Sunday, December 31, 2006

Something I Dreamed Last Night

Some songs I especially enjoyed playing on the radio in 2006. All RealAudio stream.

Burton Cummings: You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet
Burton croons a song by his former bandmates, including Randy Bachman's guitar solo.

All Nations Rockers: Talking Dubheadz
Deep, deep toke a fat blunt reggae dub, my favorite kind. If it's too monotonous, try it at 4 am.

Jayhawks: Bad Time
Perfect folk rock cover of the Grand Funk hit.

Four Seasons: Marlena
B side of "Candy Girl," they charted together in the Top 20 in 1963. During a week at my grandmother's that summer, an Atlantic City radio station always played both right after the midnight news break, & I stayed awake with a transistor radio under the pillow.

Uun Budiman & the Jugala Gamelan Orchestra: Banondari - Ulah Ceurik
Javanese pop music, very exotic, but you can dance to it if you really try. & if you succeed, you'll feel very happy. Barefoot only.

Pell Mell: Nothing Lies Still Long
I carry in my head an ever-evolving film script set in the environs of Wildwood NJ, about a vacationing teenage pianist who slowly realizes the brilliant older musician she admires who is staying in the same guest house is searching for someone he may be intending to kill. I never write it down because I just use it to collect music for the soundtrack.

The Prehistorics: Alley Oop Cha Cha
A stupid & pointless followup single by the same drunk guys from L.A. who recorded the hit. Hence, admirable radio music.

Kalama's Quartette: When Summer Is Gone
Great Hawaiian vocal from the 1930s, but you should stick around for the next three songs: Annie Kerr, "I've Gone Native Now"; Daphne Walker, "Hootchy Kootchy Henry"; & a Javanese band, Orkes Kroncong Mutiara with an incredibly languid, tropical number called "Laggam Schoon Ver Jan Jou".

Spanky Wilson: Sunshine of Your Love
Yep, it's the Cream classic. The 5th Dimension also did a version, but I suspect they grabbed it from this one.

David Ruffin: One Last Kiss
From an 80s album he did with Eddie Kendricks in the Philly style of Hall & Oates. Very lovely, maybe even sincere. Recorded at the House of Music, West Orange NJ. Also featured in the soundtrack previously mentioned. My fav part is the last 30 seconds - the backup singers subtly shift to call-&-response.

Anita O'Day: Something I Dreamed Last Night
Rhymes with "Oh it's so wrong it can't be right." Make it one for Anita, & one more for the road.


Wildwood Aqua Circus

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Saturday, December 30, 2006


So my soulmate didn't move into an apartment upstairs, & no little old lady gave me her low mileage Toyota (although I was offered a 1988 Lincoln Town Car). I didn't have a midweek August special at the Kismet Motel in Wildwood & in fact didn't even go to the shore until last Tuesday; I can't remember when I last failed to set foot on a boardwalk at some point during a year, 2001 maybe. Haven't got the new PC yet. Grateful for those who remembered my birthday & Christmast. An air-conditioner in time for the July heat wave. 9 radio shows. Cat-sitting weekends over the summer & watching satellite TV there while doing a load of laundry. Reading lots of private eye novels. A few new poems.

But Election Night was unforgettable, the one I'd been hoping for since 1994. Of course, the new congress won't do 1/3rd of what us liberals want it to do; pork & a certain amount of shenanigans are institutional. But I know what the Repugs in the House & Senate can't do now, which is just about everything they were doing. & that is a great mercy for these United States of America. No matter how you look at it, analyze it, debate it, Democrats are not Republicans, & that contrast is a lot more substantial than many witless commentators would have us believe. Whatever the Repugs do now will have to be accomplished by executive branch fiat, & the guy occupying that office no longer has unlimited power to create the menu & order whatever he wants from it, too. Nancy Pelosi is not Gingrich or Hastert. Steny Hoyer is not Armey, DeLay or Boehner. Harry Reid is not Lott or Frist. To paraphrase Billy Mumy from a famous Twilight Zone episode: "They were bad men. They were very bad men."


The Reagan Administration removed Iraq from the State terrorism sponsorship list in 1982, making Iraq eligible for U.S. dual-use and military technology.

Saddam Hussein was sentenced to death & executed specifically for killing 148 people in the town of Dujail following an assassination attempt on July 8, 1982. He was not hanged for ordering the gassing of Iraqi Kurds, for the atrocities generally committed by his secret police & his sons, for possessing "weapons of mass destruction," for his attacks on Iran & Kuwait, or for any connection to the events of 9/11.

The United States re-established full diplomatic ties with Iraq on November 26, 1984.

U.S. Diplomatic and Commercial Relationships with Iraq, 1980 - 2 August 1990

I enjoy state funerals. In the early 80s I stayed up all night twice to watch the Soviet Union file away Leonid Brezhnev & Yuri Andropov. But I have to wonder about people who line up to walk past Jerry Ford's flag-draped box & claim afterward they were moved to be a "part of history" they can tell their grandchildren. Which grandparent's stories would you want to hear? The one who traveled all the way to Rancho Mirage or Washington for President Ford, or the one who went to the Apollo Theater & saw James Brown give his final perfomance there wearing a diamond-studded blue suit and silver shoes & lying perfectly still in a gold casket?
Maybe what bothers me about press coverage of Rutgers football is that every nostalgic reference to the long history of the program, to the ancient alumni, the Rutgers-Princeton rivalry, the Homecoming Saturdays, Paul Robeson, reminds me of what Rutgers in its tranformation to mega-university & mega-money sports has lost in tradition, identity, & prestige. Rather than continuity, the contrast between past & present reveals a disconnection that even the gray-haired, red sweatered pennant wavers can't bridge.
Big East Upset? What's so shocking about Connecticut yawning through 10 home wins against creampuffs, traveling to West Virginia & getting their asses whupped by another Big East team?

Friday, December 29, 2006

Souvenirs of Waves

An old friend showed up from northern California on Tuesday with a rental car & an urge to see the Atlantic. So we went to the nearest ocean beach, Sandy Hook. The Twin Lights park was open but the lighthouse itself unfortunately closed. The weather was steadily clearing after a quick storm, the high tide showing the recent solstice.

These were some of the most beautiful waves I'd ever seen. Each had individuality. They weren't enormous, but they rarely crowded upon each other, & were neither orderly & predictable nor sloppily turbulent. The surf churned up foam yet the water was clear as it receded. It was luck to have chosen a particular parking lot at Sandy Hook that accessed a stretch of beach where waves were breaking just so on the steep beach shelf at this stage of the high tide, which had been falling for maybe an hour. Coming back after spending some time on the bayside, the breakers had moved offshore, settled down neatly, & were attracting dozens of surfers.

To have general interest, a photo needs to show a wave breaking on something on other than sand: a person, a house, a pier, a boat, a jetty, a lighthouse. That thing either resists the wave through strength or deflection, or it does not. The photo then has proportion & "drama." Simple photos of breakers are usually interesting only to people who study them for one reason or another, or as souvenirs.

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Thursday, December 28, 2006

WFMU is posting staff 2006 lists, several per day. Most of these lists are top ten or top twenty, others are just lists. My favorite so far is "Mark Allen's Renewable, Cross-Referenced, Self-Mutating Top Ten List of the Most Popular Top Ten Lists..." Rich "Inflatable Squirrel Carcass" Hazelton again lists life with his wife, Tamar, as his #1, which makes sense to me since I also adore her. A few lists might seem to scream "Check this out, I'm so cool." But I leave it you to decide who they are. I don't put much effort into my list. A "best of" for me would consist of individual musical selections rather than whole albums or books. But it requires going through my own playlists plus the playlists of the WFMU DJs I listen to on a more-or-less regular basis & some that I don't. So I stick with 7 albums & 3 books. It always includes some stuff I've had for more than a year because I get things in anticipation of wanting to hear or read them in the future, or feel I'm missing something & put them aside for awhile. The photo collection, "Surfing San Onofre to Point Duma, 1936-1942" was the latter, & I'll be posting an example of what I learned from it.

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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Lieutenant Commander Gerald Ford, USNR

A brief account of Ford's World War Two service in the U.S. Navy & hair-raising experiences on the USS Monterey during the incredibly destructive typhoon that hit Admiral Halsey's Third Fleet on 18-19 December 1944.


Under the Beltway

WASHINGTON (AP) -- When Robert Steinbuch discovered his girlfriend had discussed intimate details about their sex life in her online diary, the Capitol Hill staffer didn't just get mad. He got a lawyer.

Soon, though, the racy tidbits about the sex lives of the two Senate aides faded from the front pages and the gossip pages. Steinbuch accepted a teaching job in Arkansas, leaving Washington and Jessica Cutler's "Washingtonienne" Web log behind.

While sex scandals turn over quickly in this city, lawsuits do not. Steinbuch's case over the embarrassing, sexually charged blog appears headed for an embarrassing, sexually charged trial.

Lurid testimony about spanking, handcuffs and prostitution aside, the Washingtonienne case could help establish whether people who keep online diaries are obligated to protect the privacy of the people they interact with offline.
This lawsuit is still a big deal among the "Sex & the City" era Repug political junkies who read the old Wonkette faithfully & are perversely interested in how other young, beautiful & privileged American fascisti have sex. Admittedly, I was once mildly surprised to learn that some of these "conservatives" - who sterilize their underwear in microwaves & snort expensive fragrances to mask the odor of the unwashed masses - enjoy doggy style & don't consider oral sex disgustingly unhygienic. They are, after all, the same ambitious youngsters who advocated the impeachment of Bill Clinton for revealing nuclear attack codes to bimbos & demanded the Smithsonian display the Stained Apparel of Monica. For years they smirked privately at Mark Foley, & gladly worked for bigots who want homosexuals castrated or clitorally circumcised. They lined up to lick the arsehole of any rightwing Bible bleater with a full collection plate & the influence to help their careers. Photos from Abu Ghraib gave them months of masturbatory pleasure, but now videos of beheadings & bloody Baghdad carnage hardly get their juices flowing.

Decades on a radio station that permitted me all the freedoms not prohibited by the F.C.C., & long associations with alternative publications that printed just about any confessional-style poem I submitted, made me circumspect about the kind of personal information I revealed. Unnecessarily, perhaps. There are certain laws regarding "libelous" portrayals of living persons not famous. What I know about others they may also know about me. But what they know is merely embarrassing rather than interesting.

So what to make of someone who published the details of her jaded interactions with under-the-beltway penises on the internet & now defends herself not on the grounds of free speech (we'd hardly expect that in the era of heightened National Security), but by claiming a blog is a personal diary like something she left out on her coffee table for her friends to browse. Steinbuch is a jerk. Cutler is an exhibitionist. In a different life she'd be in porn films. Instead, she capitolized by posing for Playboy & writing an urbane "novel" 100 pages too long for the genre that one could display two summers ago next to one's cocktail & high end cell phone on any of the East Coast's exclusive beaches. Go at it, kids. But your 15 minutes worth of fame has already lasted half-an-hour, your 120 Days of Sodom for nearly six years & counting.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Mele Kalikimaka


Sunday, December 24, 2006

Those Christmas Eves

My parents put a lot of effort into Christmas, making it quite magical, particularly when I was very young, 4, 5 years old. They had a feel for tradition & theater. Fans of Norman Rockwell or Doctor Spock, read on.

Christmas Season started when dad stapled up the strings of colored lights around the front porch. A some point he added two funky giant candles he'd constructed out of cardboard cylinders, cellophane. & light fixtures. Everything he designed looked designed by a dad.. There were lots of decorations tacked or taped inside the house, & our one classy display, a beautiful creche set probably purchased at Woolworth's in the 1930's. When dad knocked an opening between the living room & a narrow "playroom" addition he built on the side of the house replacing a wraparound porch, it became a kind of stage complete with draw curtains, spotlights, cotton snow, figurines, & the nativity scene. It looked like we had family puppet shows. Over time, the Holy Family & Three Kings were joined by small wind up robots, plastic dinosaurs, & various H-O size train accessories. Mom was into baking Christmas cookies, some of them flavored with ashes from her Raleigh cigarettes. In my earliest years, the tree wasn't put up until late Christmas Eve after the four children were in bed. So Christmas Eve was more about anticipation & mystery. It's supposed to be about those things.

Mom made spaghetti for Christmas Eve supper, was fast & easy, & she'd be pretty busy for the next 24 hours. One of my brothers wanted his wife to continue this "tradition" which she justifiably rejected as too peculiar if not cultish. After supper, we were put in the care of "Nana," our resident gramma, & mom & dad went to the "visit" Phil & Gertrude Sprague, an older couple with a teenage daughter who lived next to the high school. Mrs. Sprague was a piano teacher & none of us became good pianists. In fact, all our presents were stashed at the Spragues; it was futile to try to hide them anywhere in our house. I'm sure mom & dad loaded up on a few drinks before they loaded up the car.

Meanwhile, back home, we put out cookies & milk for Santa & hung stockings in the playroom. My parents came home after we were in bed & supposedly asleep. They carried in the presents & dad brought in a Tree, probably kept in a neighbor's garage. No doubt this was a romantic moment when they had only one child, but it was high-pressure time for them later, working against the clock. Furniture had to be moved; the tree set up in a stand; lights tested & burnt bulbs replaced; the tree decorated with the many old ornaments we stored in the attic. Certainly, some presents had to be wrapped. Every year one of us got a bike or some piece of child machinery that had to be assembled & tested. Then they filled the stockings. I have no idea what time my parents got to bed, but at 5 am they were yelling at us to to go BACK to bed for another hour. For the first few conscious years of my life, I really had no clue how it was all done, or who did it, & don't recall caring if I knew. It was magic; or as I would call it now, amateur shamanism.

One year, my sister Jean & I encountered each other in the hallway outside our rooms, propped up each other's nerve with whispers, & crept through the murky predawn shadows, down to the landing where one could lean over & peek through the bannister into the living room. I lost my balance & tumbled halfway down the steps. I wasn't hurt, but I was so alarmed, afraid not only of being caught but of actually SEEING the presents & somehow ruining the magic for everyone else, that I scrambled back upstairs in a panic, vowing never again to break the Immutable Law Against Peeking, for which I'd been obviously & instantly reprimanded by Santa Claus (probably tipped off by Baby Jesus in the creche). But the living room was dark, as if nothing actually existed there yet.
Although I later suspected sneaky oldest brother Joe of giving me a push then dashing back to bed. Eventually, mom & dad got up, put on their robes, went downstairs, cranked up the heat - in the early 50s this meant a coal furnace, turned on all the lights, & called the four excited kids downstairs.

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Saturday, December 23, 2006

inflatable paragraph

Thin crescent of a waxing moon. Vague memories of past December skies, crystal cold skies. I don't like these inflatable decorations crowding so many lawns this year. The first time you see a reindeer carousel or the Santa Jack-in-the-box it's cute. Then you see another, & another. You hear the air pumps. My favorite house decorations are strings of lights, lots of them, chaotically draped, taped & tacked to porches, eaves, around windows, bushes & trees. The less planning the better. Because if you try to color coordinate or get artsy, it won't be anything at all, might as well just stick single electric candles in every window. The inflatables are below kitsch, they're worst than cheese,. They're lazy. Unless you attach one to your roof. Then it's OK.

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There's no people like show people

Singer Jessica Simpson has pulled out of a tribute to Dolly Parton after she was unhappy with her second attempt to perform Parton's hit song 9 to 5.

Simpson got the song's words mixed up during a tape of the annual tribute show for the US Kennedy Center Honors.

She recorded it a second time but was again unhappy and asked for it to be removed from the tape.

"She really wasn't happy with her performance," said Simpson's spokeswoman Cindi Berger.

"She did want it to be perfect for Dolly, who she idolises," she added.

Simpson fled the stage after getting flustered during the first take.
Let's briefly mull this one over. Dolly Parton, country music icon, terrific singer, wonderful songwriter, great sense of humor, astute businesswoman (she even out-foxed Col. Tom Parker, Elvis' manager). Think of the high quality of female singers & songwriters in country music now, all of whom owe a lot to Dolly. But the producers of the Kennedy Center Honors show booked Jessica Simpson, a "celebrity" of proven witlessness & marginal musical talent to do homage to genius Dolly, apparently on the basis of her realistic portrayal of Daisy Duke, the sort of dumb country comedy character Dolly has been satirizing for 40 years. Jessica blew the song onstage & then wasn't even able to perform it later in a controlled retake.

Friday, December 22, 2006

O Christmas Tree

The holiday emphasis changed when I was living alone again & working at Pearl Arts & Crafts in Woodbridge. I liked what I was selling, got all my presents there, enjoyed the decorations & crowds. The retail holiday season at Pearl began in October as merchandise arrived more often at the loading dock out back, & I had more to do out in the store. The decorations went up dept by dept. After Thanksgiving the holiday music came out of the ceiling speakers, the aisle displays were all wrapping paper & stacks of tree ornaments & whatever the store was pushing that year as gift items, traffic was horrendous. I punched out of work at six on Christmas Eve. Christmas Day was an anticlimax. The folks at the customer service desk handled the returns on the 26th.

But Christmas 1993 stands out as one of the loveliest. I was in good relationhip, our first of three Christmases together.* I had a box of Christmas decorations & a cheap plastic tree in the closet, but it was a special year. I made up some excuse for us to go to K Mart, but instead of turning left into the mall parking lot, I turned right into Val's Christmas Tree Lot. She was crying when we got out of the car.** She'd never had a "real" Christmas tree - always an artificial, & had never decorated one the way she wanted to. As an artist, her way turned out to be pretty interesting. That was the most romantic Christmas Eve I'd had since I was 18 & parked with my girlfriend in front of her house after midnight Mass & we fogged up the windows & she did stuff a 16 year old Catholic girl isn't supposed to do.

*Remembered by others variously as:
A. That Young Waitress.
B. What's-her-name who was always hanging out with the cute blonde woman.
C. Your Child Bride.
**A special category of surprise in which a desire of someone's heart is both a simple thing & a poetic metaphor, & it can be sprung only once.

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

Winter Solstice

I observe a (very) few of this season's niceties & rituals & leave it at that. I have no church, no grown children or grandchildren, no gathering of extended family. Solstice is my moment, & that's mainly an astronomical observation & a poet's acknowledgement of solar Spring beginning a journey northward. Add Persephone for flavoring, or throw a virgin into a volcano if you consider it absolutely necessary.

For many years, Christmas was a big pain-in-the-Blitzen. My father & his second wife hosted a pleasant gathering every year some time within a week of the 25th, they had the authority to command all to attend, & their house in Mendham was crowded with the spawn of two families & three generations. Santa Claus made an appearance. One year Santa so freaked out my niece that she began crying for her older brother to rescue her, not realizing he was the guy in the Santa outfit. Nearly everything else was nuts. My sister's two kids had 7 grandparents, she had to deal with them plus assorted relatives, some of whom she liked. She finally gave up trying to please everyone & rightly insisted on holding one big event, & everyone should get along or just shut the hell up & stay away. After her retirement, my mom persisted for some years in having a Christmas dinner, refusing to acknowledge the complexities involved & demanding that her kids come no matter what else we had on our plates for that day. Slowly, she became possessed by the spirit of Medea. Eventually, she couldn't even bake potatoes, & Christmas became an unnecesarily bitter season for her. This was in contrast to the safe, secure & happy nuclear family Christmases of my childhood that no doubt she remembered all too well.

I was living with a woman whose family sat down to Christmas dinner before sunset on Christmas Eve & had apparently been doing it that way since the time of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a very difficult adjustment for me as it meant giving up my afternoon coffee time at Dunkin' Donuts. Nobody in her strait-laced family ever loosened up to the point of telling a good joke or expressing an opinion worth disputing - athough some of their passive-aggressive maneuvering was fascinating. But it was her Christmas, they had rituals & traditions.

Christmas Eve was much improved in the late 70's when our friends & neighbors in the next apartment began hosting a late party for everyone who needed to relax after dysfunctional family events. The presents were better, too. It happened annually for over a decade. I still fondly remember the year the hostess, emboldened by cheap chablis, greeted me with an open mouth kiss as I walked in.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

"stand up, step up and lead"

the calling of a new generation
the calling of our time

the ideology of hate
the enemies of liberty

a comprehensive plan
the hard work necessary
I listened to Bush's press conference today, the radio was on the other side of the room & I thought, how long can this last before the weather report? & left it on. I heard the silly word "robust," which is still used in retro coffee advertisements & maybe that's where Bush's writers found it a few months ago. But Bush's verbal style is to stumble around - the transcripts don't convey this well - & retreat as soon as he can to a series of stock phrases, used like Biblical quotes & with the certitude of a religious convert.

Coincidentally, tonight I watched clips of John F. Kennedy on Jack Paar's Tonight Show from June 1960. Kennedy was facile, not deep, but his words fit him whether or not they were entirely his own, & I understood everything he said. He took questions from the studio audience & answered them better than Bush answers predictable press questions. In response to one, about how America would counter Communist propaganda in other nations, Kennedy concluded by saying we should have the kind of nation other countries would want to emulate, but they would have to want freedom for themselves. It was a remarkable contrast, & made me sad.

I don't get it. You're allowed to climb Mount Hood in winter, & then when you get in trouble the government is obliged to spend millions of dollars looking for you in order to rescue you or retrieve your body, & the search continues until the weather gets too awful to go on.

Happy Hanukkah

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it

More than nine out of 10 Americans, men and women alike, have had premarital sex, according to a new study. The high rates extend even to women born in the 1940s, challenging perceptions that people were more chaste in the past.

"This is reality-check research," said the study's author, Lawrence Finer. "Premarital sex is normal behavior for the vast majority of Americans, and has been for decades."

Does this mean I'm an American pioneer? I've never had sex while I was married.

It lends weight to why I'm not in favor of abstinence-based sex education: total abstinence is unlikely. I'm for laws designed to protect minors from sexual predation & exploitation by adults, but I believe that adolescents have a right to express their sexuality, & it is far to better to teach them how to express it safely, with caution, & with respect for oneself & one's partner, than to try to dissuade them altogether, or coerce them into signing "chastity pledges" that for most will only last until the combination of opportunity & hormones coalesces into the "right" time.

Sexuality is warped by sexism & bigotry. The bigotry was on display over the weekend as several Virginia Episcopal churches preferred aligning with a loony Anglican Bishop Akinola from Nigeria to coexisting with a sane gay clergyman from New Hampshire named Gene Robinson. Sexism is everywhere, no need to go to Saudi Arabia. I hear it in American pop music all the time, some velvety voiced very mature & experienced & convincing male singer intoning over the slow sexy beats how he'll "Give it all to you if you give it all to me" while a chorus of what sounds like 14 year old female naifs chirps back,"I'll give it all to you, I'll give it all to you," & I feel like yelling at them, "You dopes, what he's gonna give you is a pissing, pooping, crying baby." Maybe abstinence is a reasonable option. I'd also recommend the part of the movie "Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex" where Woody Allen plays Sperm #1. If the science part of this sex thing is too difficult to understand, then just assume you have to somehow stop a frantic, obsessed nebbish guy you can only see through a microscope from reaching this thing inside you called an "egg."

Monday, December 18, 2006

The Battle of Christmas

I went directly from the outer limits of the mall parking lot to a double caramel macchiato. That wired me up for the novelty sock cart, next to holiday stupid hat cart, where I bought a pair of candy cane socks that play "Frosty the Snowman" when you press the big toe.

From there, on to the Museum Shop. I found a deck of tarot cards designed by Jackson Pollock, a replica of King Tut's wedding ring microscopically engraved with the entire Egyptian Book of the Dead, & a comic book version of the Life of Leonardo DaVinci. Amazing what strikes one's fancy.

I rode the glass elevator up & down three times then took a gooey cinnamon bun & cappuccino break. I stopped by the magazine stand & browsed the entire December issue of Tattoo, which I didn't buy because it had sticky bun stuff on it. A side trip through the Everything Plus Drugs Store & I exited with a roll of Homer Simpson wrapping paper, a Santa Claus Pez dispenser, & a bottle of Tylenol PM.

This year all the employees at Our Toyz R Not Discounted were dressed up as wooden soldiers, which is better than than the year they wore propeller beanies. I wasn't interested in the 200 pound teddy bear at $1999, but I made the "associate" pull it off the display for me anyway. "Do you carry gorilla costumes?" I asked.

Shopping was wearing me down. I headed back to the food court. The sushi line was too long so I settled for a pint of moo goo gai pan & a corn dog.

Next time you're in the shop with the music boxes, see how many of them you can make play simultaneously.

The Environmentally Correct Store was devoted to saving the whales by selling very expensive biodegradable items. I picked up some buffalo chip patio torches & banana fiber rolling papers.

Time for a Jamoca Almond Fudge ice cream cone, double dip.

Three glass elevator rides & a stroll past the mall Santa & his teenaged female elves brought me to the Native American Emporium. I tried on a Lakota war bonnet & Tlinget frog mask, admired a Kiowa beaded bag, & shook an Arapaho rattle to drive away evil spirits. But they no longer carried grizzly bear paw amulets, & by law there's a two week waiting period before anyone can walk out with an Iroquois tomahawk. So I bought a tiny Hopi Kachina doll for good luck locating my car & hurried out into the Great Traffic Tieup beneath the cold starry night of generic nonsectarian seasonal good cheer.

Now I have lots of presents to put under my tree, but I haven't a thing for anyone else except Spanish greeting cards from the dollar store.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Friday, December 15, 2006

The Shoebox

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (AP) _ A nanny accused of dumping her newborn son in a trash bin at a Long Island Rail Road station in Hicksville last month was arraigned Friday on a second-degree murder charge.

Erma Stephens, 34, of Brooklyn _ who worked as a nanny for a family in Woodbury _ was arrested Thursday night at the Woodbury home after detectives reviewing video surveillance tapes at the train station allegedly saw her tossing the dead child in the trash bin, said Detective Sgt. Richard Laursen of the Nassau County homicide squad.

The child _ a full-term baby boy _ was born alive in the woman's apartment in Brooklyn on Nov. 26, Laursen said.

The following day, Stephens was returning to her job as a live-in nanny when she was seen placing a plastic bag inside the trash bin at the Hicksville station, Laursen said.

Police say the infant was inside a shoe box in the plastic bag that was discarded in the trash bin. The child was already dead at that point from suffocation, but police did not say exactly when he died.
Every week, these awful stories, all different, yet all the same. This is the call that makes even hardened cops cry. When I lived in Rahway, a tragedy that really broke everyone's hearts was the discovery of dead newborn in an old car behind an occupied house by the railroad. You could see the place from one end of the train station platform. This spot was two blocks from fire dept. headquarters around one corner, two from city hall & police headquarters around the other, & less than a block from a 24 hour taxi dispatcher at the train station. Under Jersey's "No shame. No blame. No names." law (Safe Haven Infant Protection Act) the mother could have walked into the police station, handed it to the duty officer, & walked out once it had been determined the baby was not abused, giving no more information than she was was willing to reveal. Every cop, every firefighter, every EMT knows the law. Assuming the baby was abandoned at night, the mother (or whoever did it) could have wrapped up the infant & left it just about anyplace it could be seen, even in the doorway of the mayor's nearby jewelry store, made an anonymous phone call to 911, or summoned a taxi to pick it up. Confused, sick, weak, drug-addled, desperate, most likely a young adolescent. Still, one has to imagine a person so out-of-it, so detached from reality, that they can't look at a helpless baby & think, "I'm really fucked up, but this bahy deserves a chance." One doesn't want to imagine it.

New Jersey's law designates police stations & hospital emergency rooms as safe havens. Other states allow for locations such as firehouses. Statistically, Safe Haven Laws are not obvious successes, but those statistics include only recorded Safe Haven drop-offs. A better measurement is the ratio of babies found alive compared to those not. A New York fire captain speaking on TV last week at the funeral for abandoned dead infant said he believed the laws were helping a lot because they are reminders that a "safe haven" is anywhere a baby will be quickly found, in the old tradition of leaving newborns at the door of the church rectory, & so a living inflant found in McDonald's, though not the best possible circumstance, is good enough. The utter senselessness, that it never has to happen.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

I've been guest-blogging for Jill over at Brilliant at Breakfast this week & not crossposting that stuff here. Tata from Poor Impulse Control is also contributing entries just for BAB. I don't do much political commentary because people like Jill are dedicated to it, & she gets out a morning edition so reliably that I stop by every day while I'm sipping my Chock full o' Nuts New York Roast with a splash of half & half.

Lovely mild weather, but the Sun has little heat to it. By six or eight weeks after the Solstice, in February, one turns one's back to the Sun & feels the warmth again. The duration of this mild spell is more unusual than the temps, & that it's been pretty dry. But we expect the big blue bubble of Arctic high pressure on the weather map, it's coming eventually, & within 24 hours the bottom drops out. These temperate days are rarely compensated by icy ones at the end of winter. Just subtract them from the season, the longest night only a week away.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Broad & Jersey, Elizabeth

Many of us Jerseyans look at this with a mixture of distaste & pride.
Distaste because it really is crappy, & this corner was once a pretty classy city intersection. Pride because we don't mind saying the scene is well within our zone of familiarity, we could walk right into it without anxiety. & it still is in its way a great city intersection.

Yesterday I went to the Motor Vehicle Agency in Elizabeth. I went late afternoon because MV has night hours on Tuesday but downtown here is open late on Thursday, so I figured most people who needed MV wouldn't know it. The office was not crowded, the workers were polite, they had a system for pre-checking documents, & I was finished in 20 minutes. Amazing. All through the process of renewing my license I was waiting to be told,"There seems to be a problem." Didn't happen. I got my very first photo license. Up to now I'd always renewed by mail, but it was suspended thanks to an unpaid parking ticket, & then expired. Always was a hassle not having a photo license. I had an old county photo ID, & an official-looking card issued by WFMU that Jersey City police are supposed to accept if Montgomery Street is closed & I have to get to the radio station to maintain transmission (FCC requirement) as an "announcer/engineer of an Emergency Alert Systems Broadcast Radio Station," but which has no more legality than a press pass. So without a photo license I felt kind of like a non-person, fumbling around for alternative IDs to establish my corporeality whenever requested to do so. When it expired, I wasn't even able to rent a car over the summer for a scenic route drive to the Jersey shore with my camera. The photo on my new license is less goofy than most people have; I wore a collared shirt & forced myself to smile enigmatically.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Rutgers Lady Knights fell off the AP Top 25 poll for the first time in over two years. 3 of their 4 losses were against ranked teams - Duke beat them up badly. Their pre Big East schedule has no patsies - that's not coach Vivian Stringer's style. This year's Lady Knights are young & mostly inexperienced = no seniors at all, but there's a lot of talent. It's going to be fun watching these women learn to play together, see who steps up as leaders now that the great Cappie Poindexter is gone. Impossible to know how they'll be playing by March.
What possessed me to buy a package of boxer shorts underwear today? I've been a briefs guy all my life. A former girlfriend gave me flannel boxers during an unusually snowy winter & I did wear them on occasion, beneath pants & pantless around the house. Oh well, this is the sort of adventurous change I make in my life now. Brown leather casual shoes, fleece pullover shirts, boxers.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Howard Johnson's, Clark NJ

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Today's major event so far was dumping an entire cup 'o noodles on the kitchen table & knowing instantly there was no way to minimize the mess. The noodles slopped across the table & under the microwave, the salty broth pouring on the floor. Just let it go, let it go, there's no scooping any of it back into the styrofoam cup, no rush to catch a drip at the edge, it's a broken dam, could've been worse like milk or glass shattering on the floor, just get the sponge & the paper towels & accept the snack is gone & I'm still hungry but it's all going to take 15 or 20 minutes of concentrated clean up. Bag up the wet mess & bring it right out to the garbage can.

Friday, December 08, 2006

The Munchkins of Trenton

I'm not about to expect acts of moral courage by our Democratic legislators in Trenton. Particularly regarding a matter that will not put money into the bank accounts of their friends, allies & genuflecting devotees. They have absolutely nothing personal to gain by backing a real marriage equality law. Except for the one assemblyman who just decided to come out. That's why most of them are apologetically singing "Follow the Yellow Brick Road" to Jersey's sizable & very middle class gay & lesbian population. Well alright. Half of the party insiders in this state claimed they never suspected McGreevey was gay & the other half conspired to guard his closet, so we already know where they're at. Just quit it with the bullshit about how the "people" aren't ready for homosexuals having "spouses." Are the "people" ever ready for anything except lower taxes? Most of the "people" don't even remember Trenton is the capital of New Jersey, much less know who's representing them there. So I just hope - & fully expect - that legal experts who do support full LGBT equality will examine any proposed "civil union" legislation section-by-section, line-by-line, syllable-by-syllable. Make it a law even straight couples can opt for if they so choose. I would. Because the Supreme Court said that whatever the law calls it, couples can call it whatever they want once they've signed the contract. & if it's solid, maybe Mary & Heather will stop by on their way to Massachusetts.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The USS Shaw exploding at Pearl Harbor, 1941. Amazingly, the destroyer was repaired & serving again 9 months later.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Humpty Dumpty Buddhas

BAMIYAN, Afghanistan: The empty niches that once held Bamiyan's colossal Buddhas now gape in the rock face - a silent cry at the terrible destruction wrought on this fabled valley and its 1,500-year-old treasures, once the largest standing Buddha statues in the world.

It was in March 2001, when the Taliban and their Al Qaeda sponsors were at the zenith of their power in Afghanistan, that militiamen, acting on an edict to take down the "gods of the infidels," placed explosives at the base and the shoulders of the two Buddhas and blew them to pieces. To the outraged outside world, the act encapsulated the horrors of the Islamic fundamentalist government. Even Genghis Khan, who laid waste to this valley's towns and population in the 13th century, had left the Buddhas standing.

Five years later, the Taliban have been removed from power and Bamiyan's Buddhist relics are once again the focus of debate: Is it possible to restore the great Buddhas? And, if so, can the extraordinary investment that would be required be justified in a country crippled by poverty and a continued Taliban insurgency in the south and that is, after all, overwhelmingly Muslim?
The quoted article, by Carlotta Gall & distributed by the New York Times, received four headlines in four publications:

* Shattered Buddhas open gateway to discovery
* World ponders rebuilding biggest Buddhas
* Afghans consider rebuilding Bamiyan Buddhas
* From Ruins of Afghan Buddhas, a History Grows

I wrote my own headline. I'm ambivalent about restoring art objects that have been utterly wrecked. Sometimes it is symbolically justifiable, as with England's Coventry Cathedral. But that historical edifice had contemporary importance in national consciousness & life. Rarely, with smaller works, an artist just makes another. When Man Ray's "Object to be Destroyed" was actually destroyed, he named the replacement "Indestructible Object." I've never favored a "Freedom Tower" in New York; the main motivations for it come first from the value of the real estate & secondarily a nationalistic desire to put something in that blank space of the skyline as a challenge to future crazies. But some wanted to rebuild the Twin Towers looking just as they did on the outside.

Of those most concerned with restoring the Bamiyan Buddhas, nearly all the king's horses & all the king's men are from outside Afghanistan. I haven't read any opinions on the matter from Buddhists - if there are any remaining anywhere in Afghanistan, they are disguised as Muslims. The Buddhist aesthetic is inclined toward letting these giant Buddhas go as so much rock that would have crumbled in time anyway, no matter what the circumstances of their destruction. Before the Taliban, Afghans did not regard the Buddhas as Eygptians do their monuments from antiquity. & while there are ideas for preserving the Sphinx, nobody seriously wants to plaster its nose, or rebuild the Great Lighthouse of Alexandria.

What happened to those statues didn't only encapsulate for me the dangers of the Taliban's favored form of Islam, but also of the irrational fundamentalist impulses inherent in all religious & political systems. Religion isn't necessary; The Soviet Union razed Orthodox Cathedrals & Nazi Germany burned or banned whatever "degenerate" art its leaders didn't steal for themselves. It needn't even involve some major thing. When a mayor here in Jersey went ballistic over a Spanish language Dunkin' Donuts billboard in his town, that was his Bamiyan moment. But does gluing the two giant stone Buddhas back together really restore anything? They will no longer be 1,500 year old Buddhas.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

To the hipsters moving into Jersey City

“We want people who’d go to Soho to come here. It’s a new frontier. Ten years ago, who went to Tribeca?”- Jersey City cafe owner

I'm too hip to be a hipster,
my kids tell me where to live,
so does my record collection
too damned big to box up & carry
down the stairs just to be cool
in another neighborhood,
I own a good refrigerator
for once, sick of redecorating,
fantasize driving a reliable car
so I can go anywhere on Saturday,
& your band doesn't play
until after midnight? Fuck that!
You think I got money to burn
for $18 macaroni & cheese,
ever hear of Stouffer's,
a kitchen vacation in a box?
I said I want a beer,
not an investment opportunity,

& I'm not putting my art in your
hip shit gallery unless you
intend to sell it.

Monday, December 04, 2006

The "Pointless Family Photo"

Tata at Poor Impulse Control takes a close look at the so-called "Pointless Family Photo" making the blog rounds over the past three months. A quick googling of blogs that posted this photo revealed only ignorance of Islam & stupid jokes, or at best it was displayed without comment (as if that absolved this good Christian blogger of editorial responsibility). Nobody recognized the humanity. Except Tata.

Here's an online Daily Advent Calendar based on a Peruvian tapestry. Each day a new window becomes available. It's really good, check it out.

This was first day of season I needed to wear a winter coat, & knit cap & gloves. Took bus across town for an annual social services appointment, very nice woman who probably likes me because I'm an uncomplicated client whose primary personality trait in her office is slight befuddlement, since she, thank heavens, does the paperwork & crunches the numbers; I know she's both competent & supportive, so I only ask questions if I have to sign a form I haven't seen before, plus a few hypotheticals I've been saving for the interview. She asks me to send her one more document & gives me an addressed envelope. Then we chat briefly & with some circumspection about social services in general. Her program is one of the most underfunded & her frustration is not that her caseload is too large but that she can't help enough people.

We shake hands & I leave, & outside I recall what the area was like 40 years ago when it was mostly home-owning union workers of my parents' generation, a lot of Irish & Italians & Poles, & I stand on a frigid corner on a wide busy road that connects to the Jersey Turnpike & Goethals Bridge, next to a big busy liquor store, & wait for a bus that fortunately arrives sooner rather than later. The bus is not crowded yet. It will be when it reaches downtown. On the way back I notice a small business called Hong Dry Cleaners & I find it remarkable that Hong earns a living in that neighborhood, which while not especially run down or poor has a lot of people who are a couple of lost paychecks away from big trouble. & if they get into trouble, the person I just left will not be able to help them.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Paterson NJ, 1910

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Saturday, December 02, 2006

I've always viewed Rutgers teams as not having enough attitude. When it comes to the big game - the game you win or there are no more games that matter, no second chances, no watching the scoreboard to see what some other school does in the hopes of backing into a championship or a tournament bid, Rutgers folds one step short of where you want it to go. Given the opportunity to put it all on the line, all the chips pushed into the pile, gamble everything, & Rutgers plays the way I used to play poker as the night wore on; the other guy who wouldn't leave the table penniless. That's not a bad strategy in cards if you're just playing for amusement. If Rutgers beats West Virginia, the Scarlet Knights play in the Orange Bowl, primetime, Jan 2, on Fox. But WVU is the "attitude" school in this game, with home field advantage. For 7 games the Mountaineers played with the intention of winning a national championship, although the quality of their opponents shouldn't have given them reason to believe it. They lost the 8th. So we shall see.

Friday, December 01, 2006

World AIDS Day

Only two people I've personally known died of AIDS. So I'm blessed that so many people I know who were not sexually prudent in the 70s & 80s, or struggled with drugs, escaped the plague. It is dismaying that the distribution of condoms & clean needles - the two easiest & least expensive HIV prevention methods - is even a matter of debate. The idea that it is more evil to use a condom (married or unmarried, gay or straight) than to permit millions worldwide to suffer & die is the epitome of a terrible absurdity costumed as moral reasoning. Or to claim that giving addicts sterile needles only encourages them in their drug use. National governments still deny the scope of the growing tragedy within their own borders. Religions hold on to beliefs that date back to the neolithic era. Is HIV transmitted by microscopic viruses or is it fundamentally caused by satanic energies overcoming human willpower?

One simple thing anyone can do today is become familiar with the African Health Capacity Investment Act of 2006 Bill # S.3775, a modest committment of federal money that could have a very good impact on health care in sub-Saharan Africa. It's not enough, but we still have a President who appoints idiots like Eric Keroack as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Population Affairs (the family-planning program at the Department of Health and Human Services).

"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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