Thursday, November 30, 2006

Although the City of Rahway NJ did me a great service six years ago, it took a long time to forgive it for what it did the following year: towing away my car after a snowstorm that occurred while I was at my sister's recuperating from serious eye surgery. Which is how I came yesterday to mail a check for $200 to NJ Motor Vehicle for payment on two restoration fees. I only had to pay one right now since I no longer have a car. But miracles happen, I may have a car again someday, that other outstanding "restoration" debt wasn't going away & for all I know would follow me to another state where I wouldn't even be able to register an electric moped. I suppose I could also blame local zoning laws that permitted a "garden" style apartment building with fewer parking spaces than units; I doubt that's allowed anymore. Anyway, the towing incident, along with a late night encounter I had with four zealous cops who thought the short middle aged guy walking to Dunkin' Donuts they'd seen around downtown for over a decade might be a crack dealer, somewhat soured my feeling about the city; I never again felt quite as comfortably at home, & I viewed specific police officers who commonly patroled the downtown with suspicion regarding their skills in dealing with ordinary citizens, & their intelligence. My relationship with the city descended to the level of the one I'd had with Linden during the years I resided there; an appreciation of certain conveniences without much warmth involved. A shame, really, since Rahway is only the second place I've lived as adult where I didn't constantly wish I was somewhere else (the first was an old farmhouse I shared in college, during the day I could practice piano as loud as I wanted). The encounter with the police is a short story I never get around to writing & I'll probably mention it over & over until I do. Well, the city can still make it up to me.

The Third World kid's laptop

$150 laptop; the One Laptop per Child Foundation hopes to get cost down to $100. Bill Gates is skeptical, which immediately got me interested. The chief technologist for OLPC is from Intel, it uses a Linux-based OS, & has no hard drive. It has a clear if small screen, camera, is wireless, networks wireless up to 1/3 of a mile within schools & villages, & recharges with a foot pump. Geeks, don't rush to Toys R Us, it won't be for retail sale anywhere (until some of the kids barter them for food, maybe).

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Fifty Years of Howl

Howl by Allen Ginsberg was published 50 years ago this fall. This poem & the slim volume containing it changed American poetry, changed American culture, & changed America. It was beautiful, troubling, angry, subversive, spiritually powerful, & wonderfully portable in the inexpensive City Lights Pocket Poets edition. Ginsberg was to American letters what Elvis was to American music, & at the same time; a decade after World War Two, when the United States had become all too comfortable with itself. In addition to making Ginsberg famous, the controversy surrounding Howl as an "obscene" book & subsequent trial ended as a great victory for free speech.

I discovered a copy of Howl on my oldest brother's bedroom bookshelves when I was 12 & looking for an alternative to my mom's Harold Robbins paperbacks. I thought, hey, this is real beatnik stuff, it must be dirty. Disappointingly, Howl had nothing in it like the sex passages in potboiler novels, just a few "bad" words, & it didn't make a lot of sense. Yet, it felt like something I ought not be reading. Up to that point, my idea of a modern poet was Robert Frost, an old man, whose most famous poems, like "Mending Wall," could be appreciated in a fairly literal story-telling way by a kid. I went back to it again & again, & found other poetry books & magazines in my brother's room, which he had brought back from New York City. It was my brother who first told me Allen Ginsberg wasn't a "beatnik," & in fact there was no such animal; it was a derisive word coined by Time Magazine.

Howl somehow got under my skin & excited me the same way rock & roll did. If I didn't comprehend the worlds either came from, at least I knew those worlds existed. Certainly my parents would not or even could not point the way to them. & Ginsberg showed me there were other ways to make poems, other ways to be a poet. But no book of poems after Howl has had anywhere near its enduring popularity & notoriety. Nor has any poet had the same remarkable kind of celebrity.

When first published, Howl had a cover price of 75 cents. For years it was conveniently one buck. Now it's $6.95. Over time I've acquired four copies; a perfect bound & an earlier staple bound in the Pocket Poet series, a German translation someone picked up overseas, & a hardcover facsimile of the original typewritten version, which was mimeographed & circulated after Ginsberg debuted the poem at a legendary San Francisco reading.

A brief History of Howl.
"Howl Part 1"

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Monday, November 27, 2006

Painting the basement floor

Needed a simple printout from Social Security; since there's an office up the street I take my chances there rather than requesting it online. Take a number, wait a few minutes, get called to the window, present my card (an original from the 60s). The system prints it out almost immediately but I have to wait my turn for someone to come out, call my name, & hand it to me. That wait is the gamble. Today, the whole deal took under 30 minutes. But if you have a real problem you better be prepared to spend some time in the waiting area with portraits of Bush & Cheney staring at you - a silly grin on Bush's face & a smirk on Cheney's, poorly touched up photos; screw you, let's privatize. Our Leaders. Seemed peculiar that the Vice President was there, but then, he's the boss. Hardly anyone had brought something to read.

A guy around corner hanging holiday lights on his house yesterday afternoon, had a ladder extended to the roof peak. More than I'd ever do. I don't like exposed heights. When my dad ordered me to paint the eaves on the house, I flat out refused, which so infuriated him that he made me paint the basement floor instead. He thought it was punishment, not being out in all that fresh damned air & sun damned shine. There I was, down in the cool basement on a few hot July days, rock & roll on the radio; a friend or two hanging out as I worked, I couldn't pull the classic Tom Sawyer picket fence scam on them. I remembered my older brother on a rickety wooden ladder braced against a 2x4 nailed into the sloping porch roof, precariously balancing himself & dripping sweat as he chipped away at old peeling paint above the little attic window, & that was only the first part of the dangerous job. Not a bad tradeoff, I thought. Of course, I didn't point it out to dad. Maybe I was like Tom Sawyer after all.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Keansburg NJ

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Saturday, November 25, 2006

"Something I Dreamed Last Night"

Did an overnight fill-in at WFMU today. Musically, it was all over the place. & I kept the chat to a minimum. The four hour late night show is fun for stretching out (an entire Spanish piano concerto), but it wipes me out physically. It's not the program itself - I'm a late nighter anyway, take a nap earlier if I think I need one, & feel OK at 6 a.m. - but the journey home does it. On Saturday morning, the first connection I can make out of Newark Penn Station is 7:30. Sure, the River & Manhattan skyline are pretty when I walk to Exchange Place PATH & descend below ground. After Journal Square, above ground again, headed out across the swamps, the sun is completely up even at this dark time of year; I prefer overcast mornings. There's a lot of people on the trains. It's too bright to pretend I'm creeping home after an all-night party. Reaching Elizabeth, the street cleaners & garbage trucks are finished, the cafes are open, the world's up & about its business. Without delays, I'm home a little after 8. On weekdays, I'm back a bit earlier. The problem is that I'm tired & relaxed & ready for bed before I leave Jersey City, ending the old night rather beginning the new day. I try to hang on to the feeling as long as I can, but it totally fades away during the 15 minute walk from the station to my apartment. I then need to unwind. Although the blinds are shut, the room in shadow, the wide awake world leaks in. At that point, I could sleep 24 hours, if I could get to sleep.

Friday, November 24, 2006


  1. Betty Comden, who with her longtime collaborator Adolph Green wrote the lyrics and often the librettos for some of the most celebrated musicals of stage and screen, died yesterday in Manhattan. She was 89 and lived in Manhattan.
  2. Robert Lockwood Jr., 91, a Delta blues guitarist who became the torchbearer of Robert Johnson's guitar legacy and a revered musician in his own right, died Nov. 21.
  3. Anita O’Day, whose coolly ebullient and rhythmically assured vocal style made her a premier singer of both the big-band and postwar jazz eras, and whose taste for fast living secured her name as one of jazz’s toughest survivors, died yesterday in Los Angeles. She was 87.
Amazing the hard-living Lockwood & O'Day lived to such ripe ages. Anita O'Day is a special favorite of mine. Somewhat "cool" & unsentimental in style (which doesn't mean lacking emotion), her attitude was that she was in the band as well as in front of it; she performed with the musicians, listened to what they were doing, & they in turn collaborated with her. This was a departure from the 1940s "songbird" era when gowned female singers adorned big bands like ornaments, stepping forward to warble a verse & refrain. Addiction problems sidetracked her recording career several times, she didn't fully beat heroin until the late 60s & kept boozing well into her 8th decade. But she was an original with a huge legacy, influencing singers up to the present day.


Black Friday

Sony or Nintendo? Which would Jesus play?

uring the 90s I worked six holiday seasons at Pearl Arts & Crafts & enjoyed them for the most part. Also did one December in a large record store. My only real experience with "Black Friday" madness was at the old Stern's Dept. Store, where I had seasonal employment as a stocker for the dept selling luggage, attache cases, office gifts, those sorts of things. Stern's held a big sale after Thanksgiving & the enticements were holiday gift wrap paper & decorations. So on Wednesday evening the area manager had me make space for a large display of sale Christmas wrapping near the doors. He told me to bring the boxes out before store opening on Friday, with the warning that I should get off the floor by 9. "Go have a blueberry muffin & coffee (Stern's had great muffins) & sit in the back for an hour & when it calms down a bit you can restock." I had no idea what he was talking about. I ran a bit late on Friday morning because stock carts were scarce. As I unloaded & opened cardboard boxes of wrapping paper, I noticed a large crowd of women gathering outside the doors nearest me - this Stern's had five main entries & stockers had set up wrapping paper displays by all the other ones. I had unloaded the last box & was cutting it open when the doors were unlocked at 9 am. The stock cart was still in the aisle. Hundreds of women rushed through the doors, pushing & shoving & they all seemed to be headed toward my display. Suddenly, I was surrounded, mobbed, as these shoppers fell upon the wrapping paper. Some women waved rolls of paper at me, shouting, "Do you more of this style in stock?" I lied & said no, & somehow managed to push my way out & maneuver the stock cart back to the stock room.

Later, the manager came up, smiled, & asked if I'd gotten off the floor by 9? "Not quite," I said.

Thursday, November 23, 2006


NBC is positioned to have the better Macy's Parade coverage, since they set up where everyone has to do the schtick. Not that you actually get to watch the parade go by like you're a spectator. Casts from Broadway musicals you'll never want to see. Celebrities lucky to get invited to a "C" list party. More emotive lip-synching than a Soultrain anniversary special. Marching bands from Southern California schools, the cold, soaked musicians thinking about changing their majors or switching to the Debating Club next year. MC host patter cut & paste from copy provided by publicists & ad agencies. Everyone was suffering in the miserable weather. Barry Manilow's new hip must have been singing to him like an off key coloratura soprano. The crowds are out-of-towners; New Yorkers look at the balloons on Wednesday night & are done with it. It's a tradition, we get here every year at 6 am & nobody pees for 8 hours . CBS relied more on pretaped bits; Rachel Ray preparing a gross casserole from every leftover except the marshmallow yams & calling it a "dip," a dark humor behind Rachel's smile. C'mon, the soup's the best part of the old bird.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Getaway Day

Desperate turkeys waiting for a NJ Transit train.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Words words words

Words words words. First Borat, where Sasha Baron Cohen says anything he wants in the guise of a crude Kazakh, never mind what people from that very real nation think. Then the surprise cancellation of O.J. Simpson's scarily titled book & TV show, "If I Did It." (Why not "had I done it," or just steal Red Skelton's phrase, come right out & admit, "I dood it."). The U.S.D.A. redefined "hungry" as "very low food security" (V.L.F.S.?). Then Michael Richards' onstage "nigger" meltdown in which he sounds like an enraged Tourette's sufferer, it's a bizarre rant, & his uncomfortable, disjointed appearance on Letterman via satellite with Jerry Seinfeld trying to moderate the proceedings, all three wondering if they'd compounded the problem.

I hear the word "nigger" every day; hundreds of times if two or three young black guys happen to be loudly conversing on the street corner beneath my window, I hear it along with a lot of other nasty language. The main rationale for casual use of the word is that it is then defused. Perhaps in that context, which is doubtful, but certainly not for use in business or church, or by whites even as "humor." I know "Afro-Americans" (Richards' term last night) who I don't believe appreciate being called "nigger" by anyone under any circumstances. It's both an awful word & a lazy word. It rarely fails to bring to my mind terrible images. Everyone in my family used it; only in the house, of course - we were raised to have good manners even toward "negroes." It's a word I quietly retired from my active spoken vocabulary in high school, which I recall as one of the first times I consciously reasoned with myself about language. I could avoid the word & still be racist, but could never use the word & not be a racist.

Fear charges prejudice, so I wonder what an experienced comic like Michael Richards feared when a couple of hecklers interrupted his act. He's an edgy, improvisational comedian, but after so many years in show business, you'd think he'd have a stock of responses ranging from bemused to aggressive but funny putdowns. What made that ugly brew bubble up & then boil over?

Monday, November 20, 2006

Safe and Sexy, a photo essay from The Walrus, a mainstream Canadian magazine:
"This past summer, Sarah Hughes travelled to Halifax, Quebec City, Victoriaville, Toronto, and Winnipeg to photograph women in two outfits of their choosing — the first one 'comfortable and safe,' the second 'attractive and sexy.' She then invited each of her subjects to talk about these dual identities."
The difference between the two is obvious from the woman's perspective, although the explanations vary. But to my male gaze, that difference is mostly marginal, & in several instances "safe" is sexier. If the subject is not aware of that, should she be informed? The cumulative effect is to bring attention back to Hughes as the artist who chose these particular women for her portraits, & how she challenges the male gaze. It's a feminist document; a project she began 7 years ago.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Maple Shade, NJ


"Oracular spontaneity is rare these days, and heartfelt, inspired sloppiness underrated. The poets are pros now, like the software coders, and they function smoothly as nodes in the great network. Ginsberg was always a bug in the machine, though, and the chaos he caused rang alarms that brought repairmen. He made a racket, and, for stretches, a grand one, with subtler modulations than some appreciate and wittier undertones than they remember. I and many others can hear it still, even above the noise of the explosions."
Walter Kirn, "Howler" (New York Times)

A big time defeat

You can do "big time" football at a jock school with intense traditional rivalries that happen year after year. But at a lot of those schools, like Oklahoma, Nebraska, LSU, Alabama, Tennesee, a two loss season is unacceptable in any year. At USC, Florida, Texas, Notre Dame, one loss is a killer where they expect to play for a national title every year. You think they gonna concede their high school prospects to Dear Old Rutgers now? Fugetaboutit. That's what big time football is on big time campuses. What happened to the Syracuse & Pitt programs? Are West Virginia & Louisville flukes? Hey, where's Penn State? 8-4 & in the middle of the Big Eleven Ten, they'll be in a Corporate Bowl Game somewhere. Think it's fun beating a Michigan St? Ever hear of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University? It's in Blacksburg & plays in the ACC. They're pretty good, again. They beat Cincinnati this year. Yesterday they walked over Wake Forest. Wanna watch an Ohio State-Michigan rematch in Arizona? Scarlet Knights fans, are you prepared to accept that most seasons will more resemble last year than this year? Is it OK that you rarely get a second chance & never a third? Is it fair that you lose once to an unranked opponent & you're out? Glad that Greg Schiano is the highest paid public employee in Jersey? Is he working the day after Thanksgiving?

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Atlantic City Pop Festival

Reading about the Atlantic City Pop Festival, held August 1, 2, 3 1969 at Atlantic City Racetrack. Not much has been written about it. I have slight memory of this event having happened. I don't recall hearing about it in advance, although I was in a rock band & two weeks later was in the crowd at Woodstock. There wasn't much promotion for it in North Jersey. Had I known, I probably would have tried to talk my bandmates into going there instead of to a pasture in Bethel NY. Maybe I did know & just regret not going. Atlantic City had some of the best Woodstock acts: Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, Creedence. Santana, Joe Cocker. Plus other performers I really liked; Procol Harum, Mothers of Invention (wow!), Byrds, Booker T. & the M.G.s, B.B. King. Admission was $6 each day, $15 for all three. There were few serious incidents aside from traffic jams. The promoters even turned a profit. It was not a continuous event; the racetrack was cleared out every night. Since there were plenty of cheap motels & campgrounds within 20 miles, it'd have been possible to eat, shower & sleep in relative comfort & safety. Maybe not.

But Woodstock had all the buzz, the media attention, we went there, & my memories of that legendary occasion are on the balance less than pleasant. I remember the second day & night pretty clearly; it had the best music. Sunday afternoon's thunderstorm made us throw in the smelly blanket & leave, exhausted, dirty & hungry. My clothes were in such bad shape that I changed into some sort of shaman robe someone gave me, which was fine until we pulled into a rest area on the Thruway & I realized I looked like I was in drag.

After Woodstock, I never again went camping except for a few nights I slept outside during a trip around America in 1976. Although I had long hair, I disavowed all association with either hippies or the student hippie wannabees that made up most of the crowd at Woodstock. No matter how stoned I got, I was never the kind of person who'd screw in public & celebrate my liberation by sliding naked though disgusting mud wallows; or admire anyone who did. Maybe I missed something. I doubt it. The discomfort & bad sanitation were turnoffs enough. I was just a songwriter, & given my late-adolescence anger, angst & alienation I was tilting toward proto-punk.

Millions now claim they were at Woodstock & I can't prove I was there, so it makes no difference what I say. But if I'd gone to the forgotten festival at Atlantic City Racetrack with a total 3 day attendance of about 100,000, that would be something to brag about. Like seeing the Flea Circus & Amazing Diving Horse on the Steel Pier.


Friday, November 17, 2006

To Tom & Katie:"A sincere note in sign of gratitude from the city of Bracciano, for having chosen it as the place where to crown your dream of love."

Thursday, November 16, 2006

I admit to having some Haband clothes (not adjust-O-pedic comfort shoes or ezy-zip cardigans), but no way I'd drop $30 plus shipping for the Stairway to Paradise Chocolate Feast. "Sold separately all over town for up to $8.95 per box!" What town is that?

A strange image, George & Laura play traditional gamelan instruments at a museum in Singapore. But how does their performance compare to the Thai Elephant Orchestra?

A friend emailed me, concerned I hadn't posted on the blog since Monday. I wrote back suggesting she refresh the browser page. Her concern pleased me. A few years ago I had an epiphany; that if I died in current circumstances, either the landlord & his crew would come into my apt, take what they wanted, & put everything else on the curb, or my siblings would do it. In both scenarios all my writing, journals, radio aircheck tapes, etc. would end up in heavy duty trash bags. As difficult as it was to accept, there wasn't much I could do about it. The four old friends who could go through my creative work with any appreciation for its real or potential worth (agreeing with me that it has some) live too far away to form a rescue team (& they'd also walk away with some great books & cds for themselves). About the best I could hope for anyway would be that some of it ended up in the basement storeroom of a university library. This is what initially prompted me to archive a lot of my writing online & then to start a blog. I think many people are driven by the same anxieties to build websites & start blogs. But if one isn't already a writer or journal-keeper, a blog become a tedious project.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Won't you come see me, Queen Jane?

The Twyla Tharp / Bob Dylan musical,"The Times They Are A-Changin’," is closing this week. No matter. I wasn't going to see it. For all the thousands of times I've heard couplets like "You used to ride on the chrome horse with your diplomat / Who carried on his shoulder a Siamese cat," starting when I was in high school, it never occurred to me that I actually needed to see a chrome horse & a diplomat with a siamese cat on his shoulder. I don't know if that's in the show, but there's definitely a lot of expensive silliness like it. Uncle Bobby had ample opportunity during his superstar arena tours back in the 70s to present his own songs as stupidly literal stage extravaganzas, & chose not to. For sheer interpretive weirdness, there's always The Four Seasons' old recording of "Queen Jane Approximately," with Frankie Valli nasally intoning phrases such as, "When all of your advisers heave their plastic / At your feet to convince you of your pain /Trying to prove that your conclusions should be more drastic..."

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A greener shade of money

Former Procol Harum organist Matthew Fisher is in British court suing to be co-credited for composing "A Whiter Shade of Pale." This credit is worth two-million dollars in royalties, he claims. I've always loved the song; was a fan of Procol Harum through the first three albums Fisher did with the band.

The two most identifiable parts of the song are Keith Reid's surrealistic lyrics ("16 vestal virgins* who were leaving for the coast"), & Fisher's organ part which channels two melodies from Johann Bach without quite stealing them outright. Yes, you're allowed to rob directly from Bach & other classical composers & claim copyright; think "A Lover's Concerto." Provided no one else raided it previously.

But the problem in Fisher's suit is that although his music is integral to the arrangement - is, in fact, the song's hook - it isn't the song's melody, the one that fits the words. I'd like to ask "Whiter Shade" composer Gary Brooker if he at anytime during the years Matthew Fisher was not with the band performed the song without the organ part? I think Fisher deserves credit. But the court may not agree.

Whilst checking out this story I happened upon Fisher's wedding photos from 2003. He married an attractive Italian-American gal. Modest reception. Not a smiley couple.
*Historically, there were only six at any given time.


Rudy Giuliani doesn't strike me as the kind of guy who would run for the vice presidential nomination, but that's the best he could possibly achieve. A McCain/Giuliani ticket could be formidable barring some third party challenge from the religious right. Rudy doesn't have much wiggle room on those "moral" issues of most concern to the repug's red state base. Also, until 9/11 he was leaving the mayor's office in New York with a rep as a divisive, angry politician carrying a lot of battered baggage, which will be opened up & examined closely over the next year. Remember Bernard Kerik? Donna Hanover? You will. By contrast, Mike Bloomberg is a paragon of togetherness.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Model of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. Proposed to be added later is a waterfall that splashes in the cadences of Dr. King's speech. I don't know how this would be done, but it's a lovely idea.

Bennie breaks wind

The great successor to British Enlightenment philosophers, Sir Elton John, has announced that organized religion should be banned. Or, failing that, religious leaders should hold a "conclave" to "discuss the fate of the world." Presumably, these patriarchs (unless they include the head American Episcopalian Bishop) would vote to ban themselves, thus ensuring global peace, love & understanding. Well, it wouldn't make things worse.

Great Britain has a civil union law that confers upon Elton & David "the same legal benefits and responsibilities as heterosexuals who wed in a register office." In a recent photo, Elton had a garish, diamond-encrusted cross dangling from his neck (Yeah, I know even God-fearing pimps wear those). & I doubt he has any objections to huge Anglican royal weddings; probably fancied one for himself until he found out he couldn't rent St. Paul's Cathedral & arrive on a sedan chair carried by six buff Nubians in mink jockstraps. The poor fellow may feel wounded, but as Liberace once remarked of his critics, "I cry all the way to the bank." I say we just ban "Candle In the Wind."

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Saturday night pass? Enjoy yourself.


My birthday is at the beginning of our 5th season on the midatlantic seaboard, the grayish & often drizzly one between fall & winter, sometimes lasting to the New Year. For awhile I considered myself lucky that it wasn't closer to Christmas, but since birthdays weren't major occasions in my family - just ice cream & cake after supper & a few gifts - I eventually realized it didn't matter. Although Armistice Day became Veterans Day in 1954, for many years afterward most people continued to call it by the former name. Schools were closed (bummer when it fell on Saturday).

Over time, sharing a November birthday with Veterans Day gave me a somewhat sad perspective. I've always appreciated Memorial Day, yet its springtime date & Civil War roots soften it some, give it the nostalgic tone it had even in the 1950s when the "supreme sacrifices" of WWII were so recent & real in the minds & hearts of every adult that people wept as Gold Star Mothers - they were not elderly women - placed wreaths at the Doughboy Monument built following WWI. Memorial Day remembers the dead. Veteran's Day was created to honor many millions of living men & women who are in a sense too modest to fully embrace it. Their thoughts are usually private ones. At best, they have memories of separation from family & of the friendships & routines of military service: At worst, those memories include unspeakable horrors. There was no parade in my town. The ceremony at the monument at the corner was brief & sparsely attended. The wreaths on thin wire stands blew over in the November wind, dried out quickly, & dead leaves piled up against them until Public Works raked the small park & carted them away.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

It's my birthday.
I'll think of something to say.
No stars over this city
any poet would notice it
a good poet would do something about it
Two songs by The Jayhawks & Neil Young.


Friday, November 10, 2006

Jack Palance originated the role of Harlan "Mountain" McClintock in "Requiem for a Heavyweight." Other roles include:
National Championship hopes for Dear Old Rutgers football? I dunno. But my Yahoo basketball scoreboard activated itself today. Princeton lost. Monmouth lost. Notre Dame squeaked out a 92-49 victory over the Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne Mastodons. The race is on.

Tuesday's election should drive home to our Dem state legislators the obvious fact that gerrymandering New Jersey into 7 Dem & 7 Repug congressional districts is not fair at all, it fails to give voice to the true demographics, it is not "democratic." Our population is not evenly divided between the two parties, & our congressional delegation is not representative, & was not when the lines were redrawn after the 2000 census. At least, the 7th should have been redrawn to keep it in play as a swing district. "Extra" Democrats were squeezed into Donald Payne's super-safe, convoluted district just to give a freshman Congressman named Ferguson an easy ride. Now it seems outrageous. (In contrast, Massachusetts has ten districts held by ten Democrats, & the state is not nearly that skewed in fact.) But I suppose we'll lose a seat in the next census anyway.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Wrapping it up

In another dimension of space & time, where the past, present & future are a coexistant continuum, I could almost feel bad for soon-to-be-former Rhode Island Senator Lincoln Chafee. Here's a politician bearing the name of the president who for over 100 years made the Republican Party tolerable. The only Republican senator to have voted against the war, & did not even vote for George W. Bush in 2004. Like GWB he was a child of privilege, but much more his father's son. Chafee was on the wrong side on Tuesday. He should have switched sides two years ago.

Before Nixon's "Southern Strategy," before "Reagan Democrats" (a new label for an old breed), the Republican Party could, if sometimes by a stretch, call itself "The Party of Lincoln." Oh, they were always corporate shills. Even Abe the rube lawyer from downstate Illinois wanted to go to Chicago & work for the big railroads & banks. It was fitting that one of the most successful corporate lawyers of that day, a man who had been contemptous of Lincoln before the Civil War, was also the man who uttered,"Now he belongs to the ages" over Lincoln's corpse in the bedroom across from Ford's Theater. At the end, acceptance.

When I was growing up, Democrats were a crazy alliance of aging New Dealers, labor unionists, rusting urban machine parts, Jim Crow southerners of both the red neck & country lawyer varieties, & genuinely progressive reformers. Republicans were for the most part what Republicans had always been; they represented midwestern farmers & northern Chamber of Commerce types, overwhelmingly protestant, & controled, as was frequently said, by New York banks & Wall Street. Both parties were aggressively anti-communist. The Republicans also had Jacob Javits, the Rockefeller family, Clifford Case, Everett Dirksen, Ronald Reagan, Barry Goldwater, & in the Sixties even a light-skinned moderately liberal negro senator from Massachusetts named Edward William Brooke III, who is still alive. But Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond switched parties in 1964, making the Republicans officially racist. Choosing a party included choosing a poison: Either way, you were going to have to drink it & pass out in bed with people you utterly despised. For me, this was confused even more by Vietnam.

The national Republican party mullahs made it clear a long time ago that neither Lincoln Chafee nor the better angels of Abe Lincoln's time were to have any influence. Tom Kean Sr. left his ivory tower retirement for the 9/11 Commission & then had most of his conclusions ignored. Bamboozled Christine Whitman could have run for the senate this year if she hadn't announced 5 years ago that New York City's air quality was fine. While Chafee was cut loose, Republican money poured into Lieberman's "unaffiliated" campaign next door. I can't feel sorry for Chafee, but I can feel nostalgic for what he represented; a Republican Party that wasn't a very "big tent" but certainly wasn't the total freak & geek show it is now. He was probably sick of it all anyway.

BBC online coverage of the elections was succinct, dispassionate, & accurate.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Yesterday, I read what must have been an early-returns headline that said PA Congressman John Murtha was in a "tight race," so I checked the brave old Marine's results today. He won with 61% of the vote.

Felicidades Menendez

It's ironic hearing the president who's done more than any other of my lifetime to promote partisanship & divide America & turn it into a one party political system now calling for cooperation with the people he's pissed on for 6 years. He sounds all shook up to me. Thought his party had a lock on the House. He's saying it was a "close election." Oh? He treated those elections in '00 & '04 as landslide mandates.

Watching the scene last night in the East Brunswick Hilton on TV, the feeling of sheer elation emanating from that place was something I'd never seen in a senate victory here before.

Senator Menendez gave a long-winded victory speech, but once he got going he wasn't the oratorical stiff he's been made out to be. His win was clearly decisive & he knew it. When Menendez switched to Spanish he brought tears to my eye as it suddenly hit me how significant this election was; a son of Cuban immigrants had beaten the son of one the most popular politicians in Jersey's history from one of our mansion-on-the-hill colonial-era families. & all those those years serving in a Republican-dominated House must have really frustrated Menendez. I don't think he'll be a backbencher in the Senate.

Linda Stender's loss in the 7th was a big disappoinment. I think Linda did overcome the advantages of Mike Ferguson's incumbency; what she couldn't overcome in the end was running in Kean Jr.'s backyard.

Last night, the TV talking head commentators were again echoing right wing talking points by claiming this was really a victory for a right-wing swinging Democratic Party. But the so-called "conservative" winners like Bob Casey, Jon Tester, & hopefully Jim Webb, are populists, not dogmatic flat earth religionists. When Menendez closed his speech by calling the United States "The greatest country in the world," it came from the heart - that wasn't just election night rhetoric. There's no contradiction, as Repugs would have it, between being for a strong national defense & also for a progressive domestic agenda. & how do you explain Bernie Sanders, an independent Vermont socialist who will caucus with Democrats alongside Nebraska's Ben Nelson?

I wouldn't vote for a Democratic candidate I perceived to be genuinely weak on defense. I live 20 miles from Ground Zero. How come, five years after 9/11, I feel no safer? It's certainly not due to the efforts of Dem senators like Schumer, Lautenburg & Clinton, who pretty regularly show up at area ports & shout at the White House, "C'mon, help us out some more here," & even had to stop Bush from selling our docks to the Arabs. They never forget. Nobody around here forgets the empty place in Manhattan's skyline. There's nothing "conservative" about what Iraq has done to our armed forces & preparedness. I see the deliberate waste of lives & money & more lives. The idea that there's some obvious either/or border anymore between conservative & liberal is ridiculous.

What a fucking mess Democrats have to clean up in Washington. Nearly everything is broken. I almost feel sorry for them.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

vote early & often

3Voted. Had to produce some address verification in addition to my mailed sample ballot. I was prepared for that. My drivers license expired so I showed this month's utility bill & a county photo I.D. The lady at the Ward 3 District 3 table fussed over them a bit, but I checked the rules last night, I knew I was good-to-go. She looked at some guy sitting by the table, he grunted & sipped his Dunkin' Donuts coffee, & I was in. No lines, but business was brisk at Magie Ave. School around 1:30, only Democrats outside handing out candidate cards. Street money in the form of bored men standing at intersections with Menendez/Freeholder placards. That's a good thing. This is a hispanic city & Menendez will have to run up huge pluralities here to overcome the suburbs. Then I went to library, another polling place in same ward, glad it was open for books. I got some Elmore Leonard short stories.

The only serious problem I ever had trying to vote was for a general election years ago in Linden; the poll location had been changed from the previous year & they somehow misplaced my records page during the shuffle of moving. They were way too casual about the possibility I wouldn't be able to vote, reminding me the polls were closing soon, like tough luck, we can't do anything now. It was around 7:30 pm. I threw a fit. & I do mean a fit. I went ballistic. I had my sample ballot with me. Someone got on the phone, I was worried he was calling the cops, but he was talking to City Hall, & about 10 minutes later the city clerk walked in & personally handed me a provisional ballot, very apologetic. I was raised by parents who always voted. A lot of people don't have my cantankerous kind of personality, & they're the ones the repugs are trying to scare away this year with misleading robocalls, bizarre flyers saying Democrats vote on Wednesday or the relatives of naturalized citizens will be deported, & with intimidation tactics outside & inside the polling places. I have never encountered any of these, but they are very real in other places.

Monday, November 06, 2006

vinyl vinyl vinyl

There's a reason I refer my kind of free form as "discount." I spent $15 for 11 records at the WFMU Record Fair.

Bobby Hackett, Hawaii Swings
Among WFMU DJs, only moi & probably Irwin & Monica could spot the potential here among the boxes of "easy listening." Jackie Gleason's favorite trumpet could play excellent jazz whenever he wanted - he rarely did this late in his career, & Miles admired him; 8 piece group with Hawaii-born session cats on bass & electric steel; guitarists Billy Bauer & John "Bucky" Pizzarelli Sr. doubling on ukeleles. Too much nodding, not enough winking, but nobody falls asleep & there's some 3 minutes gems here.

Philip Rehfeldt plays Music for Clarinet & Tape
I thought "Renascence for Clarinet, Tape Delay System & Prerecorded Tape" could be more tuneful than the title suggested. It is.

Andre Previn & J.J. Johnson, Mack the Knife & other Kurt Weill Songs
At last, I've replaced my worn out copy.

Harry Kaapuni & the Royal Polynesians, Aloha Hawaii
Sealed. Cheap. Irresistable. Based on other Kaapuni cuts I've heard, probably OK poolside cocktail music with a strong country & western flavor. Dedicate this one to Carrie at the Bar & Grill.

Miklos Rozsa, Hungarian Sketches; Concert Overture
1950s LP conducted by the maestro himself. Rozsa was one of those old-time Europe to Hollywood transplants who was almost apologetic that he composed peerless movie scores & good pop melodies but little "serious" music. Now we can hear it was pretty much all of a piece, which is what we want anyway.

Dai-Keong Lee, Polynesian Suite (1959)
I didn't expect an American composer of that era to do something interesting with the concept even though the middle movement of this symphonic conceit is titled "Hula." A disappointment anyway. It's like Lee went to a luau & averted his eyes when the grass skirts started shaking.


Read this today, vote tomorrow

"They had forgotten, if they ever knew, that the Constitution is designed to be a law for rulers and people alike at all times and under all circumstances; and that no doctrine involving more pernicious consequences to the commonweal has ever been invented by the wit of a man than the notion that any of its provisions can be suspended by the President for any reason whatsoever.

"On the contrary, they apparently believed that the President is above the Constitution, and has the autocratic power to suspend its provisions if he decides in his own unreviewable judgement that his action in so doing promotes his own political interests or the welfare of the nation. As one of them testified before the Senate Select Committee, they believed that the President has the autocratic power to suspend the Fourth Amendment whenever he imagines that some indefinable aspect of national security is involved.

"I digress to reject this doctrine of the constitutional omnipotence of the President. As long as I have a mind to think, a tongue to speak, and a heart to love my country, I shall deny that the Constitution confers any autocratic power on the President, or authorizes him to convert George Washington's America into Gaius Caesar's Rome."

Senator Sam Ervin Jr. - 1974

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Storyland Village, Neptune NJ


Saturday, November 04, 2006

Let Not the Wise His Wisdom Boast

It's all over for Pastor Ted. If you're inclined to doubt Mike Jones' accounts of deep tissue massages, believe Ted Haggard's New Life Church Overseer Board:
We, the Overseer Board of New Life Church, have concluded our deliberations concerning the moral failings of Pastor Ted Haggard. Our investigation and Pastor Haggard's public statements have proven without a doubt that he has committed sexually immoral conduct.
Don't worry for Pastor Ted; bigshot preachers like him have bigshot bank accounts & investments. Not that he'll have much left when his wife's lawyers are finished with him; she's got five kids to look after. It won't help him to write another book unless he's willing to make it a tell-all. (Previous uplifting Haggard titles include "Dog Training, Fly Fishing, And Sharing Christ In The 21st Century," "Primary Purpose: Making It Hard for People to Go to Hell from Your City," & "From This Day Forward: Making Your Vows Last a Lifetime." )

The people least shocked by this are southerners, who are not unaccustomed to seeing prideful local Bible thumpers throw themselves into the manure pile, but usually by-way-of some ripely attractive woman in the church choir.

(check out the the Twinkies of New Life Church. Choose the male lead for the next Twyla Tharp musical. Will it be Lance? Ross? Matthew?)

two decisions

Bob Menendez won my vote today. I wrote to him because I was very angry over his "yea" on the Military Commission Act (The "torture" bill). Then I even wrote to a certain third party candidate requesting his view, but inexcusably received no reply. Yesterday there was an envelope from Menendez in the mail, which I was about toss as a piece of campaign junk when I noticed it had an "official business" senate return address. Inside was a defense of his vote, 2 1/2 pages worth. While it isn't entirely convincing, I appreciate that some staffer alerted the senator to what was no doubt a large volume of complaining e mails from his constituents, & he, noting the closeness of the polls, authorized the writing & mailing of an intelligent reply. He didn't apologize or refer to any of his other positions on Iraq or national security. It was straight talk. Try to get that out of Tom Kean Jr, he of the "Look at my dad smiling at me" images & the TV ad featuring an extremely low fi recording of some sleazeball using Menendez's name to try to extort money, as if that proves anything. (Hi ya, I'm a scorpio & Springsteen says you should blow me!) . Junior wouldn't have any kind of political career without dropping a name everytime he introduces himself. Take that away & he couldn't get himself elected to the local school board.

My congressman is running unopposed. I live a very short distance from the 7th District line, unfortunately I can't cast a vote for Linda Stender.

Elizabeth 3rd Ward Dem candidate Joe Keenan also gets my vote. Keenan has not run strongly informative campaigns here. He barely defeated the reactionary incumbent in two close primaries. But unlike his opponent, he didn't rely on illegally cast votes from registered Republicans. The Union County Democratic machine pisses me off sometimes, but the anti-Mayor Bollwage faction here is a frightening alliance of right wingers, neither reformers nor Republicans, & Bollwage is not a bad mayor. Keenan, as it turns out, is the former Director of Elizabeth Public Library, 14 years in that post, & he & his wife decided to remain in Elizabeth after he retired. I'm delighted with the idea of having a librarian as my councilman. Now, if I can get him to hear me out on my idea of rotating duplicate titles of main library books through the branches.... I go downtown & see three copies of an older Spenser-for-hire detective novel gathering dust on the shelves when my Elmora library doesn't have it at all.

I'm ready for a big sex scandal involving a man & a woman above the age of consent & that doesn't involve drugs or pay-to-play. Just call me old-fashioned.

Friday, November 03, 2006


The marigolds are
the last to die,
spiteful of seasons, each
a colony of tiny
orange petals grouped
around a mystery.

The bees retreat
as furnaces fog
the windows,
when our choices
are few:
the hothouse
or the marigolds,
all other flowers
in the mulch.


Thursday, November 02, 2006

WFMU Record Fair

I'm no longer a record collector, & I don't need to feed the endlessly hungry maw of a weekly radio show. So I'm able to go to the incredible WFMU Record & CD Fair this weekend at Metropolitan Pavilion with an attitude of detached interest, as much or more for the social occasion than for the merchandise. Maintaining this detachment is difficult. The hundreds of dealer tables are like museum displays. I give myself only about two hours to browse & schmooze before taking up a post at the WFMU El Cheapo tables - everything one dolla - on Sunday afternoon for the final 3 hours of the three day event. I get to wear an official name tag & act venerable.

Entering the Pavilion lobby, a maze of velvet ropes brings you to the ticket sellers. These volunteers are invariably very nice, sociable people but their job is a lonely one since everyone is in a hurry to get inside. You go through another door - where your ticket will be examined by an amiable but no nonsense person. Once inside the Fair, the first tables you see are the WFMU tchotzke display for tee shirts & other "authorized" merchandise, run by people with proven ability to add & subtract. Then the WFMU all-prices record & CD tables, staffed by knowledgable DJs you can actually consult with on your purchases. This is where you're most likely to find WFMU's music director when he has a few moments to hang out. You also pass the WFMU "Wheel of Fate" game & the information table with all the handouts & flyers, the chairs behind this table are usually occupied by a male & a female selected for their congenial dispositions. If you want to pull the station manager's coat, lay in wait for him here. Then you wander the aisles & aisles of dealers however you want. The El Cheapo area is generally the last stop for people on their way out of the record fair. It's like the dusty souvenir shop or funky little arcade at the end of the boardwalk. You arrived with a certain amount of money to spend, & you spent nearly all of it, but you still got 5 or 10 bucks to blow. Almost all of the CDs for sale are complete mysteries to me. The compilations are the best gambles. There are good records, though. Nothing valuable or mint, but if you love music, you'll probably find something. & it's easy for me: 6 items, that'll be, ah, 6 bucks.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

So now the election's about whether or not John Kerry insulted American troops in Iraq?
He wouldn't do that ever, & of course he didn't, if one bothers to listen to all of what he said, which too many people won't.
But thanks a lot, John (I sez sarcastically) for inadvertently giving Karl Rove one week before Election Day the big distracting Democratic target he didn't have for the past two months. Do us a favor, disappear for 7 days. We know you're a decent guy but you had your chance to go mano a mano with George W two years ago. & you couldn't tell a joke right even if the ghost of Tip O'Neill was whispering it your ear. Remember, revenge is a dish best served cold.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." Thomas Jefferson

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