The Big Night

Judy - birthday - California Pizza Kitchen - Nov. 2013By Judy Berman

Memories are made of this – family get-togethers. Any misty-eyed moment doesn’t last for long. That’s just our family’s way.

Last weekend, we gathered at Buca di Beppo’s to celebrate my birthday. For me, the kitchen and dining area reminded me of a scene out of the movie, “The Big Night” (1996). My family gave me a memory book of my life in pictures with brief stories attached.

It made me feel like I’d received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Oscars. Before I could blurt out (Sally Field style), “You like me. You really like me,” the jokes began.

Danielle, my eldest, pulled out a copy of a newspaper clip from The Syracuse Post-Standard’s editorial page. In it, my story, “Surviving the Summer With Teens.”

I shudder as I recall the final straw that summer. Our daughter’s car, and the tree in front of our house, is swaddled in toilet paper, and the paper hangers leave cackling loudly and squealing their car’s tires from here to the state line in the dead of night.

That mental snapshot and others emerge. From the moment our children are born, we gasp in amazement and wince with every milestone they pass. Their hesitant first steps across the floor, riding a two-wheeler unassisted for the first time, leaving home and going off on their own.

Buca di Beppo

Then, Danielle handed me a letter I’d written in 1991, just days after she moved to Florida to go to college. Their furniture was sitting somewhere in a moving van that apparently had taken a detour. She told me she’d converted the Faberware box that their electric fry pan came in into a makeshift kitchen table.

So, I did what any loving parent would do. I wrote offering to send her “my empty Faberware box. That way you can have matching tables. Kim (our neighbor) says she may send you some empty boxes, too. You can use one for the end table – one for the nightstand.”

I talked around the edges of things. I didn’t ask if she was homesick. I tried to keep it light. She toughed that out, as well as a number of other hurdles, and did us proud.

Just like our youngest, Jenn, did when she was on her own in Oklahoma in 1999 and an EF5 tornado slammed thru just miles from her apartment. She’d heard from others at college that when there’s a sound like a freight train, head for a closet. She did with her hamster, Thumper, until the danger passed. Dave and I were in Florida interviewing for a job when we saw TV coverage at our hotel of a monster tornado (winds in excess of 260 miles per hour) and a smaller funnel cloud. The tornado pummeled Moore, Oklahoma. It was several days before we could reach her and learn the reassuring news that she was safe.

It turns out that our daughters, however, were more worried about how we’d handle the empty-nest syndrome. In a photo with Dave and I posing next to an SUV I’d flipped in Alaska, Danielle noted that I’d “forced Dave into her mid-life crisis with crazy hair days. Eggplant and violet for Judy, and blue and pink for Dave! Maybe they would be better off with some supervision.” (NOTE: I did not “force” Dave to dye his hair. I URGED him to. Family joke dating back to the movie, “L.A. Story.”)

In the memory book, I saw myself as my children see me. They viewed my early start in life, as a preemie, as an indicator that I was a fighter – as one who considers setbacks as challenges to be overcome and forges ahead.

The Big Night - Stanley Tucci

Fortunately, my Big Night turned out much better than it did for the brothers (restaurant owners) in the movie. They were struggling to make a go of it. Another restaurant owner offers to call a friend, a popular jazz musician, to play a special benefit at their restaurant. Primo (Tony Shalhoub) prepares his specialty, a gourmand’s delight, for the big night. But things don’t go as planned.

Maybe, they turned a negative into a positive. That’s the outcome I hope for – for myself and others. Cheers! Here’s to a wonderful year ahead.

Do you have a favorite family memory? Please share.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-15. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider,, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Video Clip – “The Big Night” (1996) –  

Main Photo: Dessert with the family at California Pizza Kitchen, Orlando

Photo: Buca di Beppo, Orlando – let the party begin!

Photo: “The Big Night” with Stanley Tucci


Vigilante or Self-Defense?

By Judy Berman

Let’s say you meet a stranger in a dark alley. Someone is killed. The survivor claims self-defense. There are no witnesses. Only one side of this story is available because the other person is dead.

That image of the vigilante who takes the law into his own hands was popularized in Hollywood. Think: Charles Bronson (as Paul Kersey) when he avenged his wife’s death in “Death Wish” (1974). Many cheered him on when he sought revenge.

But two recent cases in Florida, that appear to have taken the same path, ended in the deaths of two young men under the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law.

Make no mistake. This is not about anyone’s right to “bear arms” and protect themselves. This is about rights guaranteed to U.S.citizens in the Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution.

Rights such as the right to a fair trial “decided by a jury” of your peers. There’s not much chance of that happening if someone apparently takes justice into his own hands.

“The 2005 law eliminated a citizen’s duty to retreat when attacked, leading critics to say the statue fosters vigilante justice and allows criminals to get away with murder on a claim of self-defense,” according to The Miami Herald.

Florida Statute 776.013 (3), known as the “stand your ground” law, allows people to use deadly force if they think their life is in danger, or other lives are in jeopardy.

  • On Feb. 26th, an unarmed 17-year-old in Sanford, near Orlando, Trayvon Martin, was gunned down by 28-year-old neighborhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman. Martin was returning to his parents’ home after going to a convenience store to buy Skittles and ice tea. Zimmerman told dispatchers that Martin looked “suspicious.”
  • On Wednesday, March 21st, Miami-Dade Judge Beth Bloom tossed out a case against Greyston Garcia, who was charged with second-degree murder in the fatal stabbing of Pedro Roteta. 26, on Jan. 25th. “Police said Roteta was stealing Garcia’s truck radio.” Garcia chased Roteta more than a block before the fatal attack. Roteta had a pocket knife, but it was unopened and in his pocket, according to The Miami Herald.

In the Martin case, Zimmerman ignored police advice not to confront the teen. He followed Treyvon Martin in his sport utility vehicle and then on foot. The two allegedly got into a fight. The devastating outcome has been the subject of protests and national news coverage.

The Miami-Dade judge’s decision on Garcia angered Miami police Sgt. Ervens Ford, who supervised the case. The Miami Herald quotes Ford as saying the decision was a “travesty of justice. How can it be Stand Your Ground? It’s on (surveillance) video! You can see him stabbing the victim … “

The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office may appeal the judge’s ruling.

The Miami Herald reports that “in the first five years the law was in effect, it was invoked 93 times. In the last year and half, it has been invoked at least an additional 37 times. ‘Justifiable homicides’ reported to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement have increased threefold since the law went into effect.”

The state of Florida should take action now to re-examine the Stand Your Ground law. What happened to Trayvon Martin … and to Pedro Roteta … could have happened to anyone’s child. This law is a matter of concern for all citizens who want safe passage on our streets and in our neighborhoods.


UPDATE: On June 26, 2012, Greyston Garcia, 26, was killed in Liberty City, Fla. shortly after he left his job at a convenience store. “Investigators suspect the shooting was between two rival gangs and Garcia was an innocent victim.” CBS Miami reported.

UPDATE: On July 13, 2013, George Zimmerman was found not guilty of killing Trayvon Martin. Here is the link to USA Today’s story:


COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-15. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider,, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

* Main photo of Charles Bronson taken in 1973. In 1974, he starred in the vigilante film, “Death Wish”           Attribution: Fish Cop at en.wikipedia

* Editorial cartoon: courtesy of Jeff Parker, Florida Today 

* Miami judge decides fatal stabbing was self-defense, a news article in The Miami Herald.

* Number of “stand your ground” cases rises as legislators rethink law, a news article in The Miami Herald.

* The Bill of Rights