Tuesday, October 25, 2011


NDE: Near Death Experience

Actress Shirley McClaine had one. Psychology guru Carl Jung had one. I even had one. They’re called Near Death Experiences or NDE and they’re becoming more common according to Allentown radiologist Dr. Ken Levin of College Heights Imaging. He says, “More patients are being resuscitated because of the invention of the defibrillator”, commonly called “the paddles” that sends an electric shock to the heart and converts an uncoordinated twitching heart back to its normal rhythmic contractions.

When it’s successful. It’s not guaranteed but it has increased the number of people who revive from clinical death or what is called “flatlining”, when all vital signs like pulse and respiration cease. There was a movie made in 1990 called “Flatliners” about a bunch of wild and crazy medical students who deliberately stopped their hearts, playing a scientific version of Russian Roulette with nightmarish horror as the result.

They were searching for the highly publicized NDE of seeing “a dark tunnel with a bright light at the far end”. That’s what Shirley McClaine saw. So have many of the people I spoke to about the phenomenon. Kenneth Brown from Pottstown had his heart attack last July. He saw the bright light and felt himself “moving toward the light”. Brown’s Father-in-law had an NDE but said he had a reunion with a dearly departed friend, his dog.

Brown’s cardiologist, Dr. Eugene Ordway of John J. Cassel, M.D., P.C., Cardiology of Allentown, said that he has often heard restored patients repeat the “tunnel to the light” account but he also had a young woman who saw “angels floating over her head”. Mr. Brown’s heart kept stopping for 10 or 12 seconds at a time and he would come out of his NDE and nonchalantly say, “That was interesting.”

Dr. Ordway’s curiosity was peeked, “What was so interesting?”, but he was too busy saving Mr. Brown’s life to chat and spent over 2 hours fighting for him. That gave me “8 or 10 of my gray hairs”, Ordway said. The doctor must have rescued many; his full mane of hair is pure white and gray.

Ordway’s nurse, Elaine Smeltz, R.N., spoke to many survivor’s of NDE when she worked in emergency rooms. Most saw “the tunnel with the sparkling light at the end of the tunnel and beautiful gardens, waterfalls, and dead relatives telling them to go back.’’ But the most profound were those who had “floating experiences” as if they were cameras on the ceiling and “accurately described who had come and gone in the operating room” while they were “dead”.

Dr. Carl Jung, the famous psychiatrist, floated even farther, experiencing space travel. He found himself 1,000 miles in space looking back at our earth and that was long before space travel was physically possible. But that trip was nothing compared to the NDE of Mr. Mellen-Thomas Benedict. He was broke and dying of cancer and opted for a hospice worker to oversee his final moments.

Mr. Benedict told the hospice person not to do anything with his body for 6 hours after his “death”. An hour and a half after he died, he came back completely healed. But that is nothing compared to what he says his Near Death Experience was like. He saw the light but, instead of going toward it, he asked to have a first class trip through the galaxy and his wish was granted. Somehow, his NDE was interactive and took orders like room service.

Moving through space “faster than a speeding bullet”, actually he said, “faster than the speed of light” he went from one end of the galaxy to the other, but he wanted to see more. He asked to see Heaven and was not only shown the Christian one but a host of others like Nirvana and the Native Americans’ Happy Hunting Grounds which was his favorite.

He was also shown everyone’s “Higher Selves” and that they were all interconnected proving the old saw that we are all one being. His healing was also moving at the speed of light and that is what he attributes to his miraculous recovery. You can find his fascinating account at

“http://www.near-death.com/experiences/reincarnation04.html “.

After reading Benedict, I felt gypped by my NDE. On September 15, 2002 or nine months, fifteen days and two thousand and two years after the Christ was supposedly born, I died. At least for four minutes. I flatlined and it took 4 minutes to revive my body; on the other hand, my mind never quit.

I was walking home in Riverdale, New York, around 8 in the evening, up a slight hill, carrying a pizza and a video when my breathing became very labored and it seemed like there was a ring around the front of my chest like the clouds that circle the moon on cloudy nights. It was pretty but it was draining my energy and I was almost out of breath by the time I got to my apartment only one block away.

What does one do? I knew and did not want to know that I needed help. I was in trouble but didn’t have the courage to call the “marines”. I called Patrick O’Flynn JR, my former roommate of 14 years, and asked, “What should I do?” He said, “Call 911!” I asked, “Are you sure?” More forcefully, he said, “Call 911!!” “911, you think so?” “Call 911!!”, was all he said. I thought, “Me?! Call 911? I am not worthy. I don’t want to make a fuss. I am not important enough”. I finally got the message that I was in very deep dodo and better call the “marines” that we call 911. I called 911. Had I delayed 5 minutes this would not be writ.

It took 15 minutes for the ambulance to arrive. Two nice guys strapped me into what looked like a lawn chair with wheels, strapped an oxygen mask on me and wheeled me into the elevator and out the front door. The lawn chair became a chaise/gurney and I was lying flat on my back, bouncing through traffic with the siren wailing soothing music, “Step aside”, it sang, “Someone’s in deep dodo!”

When we got to the Allen Pavilion Hospital in the Bronx, they took me off of the ambulance gurney and onto an emergency room one. I was wheeled through the hallway staring at the ceiling as the lights blipped by, just like in the movies. By now I was drunk or dazed and had no concern for my safety. I was wheeled into a space with a 3-tiered light overhead. People where speaking.

I was trying to pray but I could only remember a few words of my daily mantra, the last lesson in “The Course in Miracles”: This holy instant, would I give to YOU. Be YOU in charge, for I would follow YOU, certain that YOUR direction gives me Peace.” But all I could remember was “BE YOU IN CHARGE”, and I just kept repeating that over and over to myself.

Then all the lights in the world turned off. With them, went all the sounds. It was silent and it was beyond dark. I marveled at its absolute crystal blackness; not even those pale clouds I see when I close my eyes were present and I don’t remember closing my eyes. My eyes might be open but what I was seeing was not of this world. It had no blemish. It was an absolute state. A space without light. The only thing present was ME, an observer with nothing to see but aware that I was present.

I was alive inside my skin or maybe I was outside of it. Witnesses have sworn I was tossing and turning and shouting that “I am the Orsen Welles of sports films!” , the title of a TV film I was trying to sell. I have no memory of that happening even though I was present in the darkness, feeling no pain. I was actually at peace. My body had died for 4 minutes but my mind never missed a beat. I felt like I was floating in a sensory deprivation tank with all my senses turned off except what I call my mind, my consciousness.

But it was a different mind. It was patient. It’s like all the brush that had grown around my thoughts had been burned away. All the possibilities and worries had been reduced to the simple “I am”. And I was fine. I had no past, no future, only the ever present now. I was at peace. I didn’t question anything. I just waited patiently for the next act.

In what seemed less than an hour later to me (at least 15 hours in Earth time), a primal yellow colored line, like from a thin paintbrush, appeared and started drawing a landscape in the blackness. The landscape was the outline of the tops of the heads of all those who had gathered by my bedside, friends and relatives not sure if this was my end or a new beginning.

Very slowly the rest of the color spectrum returned and faces came through the blackness and became recognizable loved ones. I had successfully survived a heart attack that had taken me very close to becoming a vegetable or a corpse.

The event allowed me to lie in the hospital for almost 2 weeks and review my whole life in slow motion instead of “the whole thing flashing before your eyes, moments before you’re supposed to die but manage somehow to survive” phenomenon.

When I discussed my experience with Kenneth Brown, we both agreed on the peacefulness of our Near Death Experiences. He called it “very tranquil with nothing to be afraid of” and that he had the feeling that he “was going to be alright”. He had been an agnostic but all the lucky coincidences that led him to the Lehigh Valley Hospital and the dogged Dr. Ordway has made him a believer although he is not sure what to call that “Higher Power”.

I have become a more patient person since I was a patient. I have become a courteous driver, offering others the right of way, something the old Simon rarely did. Even though death is the only permanent resident in this universe, I am happy to still be here and share my story with you.

However, if I ever get another NDE, I’m going to steal a page from the fantastic voyage of Mellen-Thomas Benedict and request to visit what the eastern mystics call “The Akashic Sea of Consciousness” where the videotapes of all that ever happened in this universe are stored. Then I’ll find out who really shot JFK and if OJ did it. And visit with a few old friends, some of them dogs.




























“Slam’s Court”

“Slam’s Court”

When I grow too old to play, will you still love me, will I still love you, and will I finally love me? The answer to all of the preceding is a large, fat YESS!!!

If we are what we eat, as some have suggested, then part of who I am is the breakfasts I eat with some of the guys I played football with in high school. They have friends I never knew and some I did but we all swirl together like the clouds in our coffees.

When I was a kid and there was no television, adults would religiously gather at the end of the day to discuss the day’s events: wins and losses were open to sympathy or ridicule. The confessionals were simply folding chairs on a porch or a lawn or a pavement in front of a house. In the summertime, these confessions were always done outdoors and always with an audience.

The high priests were wits, wise guys or gals, who made fun of everything, even death. Nothing was sacred and nothing was serious. It was pure entertainment unless it was your turn in the barrel. Then it was pure humiliation when your foibles were made public. If you couldn’t give as good as you got, you became the victim of laughter.

When I finally returned home after 40 years, I discovered that one of my teammates, actually my hero at my football position, Tom “Slam” Barrett, held court at breakfast every morning at Saylor’s Diner at 19th and Tilghman in Allentown. I was new in my old town so I decided to look him up.

I never belonged to a breakfast club before or any club before. I was like that Groucho Marx joke that I wouldn’t join any club that wanted me to join. So I never stuck with any group. I was a rolling stone who ate too much. But I never ate breakfast!

I had lived with less and less friends for the last 20 years and had become isolated from the outside world and had finally surrendered to the thought of companionship with someone other than myself (whom I get along with famously but we do have our issues but schizophrenic persons always have issues and everyone’s crazy anyway).

So I looked up “Slam” at Saylor’s Diner but he wasn’t there. Bruce Trotter, another ex-football friend, directed me down the block to Nick’s Diner where “Slam” had taken up residence because he had been “BANNED” from his usual lair.

The truth turned out to be that “Slam” had actually banned himself because the owner complained that “Slam’s Court” was taking up valuable seating space on busy Sundays. “Slam” took umbrage and moved his breakfast gang down the street. The waitresses were all upset because “Slam’s Court” were great tippers and the “BANNING” had left them financially short; however, the boss wanted more food orders from each seat.

I found “Slam” at Nick’s Diner but at first I didn’t recognize him. The dark curly hair was gone, replaced 45 years later with a thin shell of white hair much like my own. We had been acquaintances on the team who came from opposite ends of Allentown society. We were all tribal: the kids from the wealthy West Side didn’t hang out with the kids from the poorer East Side. We all stuck with our “homies from the hood”, rich or poor.

I had always admired “Slam” as a player and found him to be fair in his dealings with me and others but we had never “bonded”. At first, he didn’t recognize me. My black hair was white and mostly gone on top. Hair was important to “Slam” because he had been a barber; in fact he never went to college to go directly into barbering after high school. He could have gotten a football scholarship but he had had enough of school.

He ended up as a deputy sheriff and had retired when he had a massive heart attack with all the attendant surgery. He was supposed to stop smoking but he complained of chest pain that was only relieved by smoking. If you loved the guy, you wanted to stop him from shortening his precious life, but, if you loved him, you never said a word.

Now his routine was to eat breakfast everyday at this West Side diner near where he now lived on the wealthy end of town. His stay at Nick’s was short. There wasn’t enough room to accommodate his full team of up to 11 diners in a section where “Slam” could smoke and hold court. So, it was back to Saylor’s which had been named Hook’s years before and was my Mom’s favorite diner by either name.

It’s funny. Going to places that I went to long ago with my dead parents brings back pleasant memories. It’s almost like visiting their graves but they are alive in these places, not dead under a stone. One of my many joys of being home. In fact, I haven’t visited their graves. I prefer to visit their haunts that are still haunted by them.

The irony of “Slam” holding court was that as a deputy sheriff he had spent most of his time in courtrooms as a security figure; now, he was the master of ceremonies for a gathering of mostly gray or bald males. It was like a locker room for the aged.

The occasional female visitor was treated courteously and gossiped about when not around but then so were the guys except the guys were mercilessly ridiculed when they were still there. It was done with affection and no one was banned.

The talk was about sports and politics and gossip about the living and the dead but the bottom line was companionship. “Slam’s Court” was a sober place to go where eventually everybody knows your name.

“Slam” knew everybody’s name whether they sat with us or not. He noticed the guy who now used a walker as a healthy stranger going downhill, healthwise. We were all sitting very close to the shore between life and death. The waves of what the mystics call “The Akashic Sea of Consciousness” where the record of all incarnations are kept were lapping at our feet and some of us were afraid.

Every time I drive up to the diner, I always check to see if “Slam’s” car is there so that I know he’s still alive. I got there early on the day you’re supposed to turn the clocks ahead and he wasn’t there. I got scared and was relieved to discover my error. The person sitting in “Slam’s” seat told me of my error and when His Majesty arrived, he chased the interloper from his throne.

I am sure there are billions of “Slam’s Courts” all over the planet, speaking every language, of every race, religion and political opinion. It’s a human thing. What do I know? Maybe animals, insects and fish have their own versions. Only God knows what herds, hives and schools gossip about.

“Slam’s” nickname came to him because he had a permanent chip on his shoulder like a comic book character who was named “Slam”—a little tough guy! Our “Slam” grew up to be a big tough guy who suffers no nonsense. He was a sheriff before he was a sheriff.

I suffer from the same chip on the shoulder disease but I never was a sheriff, I was “A Lone Ranger”. Leo Gorcey, who played the kingpin in the Bowery Boys’ movies, was my tough guy hero and always wore a hat on his head and a chip on his shoulder. Standing up for the good and righteous. When he could.

“Slam’s Court” is ruled by a half-Syrian, half-Irish, All-American cynic who challenges some and courts others. He is a Master in the art of the Schmooze: lips are moving but nothing’s being said but good feelings are being exchanged. He is retired but still cuts a few heads but only for old friends.

“Slam” not only knows your name, he also knows your story. He’s the barber or hairdresser you tell your troubles to. He asks about your health, your well being and your latest blunder or good fortune. He seems interested in you and keeps his troubles to himself and his old ward buddies, “Muzzy” and “Eskie” who are barbers too. It’s a conspiracy of barbarous proportions !

I’m afraid when “Slam” goes, his court will go with him. He’s the magnet, the glue, the charming and generous host: in fact, the game here is to see who can pick up and pay the most checks. There is great generosity scattered about freely. Not a bad club to belong to. I dream of someday being flush enough to pick up everyone’s check and win their game, magnanimously.




He is the steady wheat,

I am the wild flower.

From Him, you make bread,

From me, you make bouquets.

He nourishes your spirit,

I amuse your soul.

Plant Him firmly in your heart and mind,

Plant me by the door to your senses.

Water us both with tears of joy

And watch your Self grow.



By Simon Gribben

An amazing discovery has been uncovered by a space commander in the outer reaches of consciousness; at least that’s what he tells us. Somewhere in the stars he has discovered that everyone is not schizoid or of two minds, but everyone, and that means me and you and everyone who ever was or ever will be, is actually trizoid—three minds inside each head instead of only two.

According to our space commander, the way GOD constructed the universe was to create a governing trinity to run the thing and then replicated that triangular system in every human. (That’s what the Jewish Star with its interlocking triangles means—as it is above, so it is below. Does this mean that GOD is trizoid too? Impossible, something’s gotta play the North Star—that’s GOD’s job, to be the only constant in a world of constant change.)

One part of this mind-trinity rules the body, which often seems to have an emotional mind of its own. Another part represents the brain, the play-by-play announcer/the thinker and the third mind is a second voice in the head—the thing we call a conscience. The body, the mind, and the spirit each have a voice-vote inside your head just like the universe outside you is ruled by the trinity principle. Father (SPIRIT), Son (MIND) masculine and Soul (BODY) feminine.

For us humans, according to the commander, the personality represents the 2nd part of the trilogy, the Son (MIND) and is a mask we wear and project in public. The VOICE we hear inside our heads represents the Soul (BODY), the 3 rd part of the trilogy, and is the emotional merry-go-round behind the mask, the cheerleader and doom sayer inside our thoughts, “the devil’s radio” (where fears, like ancient dragons, haunt our every breath),

Then there is the seemingly silent 1st part of the trilogy, the Father (SOUL), a Voice for God in our guts, that thing we call heart: the you you are when you are alone without an audience. Most mistake “the devil’s radio” for GOD’s Voice or just dismiss It as ghosts from childhood that we haven’t shooed away yet. To hear and respect that voice is to become an adult, a menche, and a realized being. The Spirit is connected to all beings, it’s the glue of the universe.

The space commander says each of us is an actor in GOD’s Theater including the volatile earth herself with her twin terrors of wind and water. We are all fed our lines, and when we accomplish our service here, we pass on to our next gig or service.



Once upon a time there was a vacant lot in Allentown, PA that stretched from Liberty to Gordon Streets at 22nd, and it was about the size of a football field. The northern most portion at Liberty Street, about thirty yards, was flat and the rest was a steeply rising hill that went a full block all the way to Gordon Street, the lot’s southern border. Halfway up that hill was a huge blackberry tree that kids and birds circled when the fruit was ripe and ate to their hearts content. If almost 60 years qualifies as a long time, this all happened a long time ago.

There was a gang of teenaged kids on Liberty Street who were called “The West End Kids” by The Morning Call newspaper when the teens turned the vacant lot into an amusement park. This gang was very different from the storied thugs or rowdies who create havoc in other neighborhoods. In comparison, these were a bunch of model citizens who were playful and constructive rather than mean and spiteful.

The vacant lot was near Dorney Park, an amusement park that had many rides but the featured attraction, which inspired “The West End Kids”, was a wooden roller coaster. They decided they would build their own roller coaster on their own field of dreams.

The original idea came from conversations between Billy Kipp, Marvin Hoffman and Ron Burnet. Burnet was a teenager with a natural gift for carpentry and he would be the” Master Builder”. Hoffman says, “I think I only hammered 2 or 3 nails. Ron did everything”. Burnet says, “I had the whole plan for it in the back of my head. I never put anything down on paper.”

They “borrowed” the lumber from a nearby construction site and the abandoned “Open Air School” which had been built at the beginning of the 20th Century to accommodate children with tuberculosis and was now being slowly torn down by the local kids for projects like the roller coaster..

It all happened in April of 1946, shortly after the end of WWII. The Morning Call published a picture with Billy Kipp riding the single car on its 2-hump voyage. The only way to end the ride was to have a bunch of guys that included Burnet, Hoffman and his brother Donald at the bottom ready to catch the brakeless car.

It only stood for 2 days. None of the kids knew who tore it down but when they got home from school, all that was left was a pile of twisted lumber. In all honesty, it was dangerous. No brakes, of questionable stability, it was a disaster waiting to happen. But it was only the first of several marvels performed on this unused space.

The gang quickly responded. There was a tree in the Hoffman backyard, the closest home to the lot that had a trunk about 18 inches thick. They cut it down, leaving a stump almost 4 feet tall. A heavy board about 6 feet long was anchored in the middle over the stump and 2 reinforced crates were attached to each end of the board, and Presto!, there was a new ride, a cheap version of an aerial merry go round.

Unfortunately, none of these rides lasted very long, especially when the parents came home. But came Halloween, the “West End Kids” came up with a winner. They turned the lot into a scary “Fun House” for the local kids. Just after it turned dark, we were led around a marked off course where paper mache spiders dangled overhead and tickled you as you passed by.

Then a white-sheeted ghost would jump from a hidden foxhole. The whole lot had been undermined with underground passageways and you never knew when the next nasty pirate or skeleton masked soldier was going to spring up and shout “BOOOO!” They went through all that trouble just to play with us kids. Paradise was a vacant lot filled with loving, creative ingenuity.

My favorite of all the experiences was the freezing winter when we had several deep snows that didn’t melt and then we had several ice storms that created a thick crust of ice over the snow. Ron Burnet became inspired, He “borrowed” his Mom’s butcher knife and started cutting out large building blocks of frozen snow. He was going to build an Eskimo’s igloo on the frozen tundra of Allentown, PA.

Soon there was a crowd of helpers and many “borrowed” kitchen knives. Once again, the vacant lot became a place of wonder. I crawled into the finished masterpiece and had the fantasy of being at the North Pole that was now less than a block from the warm comforts of home. It was priceless.

By this time, the kids had gotten smart. At the end of the day, they smashed the igloo. It could have been a seductive danger for little kids who could be buried alive without the gang around to bail them out.. They took as much joy in destroying it as they had in building it. They had their fun and took responsibility for any serious repercussions.

Ron Burnet went on to build a spectacular tree house next to the “Open Air School” (the source for his building materials) that the Morning Call covered and titled “West End Builder At It Again!” Billy Kipp became an Olympic skating coach and was killed in the 1960 plane crash when our entire skating team perished. Marvin and Donald Hoffman (my first babysitters) are still around but Ron Burnet moved away and continued building, earning a living using his gifts.

Eventually the whole lot became the nesting place for a string of identical two story apartment houses and all of the magic of that empty field is gone except in the memories of those of us who had been enchanted by what “The West End Kids” did with it. It taught me a lesson about what you can accomplish when you turn a neglected nothing into a joyful something.




























Do I hear boo’s?

Do I hear cheers?

More one than the other?

So what?

The bad news does not care if you like it or not.

The fact that everything is perfect,

And you don’t think so,

Is definitely your problem.

Fortunately there is a remedy;

That’s what we’re selling here,

The scape-goat that will heal everything:

“The All-Powerful GOD!”

Blame everything on “The All-Powerful GOD”

Then everyone else is off the hook.

If you don’t like the way it is,


But not just for the BAD

You gotta blame GOD for all the GOOD too.

Balancing the BAD and GOOD achieves harmony,

The PEACE that lasts.

In this Universe,

You have to expect the BAD with the GOOD

And the GOOD with the BAD,

Or you’re just fooling yourself








Tears are cheers to GOD,
Praise for a perfect Creation.
Tears of gladness celebrate Gain.
Tears of sadness appreciate Loss.
Every teardrop validates creation’s Worth.
Yesterday glimmers with beloved Ghosts,
Tomorrow simmers with dreams of Hope.
Today is just another perfect day to pray or play for Tears.
Welcome to the bittersweet Paradise!
The launchpad to Eternity.
If you’ve been Here,
You’ll be There:
I guarantee It!
Simply Simon



She that was dead now lives! Someone who had been dead for 22 years was brought back to life. Not her corpse but her living spirit was unveiled to her relatives, including a grandchild who was only 5 years old when her Grandmother died.

A week before Xmas in 2003, retired filmmaker Simon Gribben got a message on his answering machine from someone calling herself Courtney Olejack claiming that she was the grandchild of a dearly departed friend of his who he had made a film about many years before. She wondered if it was possible to get a copy of it for her father as a Xmas gift.

Courtney Olejack had only “blips of memory” of her magnificent grandmother and that was long before home videotapes were so available. She would like to see her in physical motion and witness her aliveness in an award winning film made in 1969 and that none in her surviving family had ever seen.

Courtney heard about the film that starred the pizza bar run by her grandparents, Frank and Theresa Olejack, from her Uncle Louis, the younger child of the couple. Courtney’s father, Frank, JR, was their older son. Uncle Louis told her about a filmmaker named Simon Gribben and his close connection to his mother. She and Gribben had adopted each other, what we now call an “extended family”; she was his second mother, he was an older son.

It all began for Gribben in 1953 when he and his neighborhood friends Dave Parker, Dick Somers and Jack Cameron were on a quest to find the best pizza in the Lehigh Valley. Gribben was only 14 but Parker was older and had access to a car and they discovered this out of the way bar in West Catasaqua, a suburb of Allentown, PA, that had this enormous sign over the door that said “PIZZA”.

They entered and discovered the best pizza they’d ever tasted. The Olejacks owned and ran this place called The Fairview House: she, the charming barmaid; he, the silent chef and bartender. The clientele were eclectic, blue collared, white collared, old and young. Instruments were there for those who played to entertain them all.

Traveling to this out of the way pizza oasis eventually became a weekly pilgrimage for Gribben and he and Theresa became as close as mother and child. He never drank beer there until his 21st birthday when it was officially legal to drink in Pennsylvania. He drank elsewhere but not at his second Mom’s place. She even evaluated the girls he brought there like a real Mom.

When he was going to college, she would quiz him on his lessons and get his college courses for free. He ended up teaching her what he needed to learn and that’s the best way to learn anything: teach it! They loved each other as only a mother and child can, adopted or not.

She was barely educated but had life smarts and a great enthusiasm for learning. She was a great conversationalist, someone who would draw you out and not steal the spotlight. She loved studying his French lessons. She was an avid antiquer and was into astrology and music, She tried painting and over Gribben’s desk today is one of her paintings of one of her bar patrons.

When he grew up and went away, he would always visit her when he came home. The excuse was pizza but the real reason was that great fondness that some call love.

Gribben became a sports filmmaker who wanted to do anything else because he was not a sports fan. He was taking graduate courses at Temple University’s night school and a film course required him to make a documentary. The only documentary he wanted to make was about his beloved second mother, Theresa, and her pizza bar.

He wanted to call it “A Night at Theresa’s” but the instructor, Ernie Rose, wanted the class to have an overall theme for their films like the 7 ages of man. He was assigned the mature years and told his title was “I Am”. Gribben accepted the title but would go on to make a film about a person and a place that he loved.

Because of a technical snafu, the wireless microphone that would have candidly captured her gregarious spirit wouldn’t work. He got snatches of her conversation off of a hand held mike but it was not the same as letting her forget she was miked and being her totally engaging self. He had to rethink his overall approach in the editing room.

Instead of “A Night at Theresa’s”, it would become more general, more about an entertaining evening at a rural pizza bar in Pennsylvania. Instead of being the subject of the film, Theresa became a standout player in a kaleidoscope of people and pizza, music and laughter. And it all looked real, like the people didn’t know there was a camera present.

When Gribben finished the film, he was going to throw it in a drawer because it didn’t do what he thought it should. The student who was the director of photography, Galen Longwell, asked if he could enter it in film competitions and was told to knock himself out.

The 10-minute film went on to win many honors as an art film but never made it to television and a mass audience like many of Gribben’s films. He showed the film once at the bar to Theresa and most of the participants. Who wasn’t there were her 2 children, Frank, JR, and Louis and the grandchildren yet to come.

To watch a film made in 1969, you needed a 16mm projector. Not many people had one and the idea of giving Theresa a copy of a film she couldn’t watch seemed cruel to him. Years passed and Theresa died in 1981 at the age of 59. The bar was sold and he lost touch with the family and that seemed like that.

Gribben stopped in at the old place once but everything had changed. Theresa took the secret of her fantastic sauce and generous toppings to the grave with her. Occasionally he fantasized about marketing great pizzas, “Simple Simon’s Pies”, but, without her sauce, it would always be second rate to him.

He even thought of contacting Frank, JR, who he had been close with to see if he had the recipe. Gribben searched the Internet for his phone number (how many Frank Olejacks could there be in the United States?) but he wouldn’t pay for the number from a site that required payment. He thought that maybe someday he might.

So, enter Uncle Louis telling Niece Courtney about a film that featured a grandmother she barely remembered. He gave her the filmmaker’s name and she searched the Internet for him and came up with an article, “Rip Van Gribben”, that he wrote for his hometown paper about his return to live in Allentown after 40 years away.

Courtney called Gribben and left the message asking for the videotape as a surprise Christmas gift. He didn’t think he had one and put a call into his old friend Jack Cameron who was making copies of his films that were in the Museum of Modern Art which included the bar film. Jack responded quickly, he too had been a loyal customer and friend of Theresa’s, and hastily sent the tapes.

On the morning of December 26th, 2003, Francis (that’s what Frank’s Mom called him) phoned his old friend Simon and invited him to have lunch with his family: wife Cindy, son Brenton and daughter Courtney. Francis and he hadn’t seen each other in over 40 years and theirs was a warm reunion.

After a quick lunch of Brass Rail cheese steaks, they went to Gribben’s apartment. All four of the Olejacks sat on a large sofa and watched the black and white film. Gribben had always had that problem with appreciating the film; it seemed to have no plot, no narration and not enough of Theresa’s treasured personality.

Sitting with the Olejacks, he realized it had a plot, didn’t need narration and there was just enough of Theresa’s personality to give an audience a sense of how much fun she was. Even though he wrote, directed, edited and co-produced the film, it took the Olejack family for him to really appreciate his film for the first time.

They got all the nuances, the little jokes, as if he had made the film just for them. They all cried. Sitting on the floor at their feet, Gribben cried along with them. He had finally served that special someone who had served him for all those years by turning her memory into a reality. All of the family, by blood or love, were grateful. Theresa was alive and well in the film and in that room. She was a Xmas gift to them all.

She lives!



I am a satisfied customer.

I have tasted the fruit of good and evil

And I couldn’t tell the difference,

Both were bittersweet.

I finally got what I always wanted,


I allowed myself to absolutely love me

And left my bittersweet judgements behind.

Loving me sets me free to love you

Free of the fear of harm from you.

For now I know only I can hurt me

And now that I love me, it’s all in the bag.

I am a satisfied customer.

I am enjoying this wonderful heart stopping

Merry-go-round ride we call life.

What a blast at last to be satisfied.

The 23 rd Psalm is now my reality.

I see myself being shepherded,

(Whatever I did good or bad, it was God’s guidance)

My cup runneth over.

(Seeing abundance in my life by always seeking blessings)

Since that is true then the last promise must be true too:

Eternal life dwelling in God’s House forever (and for free)!

Not shabby at all.

I am a satisfied customer.




Santa lives! And so do his Elves! It took me a while, more than 50 years to figure it out, but Santa and his Elves are for real! Honest!

As a child I believed in Santa 100% until that fateful day in the early 50’s when I was at the Allentown Fairgrounds and Santa arrived without his reindeer in a red helicopter. He was bound for Hess’s department store and they had a sleigh on top of a truck to carry THE MAN to the store.

To add to the “photo op” they stuck some kids next to Santa on his sleigh. I was one of those kids! I sat right next to Santa. And, horror of all horrors, his beard was false! There was a wire holding the damn thing on! He was a fake! Santa was not real!

I was now 100% certain that I had been lied to not only by my parents and teachers, but everybody in the world was in on this conspiracy. Make room, Mr. Scrooge; I’m on your “Bah! Humbug” team.

This attitude went on for years. I bought the presents, joined the conspiracy, but never for an instant forgave the world’s populace for foisting this lie on to us gullible kids. But as I grew older and saw the greediness and fear that seemed to rule this world, I had a second look at Santa.

Santa is not a thing, it is a human impulse given shape; the impulse to give rather than to receive. How do you give shape to an impulse, a feeling that doesn’t have a shape, just an inner directive that shouts: GIVE!! GIVE even when you may not have anything left to give.

The desire is real, even if its shape is unknown. So we make up a shape to make an invisible feeling visible. We enter the land of poetic imagery, what T.S. Eliot called “the objective correlatives”, words that conjure up pictures that universally evoke a feeling.

So, we came up with a fat old guy with a beard, a totally non-threatening clean Dude, who we’d let invade our homes while everybody’s asleep. A kind and generous grandfather figure dispensing gifts, gifts that are an expression of an inner feeling that we call love.

Love is a feeling and has no shape or size. How do you picture something that has no shape or size? You invent a shape and size that could symbolize that feeling. Voila, Santa is just a shape and size that symbolizes Love. So, every time we give or get a gift, Santa Lives! Love Lives!

So who are Santa’s Elves? We are! We are the helpers who manufacture and deliver the goods. Some of us are green, with envy, over the love we think others get and we don’t. There is an antidote for that feeling of being unloved.

GIVE and you receive the gift of love. Not from the receiver of the gift do you always get love, sometimes you get rejection. But you always get a gift from yourself that you gave to yourself. You have fed that inner need to GIVE! A feeling of inner satisfaction is the result. You can really pick yourself up by your own bootstraps.


Soon you discover that you are surrounded by love and Santa Lives! 365 days a year Santa Lives! Peace and Joy are everywhere! And you are one happy Elve.

Simply, Simon



My name is Simon Gribben and I was born and raised in Allentown and just returned to retire from a career in television news and sports. I feel like Rip Van Winkle who came home not after a 20-year sleep but a 40 year one!

So much has changed! Where's Hess's? That three-ring circus of mammoth sales, chic style and Mom’s favorite restaurant in center city is gone! But then, so is Mom.

“ALLENTOWN HIGH SCHOOL” is the name of the place I graduated from and played football for. What’s this “William Allen” stuff? I know he was the founder of Allentown (I did a class visit to Trout Hall and loved the old guns there) but I felt disenfranchised when they changed the name of my high school. It’s like my high school diploma is counterfeit!

I am glad they named the stadium after Coach Birney Crum; It just used to be the “ALLENTOWN HIGH SCHOOL STADIUM”. Birney was the coach of my junior varsity squad, the last year that he coached for “ALLENTOWN HIGH SCHOOL”, and he taught me the one lesson I took into life. He would scream endlessly, “Pursue! Pursue! Pursue!”. So I pursued this emotionally unavailable woman for 20 years and never caught her. Maybe I should have learned a different lesson?

The Colonial Theater at 5th and Hamilton, that slick first-run movie house, is boarded up. I can’t count the great movie experiences I had there that transported me out of Allentown and into the exotic lands of the imagination. One of my magic carpets is grounded.

My alma mater, Muhlenberg College, has grown like Jack's beanstalk; not only in tuition but all those new buildings that are hiding my old playgrounds when I was the Morning Call paperboy. They built the Trexler Library over the spot Dave Parker told me we had discovered “the remains of a fairy fire!” I believed that for years until I realized it had been dried up animal dung.

And the people. Who are they? These gray-haired fuddies lumbering around

were the playmates of my youth. I see younger versions of them but I have to translate age in my mind like one would have to translate a foreign language into English. I'm one of the old fuddies now too like those geezers who used to collect tickets at Dorney Park. It's all very confusing but, oh, so normal. As an old friend used to say, "Growing old is not for sissies!"

And Dorney Park itself! It has grown too! They’ve changed almost everything and quadrupled the rides. And the Water Park! All we had was Cedar Beach in that end of town. I thought I might retire and be a ticket taker at “The Old Mill Stream” but one price tickets destroyed that dream and made Dorney like the fabled “Steeplechase” in Coney Island where I used to go to visit Grandma Gribben when I was young, oh, those so many years ago.

But I love my hometown. There are changes but not all are bad. I went to the art fair at Muhlenberg Lake and was impressed with the multi-cultural shift in the population. It used to be strictly a white bread community but now it’s more representative of the rest of the world and I like that and feel comfortable with the change.

I was born and raised in Allentown and left in 1963 when I graduated from Muhlenberg College as an English major and Education minor. I had a wife and two kids and we moved to Norristown while I worked as a management trainee for JC Penney at the King of Prussia mall. That’s where I was when Kennedy was shot and the store emptied out by 3 in the afternoon.

I only lasted a year there and moved to Philadelphia to teach junior high English for 2 years before taking a summer job as a gofer for a Philadelphia film company that made syndicated television sports films, Tel Ra Productions. I had never been a sports fan but always a movie buff and this was a way to learn “the business”. They liked that I was a schoolteacher and hired me full-time as a film editor/writer at the end of the summer of ’66 and I never looked back.

After describing a professional football game as a parody of Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Raven”; I was hired by a relatively new company called NFL Films as a writer/producer/director/editor---a filmmaker. The first film I made for them was a 5-minute football ballet to the music of Tchaikovsky that I called “The Headcracker Suite”. It aired on CBS and became an instant classic and ended up in the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).

The following summer I was asked to create a half-hour TV film on “anything I wanted”. It became “The Football Follies”, considered by some as “the most popular sports film ever made” and was also accepted by MoMA. The film spawned a series of imitators and has become a genre.

That fall of ’69 I made a short starring my son John, a child’s football fantasy, that is in MoMA too. I also was attending film classes at Temple University and made a documentary, “I Am”; about my favorite Catasauqua pizza bar and it won 1st prize in documentaries at the University Film Association, a Cine Eagle and is in MoMA as well.

I left Philadelphia and my marriage in 1970 to try my luck in New York. Other than a 10 minute film on joggers that I made for public television in 1972, “The Joggers” which is in MoMA, I didn’t have much success and accepted a job at ABC Sports as a film editor and occasional writer. I worked on “Wide World of Sports” and “The American Sportsman” winning an Emmy and several other industry awards.

I had a disastrous second marriage in 1971 and do not recommend marrying someone 3 weeks after your first date. It didn’t last a year and sent me to a shrink. After 2 years of that and discovering that the doctor couldn’t heal me, I had to change my behavior myself, I left the shrink and sought God because I was incapable of controlling my stupidity.

Because I was a rebel and a free thinker I found a religion that suited me perfectly: American Sufism. Sufis are impossible to describe and they are not only Muslims, especially if they come from “the land of the free” who can create a religion out of a mix and match spiritual bowl.

So I’m racially a Jew who follows Jesus and is not a Christian. I am a whirling dervish who was ordained in 1976 in a church built by the Muhlenberg family in New York and my clerical name is Reverend Simon-Peter. When I left New York, I ceased being a whirling dervish and became a wandering one.

Basically my religion is cheap and simple. It’s a practice like learning how to type, to dance, or ride a bike. It is not easy but far from impossible. I just blame God for everything, good or bad, and avoid all guilt and swelled-headedness.

I also believe that God’s got our future’s all figured out. Whatever happens is God’s will and always “Poifect!” whether I realize it or not at the time it happens. If I honestly turn my cares over to the Big Macha, I feel immediate relief. It is in this Peace that I can experience joy.

Back to the mundane. In 1977, Post-Newsweek Television Stations in D.C hired me as a news producer. The first hour special I produced and partially wrote won an Emmy. The station moved to Detroit and another hour special won an Emmy there. I also got to do my own feature reporting. The news director and I conflicted over several issues and I was fired in January of 1980. That was my last staff job

However, the Museum of Television and Radio in New York started collecting my works, and, if you go there and put my name in their computer, you can see dozens of my films and videos.

I went to Los Angeles and tried selling scripts for movies and specials but nothing sold and I went through a period of 7 years of bad luck before finding free-lance work as a videotape editor in New York at ABC and CBS News. I did that for 15 years before the events of 9/11/01 burned me out and I went on unemployment.

I had a massive heart attack on September 15th, 2002, and died for 4 minutes. Upon recovering, I took an early retirement from Social Security and focused on restoring my health. New York was too expensive for my fixed income and that was why I decided to come home to Allentown in April of 2003, one month shy of 40 years after I left.

I have some very supportive relatives here: my nephew, Lee Gribben of “Lee Gribben’s Fine Gourmet”, found me a place to live, my first on my own in 20 years. My cousin Al Gribben, president of the Jewish Community Center, found me a great, cheap car: I haven’t had a steed of my own in 17 years. Laurie Shenkman. a 2nd cousin and a marketing consultant, suggested I contact The Morning Call, my old employer, and tell my story: this tale is my first employment in almost 2 years.

I have climbed the press ladder: an assistant paperboy to Dave Parker at 5, a full-fledged paperboy at 11 when he went off to college to study chemistry and other fairy tales, and now, I’m nakedly a writer: not hiding behind juggling pictures and enchanting sounds. It’s fun.

I have lived for extended periods of time in different parts of these United States and I have a mental road map full of streets and memories of each one of them. But Allentown, my hometown, has the most complete maps and memories of all my past residences. The entire place is haunted. I can’t take a ride anywhere without a memory poking up. Often it’s the same memory, time after time, and I never tire of it, like a child who delights in hearing the same story over and over again. As I draw closer to the end of this life, and my heart attack gave me a peaceful glimpse of my mortality, I am happy to be home, surrounded by the past, enjoying the present, and unafraid of the future.

Simply, Simon



Ani showed me a new way to love. Unfortunately, she died before I realized it. She and her husband, Andrew, had taken me into their home during a homeless period, a 7 year money drought where I lost or sold all my stuff.

So when I showed up sleeping on the floor of her office, her nurturing compassion rescued me from another kind stranger who took me in for a year and now hated my guts. I have that affect on people. Once you get to know me, you hate me.

I’m not a villain, I’m just a guy who seems to have no limits, no boundaries, and that scares people. They really think I’m wild but I am tame. It’s just that my boundaries wander off into metaphysics and sometimes never make it back to earth. This is a problem. It looks schizo, smells schizo, and walks like a schizo, so guess what? I’m not schizo. I am a one eyed man in the land of the blind. The kingdom I rule is myself. God is my Co-Pilot, consigliare, and Best Friend.

My task is to see only One in all this variety. To reduce everything down to One. To hear and see only The One. To see and hear only the Puppet Master behind the screen, not what’s foremost but that which is everlasting, the Truth with a capital T.

So what does all this have to do with “The Pinochle Lover”? Before I was sober about sex, I thought there was only one way to love a woman. With a certain appendage. So, if I wasn’t making love with my nether region and I was really attracted to a woman, I was a walking failure. A big time loser who couldn’t make it with the woman of his current fantasy because she was married and unattainable, just what I love. An unavailable woman so that I won’t have to commit to intimacy.

Ani loved to play games, any game you could name, she could play it. I used to play pinochle when I was a teenager and now, generally, hate games; they are wastes of time when one could be curing one’s own insanity. But Ani coaxed me into playing and stopped me from staring into my navel trying to see God among the belly-button lint.

I am very violently competitive when I play games. Even in a non-contact sport like cards, I try to intimidate my opponents with my bulldogged aggressiveness. I slam the big winners down! I’m a Drama Queen! Good gracious! And I love to win. Ani read me in a moment and started deliberately losing. I couldn’t lose and she always did. That was no fun. She just turned up her stomach and surrendered to my every advance. On the cardtable.

It is only now, after she’s gone, that I realize she had made love to me on the cardtable. I was just too fixated on winning and losing to actually play a game where “it ain’t the game, it’s the company” that makes the game fun, not the outcome. Winning isn’t everything, it’s irrelevant and immaterial. It’s being with the ones you love while playing life’s games. You don’t have to be silly loser like Ani, but maybe she was right.

It’s the one’s you love to play with that really count.