My Turn at the Woodpile

William is the whole package. Handsome, successful, personable and stylish. He would be a great catch for any woman (or man, as the case may be). But, his gorgeous wife and 3 stellar kids seem to have made that option moot.

Our friendship goes way back to the 1970 Kent State days.  Yes, those Kent State days. I enrolled in the Autumn of 1970 amidst the angst that draped the campus since May 4. “Sho Mo” as William liked to call himself (damned if I know the “significance of”or “why” to this day) has remained my “Brother from Another Mother”. Never occurred to me that he was “black”, “colored”, “negro”, “African-American” or any other designation that seemed confusing and pointless. He was Sho Mo then. Still is now. And I am glad to be his best buddy, “Arab”.

Back then everybody called me “Arab”.  It was my moniker, nickname and (believe it or not) an endearment. I wore the title on my intramural jersey and tagged it beneath my student government documents. “Arab” was cool. Being of Middle Eastern ancestry seemed exotic and interesting to my associates. One girlfriend loved introducing me as her “Phoenician”. Flashback:

He arrived at Ellis Island.

“What’s your name”?

“I am Isaac, son of Shakir”.

“Hmmmm. Isaac Shaker. Next”.

Grandpa hailed from the Maronite conclaves in the mountains of Central Lebanon. As Catholics in the Levant, they were particularly profiled-persecuted people during the Ottoman scourge. He made it to Niles, Ohio, open his dry goods store, and became a successful citizen.

shakers store

Isaac and Sophia Running Shaker’s Store in Niles Ohio circa early 2oth Century

As I discussed the present day immigration issue madness with Sho Mo, I could not help but reflect on my life in Northeastern Ohio. Grandpa Isaac served and then was embraced by the predominately Italia and Irish immigrant communities of steel belt Niles. Everybody came from somewhere else and the “I am a (blank)-American” was always part of an introduction. After all, the Lady in the Harbor was holding a torch, not a stop sign.


Lt. J. G. Mitchell F. Shaker

My dad never talked about any “race/bigotry” issues other than the collective residents kicking the crap out of the KKK when they tried to get off the train at the Niles Depot in the 30’s. People got along, drank fro the same water fountains, went to war, praised the peace and started the Baby Boom. Mom and dad were prolific at this. I am the 5th of 8.

Fast-forward to 9/11, Iraq, Paris, Daesh, San Bernardino and all that is evil.  In the past 15 years, I have had my humble share of profiling, insults, stares and glares. My personal feelings ranged from mild annoyance to fear to utter rage. But, no suite at Guantanamo or “right”eous indignation had befallen me (yet).

This was the subtle basis of my discussion with William when we caught up a few weeks ago. The obligatory chitchat about family and career completed (he is a bank VP with a killer suit / I am still the happy hobo), I slipped into my diatribe about demonized profiling and how it had come to roost on my brown-bearded head.


My “American” Clan in the 50’s

My mantra on affirmative action, civil rights, Dr. King and a colorblind paradise was Nobel-Prize-worthy. “One Country=The World”. “One Race=Human”. I preached, taught, believed and ministered this message throughout my adult life and it remains the core of my conscience to this day.

The KoomByeAh aria ended with my humble admittance. “William. I never truly appreciated the struggle until this past decade. I have been searched, called ‘sand nigger’, been told to go back where I came from…Hell, I even had people move their seats on airplanes to avoid my foreboding presence”.

I can almost empathize to some degree. Back in 2003, when I was in the Mel Gibson film, “Passion of the Christ”, I looked like this.

no beard

“Eyepatch” / Temple Guard for the Pharisees

Scared myself every day on set for 3 months when I went to “Hair & Makeup”.

Sho Mo sat there in facial neutral, baking my words. Would I get a fist bump? Maybe he’ll give me a slap on the back, welcoming me to the prejudice victims party. Most likely, he will tell me to stop whining, grow up and deal with it.

6-second silence pauses can be an eternity, especially after one has born their injured soul in hopes of alliance or just plain sympathy. At 7 seconds, the Sho Mo neutral expression bloomed into a smile that illuminated the otherwise bastille bar we sat in. By the 8th second, he calmly rolled out these wise words.

“Arab, it’s just your turn at the woodpile”.





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Tom was born Thomas James Shaker on August 13, 1952, to Mary Katherine Christopher Shaker (daughter of Italian immigrants) and Mitchell Francis Shaker (son of Lebanese immigrants) in the town of Niles, Ohio. He is the fifth of eight children. He scored the lead role in his kindergarten play Frosty the Snowman and never looked back. Throughout his 12-year parochial education, Tom mixed high academic marks with countless arts, sports, and student government activities. This culminated with his becoming a participant, then counselor and finally consultant to the National Association of Student Councils (NASC) and its affiliates in Ohio (OASC) and Pennsylvania (PASC). Tom also was selected and participated in the Buckeye Boys State leadership conference sponsored by the State of Ohio. He continued these activities as he prepared for undergraduate school. Entering Kent State University in September 1970, Tom immediately became involved with activities surrounding the tragic campus shootings the previous May 4. He was a founding member of the Candlelight Vigil Committee and continued to work with the Centre for Peaceful Change. From 1970-74, Tom produced many theatrical works off campus while performing in university theatre department plays. He was inducted into three honoraria and given the Senior Service Award. Tom graduated with countless student activity, government and Arts credits highlighted by his work as the publisher for the Chestnut Burr Yearbook and Kent Stater Campus Newspaper. Tom earned his AEA Actors' Equity Association Card (the union for professional stage actors) in the summer of 1974 as the third cowboy from the left in Oklahoma and fourth Buddhist from the right in The King and I. He was accepted to Akron University Law School, attending in the fall of 1974. But, the draw to the arts was too strong and he left law school to continue his main pursuit, the stage. Tom spent 1975 as a teaching consultant for the Portage County Schools, filming and coaching teachers on classroom presentation and speaking techniques. He began his Masters Degree program at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, autumn, 1976. Again Tom graduated with high marks and a series of honors in spring, 1978, most notably serving as President of the Michigan Union. He also worked on a graduate school scholarship as a counselor in the University Admissions Office. Tom simultaneously spent those years in Ann Arbor battling Hodgkin's Disease, a form of lymphatic cancer that warranted his regular sessions of MOPP Chemotherapy throughout his academic tenure at the U of M. With diploma in hand and a clean bill of health, Tom moved to Detroit and spent twelve years distinguishing himself as an actor, director, producer and Edu-Tainer. He earned union membership in Screens Actors Guild (SAG) and the American Federation of Television and Radio Announcers (AFTRA). His countless commercial, industrial and film credits included national spots for General Motors, the voice for Cadillac and a role in Beverly Hills Cop with Eddie Murphy. He also formed his production company, staging dozens of musicals including Fiddler on The Roof, West Side Story, Guys and Dolls, Oklahoma…and touring schools with creative interpretations of classic works from Shakespeare to Aesop to Dickens. His Edu-Tainment company created an improvisational concept called Storybuilding where student stories and ideas were brought to life before the entire school assembly of their peers, thus building creative writing interest, literacy skills, and self-esteem. He even developed a school outreach program for McDonalds Corporation and actually portrayed the character Ronald McDonald for the dozen years he spent in Detroit. He also served as a board member for The Ronald McDonald Houses (RMC) in both Ann Arbor and Detroit and was a consultant to Ronald McDonald Children’s Charities (RMCC) at Hamburger University in Oakbrook, Illinois. Broadway had always been beckoning. In 1991, Tom moved to NYC and spent another decade in countless film, television, theatre and Edu-Tainment projects. Productions included Law and Order, Ransom, 15 Minutes, Die Hard III and a critically acclaimed showcase of his original musical Birdsville ,(adapted from the Aristophanes farce), staged at the Kauffman Theatre on 42nd Street. In 2000, Tom travelled to Rome, Italy in search of his Italian heritage. A two-week vacation turned into a change of continents and he is now a dual citizen commuting between The Eternal City and The Big Apple. He is Dottore Shaker in Italy, Director of Performing and Visual Arts Education, consulting at Sapienza Roma I University and Link Campus University. He is also a member of the USO committee in Rome, serves as a volunteer warden for the American Embassy, and is a past president of the American International Club of Rome (AICR). He has spent countless hours on various sets and sound stages including Cinecitta, “Hollywood on the Tiber”. Mel Gibson selected Tom for the role of Eyepatch in The Passion of the Christ. Then, the Cinecitta Jerusalem of Gibson became the Roman Forum for HBO and Tom was cast for recurring appearances in the drama mini-series, Rome. He is the Court Lictor in the episode titled Spoils. In Italy, Tom is writing his books, At Home in Rome, 24 Hours in… and Italy with Tom Shaker. He is scouting for his documentary Film "Kissa Grandpa" and producing/singing an album of new jazz standards with his band, "Tom and the Cats", featuring his original tunes, Bella Roma and Italiano-Americano. He has produced and recorded the album, Giggin’ with God, in the Vatican City studios. Tom has completed principal photography for the first fifteen episodes of his International media project, Where in the World with Tom Shaker, Rome 360º, the Churches. He has completed the pilot for his wine series, In Vino Veritas, as well. In Paris, France, Tom co-wrote, shot and starred in the TV series, Forget About It (Fugedaboudit), the story of a bar/diner owner and his screwy clientele. The show was accepted and showcased at the Hollywood Film Festival in December 2012. Works in Progress include: • In Vino Veritas / 30-minute episode series about wines of the world • 24 hours in… / a look at Piazza, Square and Centers around the Globe • Post Production, Rome 360º, Season I • Pre-Production, Season II, Rome 360º, March 2013 • Episode and distribution development for Forget About It 2016 will see the completion of his latest screenplays, The Siege of Malta and Roma Rewrite. Finally, Tom keeps busy in Italy lecture-guiding friends, colleagues, and referrals around the entire boot and islands.

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