America has many natural wonders: our national parks and forests, majestic mountains, giant Redwoods and Sequoias, Louisiana bayous and the Florida Everglades. And, thanks to American ingenuity, we have many man-made wonders like: the Statue of Liberty (okay, that was French ingenuity), the Washington monument and the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
The wondrous setting for “The Wonders of America Birthday Party” salutes Native American and poet laureate, Joy Harjo, in her birth state of Oklahoma. We are in the Osage Reservation. “Osage” is translated to mean “calm waters” and our dining table made of native pine is next to a wonderful, gently moving stream.
The party entertainment is a “Facebook LIVE” event with Fred Astaire hosting an array of American dance forms, from native to Irving Berlin show numbers, to Stevie Wonder disco.
You sense the joy the minute you stroll along the grassy banks of the calm waters edge and see the celebrants of this “Wonders of America” party. HOORAY FOR THE JOY-GIVERS! (Note: The comments attributed to these famous joy-givers come from words they have written or said.)
PLEASE GIVE A ROUND OF APPLAUSE FOR THESE AMERICAN JOY-GIVERS CELEBRATING A BIRTHDAY THIS WEEK:
May 8—DON RICKLES was America’s favorite joy-giving “insult comic.” His art has been called “festive abuse.” When you Google “insult comedy,” Rickles’ ear-to-ear, smartass smirk appears. Don Rickles was a stand-up comedy headliner in Las Vegas nightclubs and a frequent guest on television talk shows. He enjoyed a two-year stint starring in the NBC television sitcom, “C.P.O. Sharkey” and had his own sitcom, “The Don Rickles Show.”
May 9—JOY HARJO is a Muscogee American poet, musician, playwright and author. She is the first Native American poet laureate of the United States. Harjo is the author of nine books of poetry and two award-winning children’s books. There are five albums of her original music. Joy Harjo is a recipient of the coveted Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize and elected Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.
May 10—FRED ASTAIRE (born Frederick Austerlitz) was a dancer, choreographer, singer, actor and television presenter. He is widely considered the most influential dancer in the history of film. His stage and screen career spanned 76 years. He starred in at least 10 Broadway and London West End stage musicals and in 31 films. He received many awards including being the very first honoree of the Kennedy Center Honors. The American Film Institute named Astaire the fifth-greatest male star of classic Hollywood cinema in 100 years.
May 11—IRVING BERLIN (born Israel Beilin) a composer born in Imperial Russia, is widely considered one of the greatest American songwriters—ever. His songs were simple and uncomplicated, meant to connect with the heart of the average Joe and Jane America. He wrote 1,600+ songs over his long career (Mr. Berlin died at 101 in 1989). Among his hits in the “Great American Songbook” are: “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” “Easter Parade,” “White Christmas,” “There’s No Business Like Show Business” and “God Bless America.” The composer Jerome Kern had this to say about Irving Berlin: “He has no place in American music—he is American music.”
May 12—GEORGE CARLIN was a witty, social critic and author. “Rolling Stone Magazine” ranked him #2 of the 50 best stand-up comedians of all time. He was known for his dark comedy and reflections on politics, religion, psychology and all things considered taboo. His “Seven Dirty Words” routine was central to the Supreme Court’s decision that the government retains the power to censor public airwaves. He was posthumously awarded the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.
May 13—STEVIE WONDER (born Stevland Hardaway Morris) was a child prodigy musician known as “Little Stevie Wonder.” He signed with MoTown records at age 11 and became the youngest person ever to top the Billboard Hot 100. He has sold more than 100 million records worldwide and won 22 Grammy Awards. Mr. Wonder received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and was named a United Nations Messenger of Peace.
May 14—MARK ZUCKERBERG is a media mogul, internet entrepreneur and joy-giving philanthropist. He is known for founding Facebook. At age 23, he became the world’s youngest, self-made billionaire. “Forbes Magazine” named Zuckerberg as the 10th most-powerful person in the world.
COMMENTS OVERHEARD AT “THE WONDERS OF AMERICA” BIRTHDAY PARTY FOR AMERICAN JOY-GIVERS:
“Every night when I go out onstage, there’s always one nagging fear in the back of my mind. I’m always afraid that somewhere out there, there is one person in the audience that I’m not going to offend.”—Don Rickles
“I’ve always had a theory that some of us are born with nerve endings longer than our bodies.”—Joy Harjo
“Dancing is a vertical interpretation of a horizontal intention.”—Fred Astaire
“There may be trouble ahead—but, while there’s moonlight, and music, and love and romance—let’s face the music and dance.”—Irving Berlin
“Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups.”—George Carlin
“There’s songs to make you smile, there’s songs to make you sad. But with a happy song to sing it never seems as bad.”—Stevie Wonder
“Successful people always have two things on their lips: (1) silence, and (2) a smile.”—Mark Zuckerberg
“I think if I took therapy, the doctor would quit. He’d just pick up the couch and walk out of the room.”—Don Rickles
“I was born with eyes that never close.”—Joy Harjo
“Old age is like everything else…to make a success of it, you’ve got to start young.”—Fred Astaire
“Life is 10% how you make it and 90% how you take it.”—Irving Berlin
“Fighting for peace is like screwing for virginity.”—George Carlin
“Just because a man lacks the use of his eyes doesn’t mean he lacks vision.”—Stevie Wonder
“It could have been worse. I could have been born black.”—Stevie Wonder
“Some people dream of success…while others wake up and work at it.”—Mark Zuckerberg
“Who picks your clothes—Stevie Wonder?”—Don Rickles
“I know I walk-in and out of several worlds each day.”—Joy Harjo
“I just put my feet in the air and move them around.”—Fred Astaire
“How much do I love you? I’ll tell you no lie. How deep is the ocean? How high is the sky?”—Irving Berlin
“In America, anyone can become president. That’s the problem.”—George Carlin
“We all have ability, the difference is how we use it.”—Stevie Wonder
“People don’t care what you say, they care what you build.”—Mark Zuckerberg
“Move fast and break things. Unless you are breaking stuff, you’re not moving fast enough.”—Mark Zuckerberg
“I have no idea what I’m going to say when I stand up to give a toast. But I know that anything I say, I find funny.”—Don Rickles
“She had some horses. She had some horses she loved. She had some horses she hated. They were the same horses.”—Joy Harjo
“Do it big. Do it right. Do it with style.”—Fred Astaire
“Blue skies shining at me, nothing but blue skies do I see.”—Irving Berlin
“Some see a glass as half full. Others see a glass as half-empty. I see a glass that’s twice as big as it needs to be.”—George Carlin
“We all have hearts…If you have a heart, love somebody. If you have enough heart, love everybody.”—Stevie Wonder
“There’s a place in the sun, where there’s hope for everyone.”—Stevie Wonder
PARTY MENU FOR “THE WONDERS OF AMERICA BIRTHDAY PARTY:”
APPETIZER—Don Rickles’ Wonder Whip with Crudites (mycrazygoodlife.com)
SALAD—Mark Zuckerberg Green Wonder Salad (cooks.com)
ENTRÉE—Fred Astaire Dancing Shrimp (see below)
SIDE DISH—Joy Harjo’s A-Maizingly Wonderful Corn Chowder (allrecipes.com)
BREAD—Homemade Stevie Wonder Bread (food.com)
BEVERAGE—George Carlin’s Wisecrack Fizz (diffordsguide.com)
DESSERT—Irving Berlin’s Blue Skies Blueberry Meringue Pie (allrecipes.com)
ONE TO GROW ON—The premise for the 2010 film, “The Social Network,” about Harvard student, Mark Zuckerberg, creating the social networking site that would become Facebook, seems so arid one would need huge gulps of over-priced, cinema cola to get through it. But, “The Social Network,” pleasantly surprised me in being totally engaging. Much of the credit goes to the screenwriting genius of Aaron Sorkin, but there are also good performances including Jesse Eisenberg as young, super-nerdy Mr. Zuckerberg.
Irving Berlin, the epitome of American music, offered these two thoughts as “The Wonders of America Birthday Party” was gently ending: “The song has ended, but the melody lingers on…I’ll be loving you, always. With a love that’s true, always.”
The final toast to these American joy-givers was from Joy Harjo, “Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.”
FRED ASTAIRE DANCING SHRIMP
(Simmering is a common, Japanese American cooking technique for shrimp. This super-easy recipe from shape.com is full of umami flavor.)
½ leek, julienned
5 oyster mushrooms, thinly sliced
9 ounces large, head-on shrimp
5 Tablespoons sake
1 teaspoon sea salt
3 drops sesame oil
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 green onion, julienned
- Place the leek in a saucepan that has a lid. Lay the mushrooms on the bed of leek and the shrimp on top of those.
- Add the sake, cover and cook over a high heat until the sake starts to steam and the prawns start to “dance” in the liquid, then reduce the heat to medium so the pot is just simmering and add the salt, sesame oil and soy sauce. Cover again and continue to simmer for two or three minutes.
- Transfer to a serving plate and sprinkle with spring onion.
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