhood’s more notorious characters. As a child, D’Alessandro remembers witnessing a terrifying encounter between his father and a group of gangsters at the family’s grocery store.
“Some henchmen came in and we had a big chopping block,” said D’Alessandro. “They made my dad put his hand down and they kept plunging a knife between his fingers because he owed a few hundred dollars.”
On casinos in Massachusetts
Given his own family’s troubled history with gambling, it’s not surprising that D’Alessandro was disappointed by the recent legalization of casino gambling in Massachusetts.
“Gambling is an addiction,” said D’Alessandro. “For the legislature to push so hard for casino gambling knowing they are going to addict people … it’s anathema to me because I thought the state knew better.”
He added, dryly, “Why don’t we just open up crack cocaine parlors and take the tax off of that?”
It’s hard to believe one of Boston’s most respected businessmen was ever fired from a job. But D’Alessandro admitted his first job at a movie theater was not his biggest success.
“I got fired because the owner of the theater insisted I walk around with a flashlight … telling people to stop cuddling and making out with each other,” he said. “I didn't think it was good for my physical health in an Italian American neighborhood to be breaking up young people from cuddling.”
Friday, June 29, 2012
By Toni Waterman | Wednesday, June 27, 2012
June 27, 2012
WALTHAM, Mass. — When it comes to the battle of the bling, no one does it better then the Gypsies.
An enigma to most, Gypsies are the latest reality television stars in TLC’s "My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding." The show delves into the glitzy and bedazzled side of Gypsy life, mostly in the South. It’s a culture where bigger and “bling-ier” is always better. And when a Gypsy girl is looking to blind her competition, she turns to Waltham, Mass.–based dressmaker Sondra Celli. That’s what 14-year-old Priscilla did when she was looking for her “coming-out” dress.
“Priscilla’s outfit was completely bling,” said Celli. “The boots were 43,000 stones. The outfit was close to that if not more. And the fringe on that was all cup chain that was sterling silver with crystal stone in it.”
In the North, an expert in dazzle
Celli is the highly coveted, turn-to Gypsy designer for everything from wedding dresses to shoes to blinged-out pacifiers.
It all started 33 years ago when Celli was selling her designs to a department store.
“Nobody had cellphones and computers. And some of them are pretty savvy — they got a consultant at the department store to move away from the desk and they went through the Rolodex and found my number,” said Celli.
She started getting inundated with phone calls, all asking for clothes to be shipped to the same address.
“They kept saying they were stores and I thought, ‘How could there be this many stores on one street?’" Celli said. It turned out, "I was actually shipping to a trailer park. And I was floored."
She’s been shipping to them ever since. “I love working for them because I have complete freedom. I am the luckiest girl creatively because they give me freedom to use my brain and go with it and they trust me,” said Celli.
She enters the spangled spotlight
Celli also makes bar mitzvah dresses, but with over 1.6 million viewers of the TLC show each week, it’s her Gypsy dresses that have become the main attraction. Mother-daughter duo Deb and Bridget Freely popped into the shop recently to see the dresses up close.
“The dresses are so magical,” said Bridget Freely. “One of the dresses actually lit up, and it had little lights all over it. And that was amazing.”
Mom Deb Freely said the over-the-top dresses weren’t her style, but she appreciated the work that went into making them. She was more fascinated with the Gypsy culture: "I’m not a huge fan of reality TV shows, but … you get to learn something new about another culture that exists in our own country and we didn’t know about it."
If you drop into Celli’s store, you won’t actually see a lot of Gypsy dresses on display. She mostly makes them to order. But there was a white one on display in June draped in crystals and mink, going for a mere $20,000. You’ll need more than money to pull it off — you’ll need brute force: the dress weighs 79 pounds.
Promote small business: buy bling
Celli said business has exploded since the show debuted in April. Her staff of eight women gluing rhinestones and crystals for 60 hours a week couldn't keep up with demand.
“As of next week, we will be 16 of us,” said Celli. “We’re breaking the walls next week just to put more people in here and cut the showroom space down because we need more space to rhinestone in.”
After all, for the Gypsies, there’s no such thing as too much bling. Celli says it’s very rare that she gets something returned.
“And if I do, it’s because it needed more bling. We bling it up, so bling it on!"
By Azita Ghahramani | Thursday, June 14, 2012
Our summer 1 Guest series, where Emily Rooney spends the entire show with one individual with a story to tell, and a vision to share, continues with a conversation with Rabbi Harold Kushner.
June 19, 2012
As a young rabbi, Harold Kushner often grappled with how to console grieving members of his congregation. Then his firstborn son, Aaron, was diagnosed with progeria, a disease that prematurely ages a child. With a limited lifespan, each milestone Kushner and his wife Suzette celebrated with Aaron also meant a milestone closer to the boy's inevitable and untimely death.
After Aaron died in 1977, just after turning 14, Kushner used his own grief to answer some fundamental questions. Why do some people who have lived according to all the principles of goodness, still have to suffer through pain? His first book, "When Bad Things Happen to Good People," tackled those questions and touched a nerve, becoming a bestseller.
Kushner's personal tragedy transformed how he dealt with congregants. "I'm embarrassed now to remember some of the things I said in those first few years. That changed right after Aaron was diagnosed with the disease," he said.
At first, he tried to tell himself what he had said to congregants — parents whose sons died in their teens, people whose loved ones had been killed in accidents. He would tell the bereaved that their loss was part of God's plans — plans that were not for them to understand.
His own tragedy thrust him into a crisis questioning how he could continue to be a rabbi, and whether or not he believed in a God who would inflict this kind of pain on good people.
"God is on our side, not on the side of the illness" or the tragedy, he now tells his readers. "Homeowners insurance doesn't prevent your house from catching fire. It ensures that if that should happen, you'll have the resources to rebuild it. Life insurance policies don't keep you from dying. They make sure that should something happen to you, your family will be able to go on."
And so, he said, a belief in God and religious faith should act the same way; giving people the resilience they need to protect against breaking when misfortune strikes.
He also has come to believe it's important to overcome the belief that God makes everything happen for a reason. Kushner often referred to the 23rd Psalm during funerals and memorial services. To him, the psalm represented God's presence at his side during difficult times: "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me."
Kushner said when he originally started claiming God doesn't control everything, he was treated like a heretic. But now, he said, it's become an acceptable notion. "We have confused God with Santa Claus," Kushner said. "We think the role of religion is to persuade God that we have been good girls and boys, and therefore He ought to give us everything on our wish list. That is Santa Claus. That's not God. God's role is to give us a sense of what is right, and to give us the strength and purpose to do it, and to sustain us when things don't work out for us."
But to Kushner one of the best lessons on how to live life comes through the book of Ecclesiastes: "Life is unpredictable. Find joy where you can," is what Kushner took from the book. "Enjoy life with a person you love. Let your clothes always be freshly laundered. Eat your food in gladness, and drink wine in joy. Because that's really the payoff for being alive."
Now 35 years have passed since Aaron's life and death transformed Kushner's outlook on life. Kushner was grateful to have emerged with his faith intact. Still — "Would I have rather had a normal child, and ended up being a mediocre rabbi who never had a book published in his life?" he asked.
"Yes," he concluded, "I would go for that in a moment."
By Nina Totenberg | Saturday, May 12, 2012