Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Coupon clipping with Jesus

FORT WORTH, Texas - Everything from detergent to computer discs is packaged with the Sunday newspaper. So why not Bibles?

A Christian ministry wants to deliver custom-designed New Testaments to newspaper subscribers around the country as part of an effort to find innovative ways to spread a Christian message. But even in the Bible Belt, not everyone thinks that's a good idea.

International Bible Society-Send the Light is planning on spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to distribute Bibles with 11 newspapers during 2007 and 2008. New Testaments would be packaged in pouches on the outside of newspapers, much like soap or other sample products.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram announced in May it would deliver more than 200,000 New Testaments the last Sunday of the year. David House, the newspaper's reader advocate, said he received about 70 e-mails split between backers and those opposed to packaging the scriptures with newspapers.
I have no great objection. Home Depot, Target, Pizza Hut, Jesus. People like a laundry soap sample, throw it on a shelf next to the washing machine, use it if they must & hope it doesn't cause hives. The Bible plan is a huge waste of paper. Even nominal Believers don't like throwing away Bibles. But this book's going to end up in landfills, recycling bins, & in the debris blocking storm drains. The Fort Worth area is already saturated with bombastic protestant religiosity. Only a few deaf, blind recluses are able to tune it out, & there's probably an evangelical mission committed to gathering them in, too. Just giving away Bibles is subtle by comparison, even old-fashioned. I do appreciate that the IBS considers Texas seriously in need of redemption.


Monday, July 30, 2007

So damned ugly

The guy in the apartment next-door has been singing & jumping around for 5 1/2 hours to what sounds mostly like voodoo music; it's probably Haitian pentecostal. Fortunately, the volume is just short of maddening. His kids get all worked up, too. Those kids are stuck in the apartment all day everyday in the summer, mom & dad never take them to the popular & safe playground just a 10 minute stroll up the street with a remarkably diverse ethnic mix ranging from Russian Jews to Pakistani Muslims. (As always happens, the younger child finally flung himself into a hard, stationary object & is now crying & the music has stopped.)

Chatting online last night with another resident of Elizabeth, first time it's happened. She resides with a guyfriend only blocks from here. Has a piano in her apartment. She's a lifelong resident. My last question of the night to her, rhetorical, as 1/2 an Ambien kicked in, was, "When did this city become so damned ugly?" But I suspect the change is mostly in my perception. My hometown is ugly now, first hit me that way when I drove around my childhood neighborhood about ten years ago. Some downtowns that had a quaint ugliness lost all charm & became just plain ugly when they were "improved." Major Jersey highway corridors that once had colorful & varied scenery, like Routes 1, 9 & 22, are now relentlessly awful along their entire lengths. Perhaps I have simply lost my patience for ugliness. More likely, ugliness has lost its character. One of my favorite "ugly" places, the Great Falls in Paterson, is now just dingy, a giant rocky ditch except after heavy rainfalls. The strange & eccentric human-made landmarks celebrated by Weird New Jersey are disappearing.


Tom Snyder

Tom Snyder died. I was a fan for decades, even when he infuriated me. So was David Letterman, who created the Late Late Show for Tom. It was a sad night when Tom was replaced by the execrable Craig Kilborn. So many notable interviews, so many stories. But I especially appreciated the nights on Tomorrow & LLN when nothing much was happening & Tom, lighting a ciggie & joking with his studio crew, leaned back in his chair & chatted about mundane things he'd done that day, or something odd that caught his eye in the newspaper. I envied his monologue style, sharp & observant yet off-the-cuff. I think of Tom while watching Conan O'Brien, a terrible interviewer, habitually redirect attention back to himself for a stupid laugh whenever a guest says something not jokey or flippant. Letterman & Craig Ferguson do this also, but they show impatience on occasion with the narrow framework of their programs. Ferguson is an intelligent autodidact in the manner of Johnny Carson, & he's slowly getting braver about displaying it. Henry Rollins reminds me a bit of Tom Snyder as he becomes a more focused & comfortable interviewer during his second season.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Ocean City NJ

The weekend closest to August 1 we annually packed up the car with two adults, 4 kids (sometimes a friend,too), a nervous little dog, luggage, beach stuff & general supplies, & headed to the shore for a week. For years it was Somers Point, across the bay from Ocean City NJ, where we stayed with Aunt Bella & her family. When cousin Cath & her husband Jim had babies, & three of our four kids were teenagers, we moved over to Ocean City, renting large apartments for the next few years. The best weeks were the ones in Ocean City. I was a little older, it was a safe town, we all had the run of the place. The earlier years in Somers Point we were dependent on dad to drive us to the beach & boardwalk. (This postcard is close to his regular beach location.) We had no bikes at Aunt Bella's, & there was too much hanging around the house. But it was still a great week; the only week of the year I was allowed to eat Sugar Pops. Blueberries were in season. So was corn, sold from farm stands two blocks away where the fields were. One afternoon was set aside for crabbing. Somers Point had a great marsh loaded with punks & poison ivy, & a honky tonk waterfront loaded with bars jumping with rhythm & blues so loud you could hear it from the car on the road across the bay. I remember the Isley Brothers on a marquee one year. You're invited to join the dysfunctional Rixons for our Week In Ocean City. We play rummy on rainy days. We cheat.

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Friday, July 27, 2007

Meanwhile on Himago Island

Mothra O Mothra
If we were to call for help
Over time
Over sea
Like a wave you'd come
Our guardian angel!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Three Women


she sits at home making puppets
each one the better life of a friend

when she asked her man if he loved her
he paused before he said yes
which was the same as no


she exhibited her photographs
cats & butterflies
posed like dolls
in a dollhouse

she has no home

I don't want to hurt you
she told me
as she turned into a mannikin


she said I was intriguing
when she fed me stuffed mushrooms
at an art show reception in the bar

I'm just a babe in the woods
I said

maybe you ought to leave the woods

can I drop a trail of breadcrumbs?

she said she had a mirror over her bed
but the last I saw of her that night
she was climbing the stairs
to the room where poets hibernate
when they put white powder up their noses
instead of singing for their lovers


All on the same night, in the same place, a bar in South Amboy NJ.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

My hot night with Lindsay

Lindsay Lohan's ex-boyfriend says she's boring when she's sober. Give it a few years, pal, & you'll realize people are more boring when they're drunk. More dangerous, too.

An Invasion of the Jumbo Squid is all over the news today. Jumbo squid. Jumbo shrimp. Jumbo lump crabcakes. This isn't marine science, it's a menu.

When my bathroom ceiling began leaking in an alarming way, I thought the guy upstairs was overfilling his bathtub or showering without a curtain. The second time it happened, I went up & asked him what was going on. He gave me a song & dance about a stopped up drain. I said do something, & now. The building handyman snaked his drain. The leak got worse. Ceiling tiles collapsed. A pipe joint is busted, I figured, must need a serious repair. I got the handyman up there again, but asked him to have the tenant demonstrate what he was doing every night at 4 am. Turned out he was filling his tub with over a foot of water, & when he sat in it, it overflowed into the thingie that flips between the bathtub spout & the shower head. So my first guess was correct; he's an idiot. He had a thin woman with a terrible complexion staying with him for awhile. They weren't nice to each other. A couple of months ago they had a terrible fight, throwing stuff, around the time of night he now takes a bath, & she walked out, screaming all the way down the stairs. I looked out the window & saw her roller-blading down the middle of the street. Haven't seen her since.

Passed up a trip today with my art class to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. My reason was sound: Lack of patience. Two vans, 15 people, Manhattan traffic, lunch, huge museum, strict deadline for arriving back home late afternoon. Last year, on a one van excursion to Newark Museum, the driver managed to get lost when he insisted on taking the back roads into Newark instead of the easy route. I got about 90 minutes in the museum, a place I know very well, but they hustled me out in the middle of watching a video art installation because I'd spent too much time in the great Tibetan galleries. My problem is that I need time & I have patience for looking at art. I don't like being rushed. At the Met, it's always best to decide ahead of time what you want to see, & give yourself a nice, long coffeebreak just as art fatigue sets in. I've always enjoyed going to exhibits with a good artist who points out all sorts of things I wouldn't have noticed. Also going with someone who doesn't know much about art, so I can act smart without being corrected.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Show Me 270

As long as the United States has the Electoral College system, any successful presidential candidate wins on an electoral vote strategy. 270toWin.com has the slogan,"This isn't a popularity contest." Although Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama could conceivably win popular vote majorities, I challenge anyone to go to 270toWin & put together electoral majorities for them against a Rove-driven campaign focused on the spectres of dark-skinned immigrant hordes, suicide bombers, & Iranian nukes.

The three front-running Democratic candidates do not reveal the general election campaign strategies they already have in place. Edwards' is the only one I currently fathom, since it would be drawing on Bill Clinton's 1992 package. Neither Barack nor Hillary have any advantages in the lower Mississippi Valley or along most of the Ohio River. Hillary's "negatives" are especially difficult to overcome. The great relief America feels at the end of the Cheney/Bush junta does not translate easily into an electoral majority for Democrats.

I understand the situations of so many northeast establishment Dems toward Hillary Clinton, that they owe both her & Bill big time. But I don't get how the hell they convince themselves she can become president. Lord knows, "ideals" have nothing to do with their endorsements. Practical politicians ought to have practical expectations. I'd like to have Jon Corzine examine a blank electoral map, with Missouri, the "Show Me State" directly under his beard, & say, "Show me." But he's only expected to bring her New Jersey in the primary. Any Dem nominee is gonna want Sen. Menendez out on the trail.


Monday, July 23, 2007

The minor poets

In America, all poets are minor literary presences. Poets in Jersey are practically invisible. If you're not a poet yourself, you cross their paths by accident. You walk into a library or bookstore & find yourself tip-toeing around a reading. One of your kids mentions there's a poet visiting the school for a week. Every other year Jersey newspapers run articles on the Dodge Poetry Festival. Poetry is a cultural sideshow down at the far end of the midway. Local poets can hardly be bothered anymore to make themselves felt, a sad change from the the 70s & 80s when there were lots of loony bards in flight. It's never easy to do anyway, & a challenge. No wonder so many turn to theater, or blogging. I don't even rate as a minor poet among minor poets. There are reasons for this:

1. I didn't try hard enough, or stick to it when I did.

2. Inferior social skills. My personality has been described as "brusque." But I've noticed poets have somewhat different standards than visual artists & musicians, who are allowed to be taciturn, rude, perplexing, & preposterous. I'm also neurotically shy, using a variety of excuses legit & lame to escape or avoid socializing in larger groups.

3. Radio. Having a weekly show at WFMU for so long undercut my need for the bully pulpit of public readings during years I ought to have been getting out & around more often. I enjoyed being a "featured" poet, but I stopped attending open mic readings. I was alway fearful of having a stuttering jag; open readings didn't give enough time to work through one.*

4. I didn't have a power base. The typical way to get one was to edit a small poetry magazine or run a reading series at a bar or coffeehouse. Even better was having real money to spread around. This builds contacts & gives you something to "trade." Some poets calculate this more ruthlessly than relatives do wedding gifts. Although my WFMU show had the potential for exhanging "favors," I routinely declined - with a few exceptions - requests from poets to read on-the-air (Sometimes these solicitations arrived as neatly typed cover letters with resumes attached). Few Jersey poets I met listened to WFMU, most had never even heard of it. If they had listened, they would have quickly realized WFMU wasn't an NPR station. I featured a lot of spoken word stuff mixed in with the music. All a poet had to do was send me a homemade cassette tape. Some did, from places far from Jersey.

5. Long periods when I felt like totally worthless crap. This could happen at any time, & would last for weeks.

6. I have a perverse love for writing deliberately peculiar &/or bad poetry. In downtown New York, this has long been considered a skill. I've always written & published good more-or-less conventional poetry. Then I ask myself questions like: How would a schizophrenic write about an ordinary night at a local bar? Can I pretend I'm translating a poem from Mongolian to English but I speak only Swahili? What if Elizabeth Barrett wrote a lyric for Ruby & the Romantics? Is there any way to take this poem & turn it into something that would make Marcel Duchamp smile? How do I revise a poem by flipping a coin? At what point does a poem cease to be a poem & become something else? What about a poet? These were matters of artistic & spiritual inquiry.

* I wrote a short poem without "Jonah" words - words a stutterer knows can cause trouble, in a sing-song pattern evident only to me, that I brought to the podium many times but had to use only once as an opener. If I'm having a rough radio show, there's more ums & ahs in my speech.

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Sunday, July 22, 2007

Light My Fire

The Doors at Asbury Park Convention Hall.
I saw The Doors at Convention Hall, but it wasn't this date (8/68). The summer 1967 performance I went to, The Doors had been hastily booked in place of a Lou Rawls show, on the basis of the monster hit "Light My Fire." The Hall wasn't sold out. I brought my beautiful 16 year old girlfriend, who took ballet classes 4 days a week, was always up for a night on a boardwalk, & lit my fire frequently. She loved it. The experience totally changed my idea of what a rock band could be, & I immediately bullied my garage band into adding almost the entire first Doors LP to our repertoire (not "The End"). I recall members of Rawls' ace group, who'd had their second show canceled so The Doors could perform, standing at the rear of Convention Hall looking utterly baffled as Jim Morrison - still a gift from the Almighty & not yet a dick-waving drool drunk - squirmed around the stage & rubbed himself against organist Ray Manzarek. Magical.

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Saturday, July 21, 2007

Harry Lives Voldemort Dies

Bought a 2007 calendar today. I always wait for the half-price sales in January, but this year I couldn't find any. So I was recycling 2006 with a Sharpie. I spotted a bin of calendars tucked away in corner at Drug Fair, one with lighthouse photos on top, one dollar. It's the kind of calendar you feel bad throwing away at the end of the year. I celebrated with a 99 cent medium iced coffee coupon at Dunkin' Donuts. I collected a bunch of those lasr month out of the weekly ad flyer bags dumped in the lobby. I would've used the large cappucino coupon but the "barista" was an unfamiliar high school age kid, I figured he was new, & he was. Fumbled on the register. Briefly stopped by the branch library, too. Not a lot of business there on a sunny Saturday afternoon. Probably not a popular shift for the librarians, either. Elmora being a heavily Jewish neighborhood, I think the library should be open Sunday afternoons, like Millburn & Teaneck.

I watched Little Miss Sunshine, a lovely movie with a bleak heart, optimism on the surface, no hope underneath. The actual pageant is insane. But those little girls, including Olive Hoover, feigning a sexuality they can't comprehend, are later convinced they can win American Idol, or at least become Miss New Jersey. The latter is a possibility. It's considered a "small" movie, yet the production credits at the end list hundreds of names, they all got paid, most of them belong to unions. Small is eight-million dollars & no big stars.


Friday, July 20, 2007

Kay Kendall

A sexy woman. From the 1953 movie, Genevieve.

The only comparable experience I've had was when a flute playing music major from Montclair State stopped a party with her virtuoso demonstration of the full sonic range of an empty beer bottle.


Thursday, July 19, 2007

Timeless songs

I'm disappointed James Woods didn't get an Emmy nomination for his great over-the-top acting as Deputy District Attorney Sebastian Stark in Shark. So many of the same names every year. But here are four of the five songs nominated in the Outstanding Original Music And Lyrics category:
"Peter's Two Dads" from Family Guy.
"Dick In A Box" performed by Justin Timberlake on SNL.
"Everything Comes Down to Poo" from Scrubs.
"Guy Love" from Scrubs.
If there were Emmys for original TV series music themes, maybe we'd hear some good ones again. Like Hawaii 5-0.


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Plainfield 1967

An ugly little essay, but I wrote it, & here it is:

A destructive riot occurred in Plainfield NJ 30 years ago this week.. It was rooted in a mediocre, unresponsive government & the empty shell of a class structure left over from when the city had a resident, wealthy bourgeoisie at the top of the social order. There was a long-standing blindness in the city government to entrenched black poverty, & to the glaring under-representation of blacks in city services & agencies. The school system was stumbling badly. I recall Plainfield back then as looking & feeling segregated, or maybe I was sensing that obvious realities weren't being acknowledged. This was the sorry situation in many Jersey communities, but it was out in the open in Plainfield where anyone could see it. All one had to do was drive from one end of the city to the other to know it. The fuse was lit on Friday night by a crowd of 30 or 40 unruly black teenagers at very tense time - the weekend of the Newark riots. When trouble started again Saturday night, a rainstorm quenched it - talk about luck or divine intervention. There was still hope. Then, Union County Police failed to understand that a city-organized public meeting in a county park on Sunday was crucial for defusing a dangerous situation. The meeting was broken up, a racist decision, & one the County Police - in that era more experienced at confiscating beer & chasing necking teenagers out of parking lots - should not have been allowed to make. When a Plainfield policeman was killed by a mob that night, it was too late. It was so unnecessary, so wasteful, so stupid. All it accomplished was to speed up the exodus of the middle class & retail businesses, & bring on decades of decline & more mismanagment: There have been periods when the Plainfield government has seemed literally clueless, like it believed it had to reinvent the wheel. As an example of botched renewal planning, a gaping hole downtown, an enormous vacant lot, compared for sheer ugliness with Wildwood's deserted pedestrian mall & the massive steel skeleton looming over Ocean Ave. in Asbury Park

I'm not trying to downplay conditions or simplify events in Plainfield in 1967. They were far outside my naive experiences. But the city had less in common with Newark than it did with Somerville, New Brunswick, Asbury Park, Rahway, even Red Bank. It was a manageable-sized city with strengths. In 1967, Plainfield had a solid middle class, white & black, not yet inclined to abandon the city en masse; good single family housing stock (still does); a struggling but attractive retail district with a concentration of historical buildings, churches, & large Victorian houses; a hospital; a newspaper; several beautiful parks; & a tradition of civic pride. The city had a substantial working class. There was also a lot of money in nearby towns of Scotch Plains, Fanwood, Mountainside, Sterling, Westfield, & Berkeley Heights. Without a major riot, which many, many people living there at the time agree was avoidable (unlike Newark, which I now believe was inevitable), more destructive to the spirit than to property, it's not difficult to imagine Plainfield's central business district making a turnaround in the 80s, community-initiated programs & solutions taking hold sooner than they have, & the history of Plainfield finding a different direction.

I owe much to some very nice folks in Plainfield's city government. To this day, you meet people from Plainfield who tell you they "love" the city; people who moved there recently & people who have lived there all their lives. It's always been that kind of town The summer of 1967 broke a lot of hearts in Plainfield NJ.


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Proms

They're not formal dances for high schoolers. Short for "Promenades," The "Proms" are a two month series of summer concerts & recitals that have been a tradition in Great Britain for over 100 years. The Proms are broadcast online at BBC 3 & archived for 7 days via RealAudio. There's already been a good film music program. Today is a performance of Charles Ives' 4th symphony. Mostly older classical orchestral music, there are some more contemporary (& very old) treats. Listening to music broadcast live compensates for hearing it in streaming monaural. In the Ives symphony (which I've heard in person), the orchestra is treated as three distinct ensembles, the 4th movement one of the wildest experiences anyone will have in a concert hall.

Here's the main BBC proms page.

It can be a bit confusing, as the proms programs are listed by number, program notes are a separate page. You get the entire concert, including announcer & intermission, but the approximate lengths of the individual pieces are provided, so it's not too difficult to jump ahead. The best place to start is probably the "proms by composer" listing.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Elvis Man

I met him outside the 7-11. Shorter than me & just as thin, probably in his mid-60s, he had a 1970s Elvis Presley hair style & wore large amber-tinted sunglasses, you could see his eyes; neatly attired in a Heartbreak Hotel teeshirt underneath a light blue polyester long sleeve with medium high collar, quality jeans, tan sandals. He wore an Elvis watch on his left wrist, the words "Love me tender" tattooed on his right. He drove a maroon 1991 Corvette with the older blue New Jersey plates ELVIS56. I was impressed with the plates & said so. He admitted Elvis wasn't known to be particularly fond of 'vettes. He was looking forward to driving down to Memphis for the anniversary of El's death next month, an annual pilgrimage, but this one is the special 30th. He lives somewhere in the area. I'd have chatted with him more but we were interrupted by a loopy woman, & when I left he was patiently & kindly listening to her pouring out her life story of child abuse & being saved by Jesus. Completely comfortable with himself. Nice guy.

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New Gretna NJ


Saturday, July 14, 2007

Rig-Veda in the Senate

from Indolink:
July 12, 2007; Washington, DC - History was created today when the United States Senate opened its session with Gayatri Mantra from Rig-Veda, the oldest Hindu text composed around 1,500 BCE.

This was the first Hindu prayer ever delivered on the Senate floor since its formation in 1789.

Senator Robert P. Casey of Pennsylvania introduced Rajan Zed, a Hindu chaplain from Reno, Nevada.

Before starting the Senate prayer, Zed sprinkled around the podium, few drops of water from Ganges River of India, considered holy in Hinduism.

Zed’s prayer included recitations from Brahadaranyakopanisad and Tattiriya Upanisad. Reading from third chapter of Bhagavad-Gita (Song of the Lord), the famous philosophical and spiritual poem often considered the epitome of Hinduism, he urged Senators to strive constantly to serve the welfare of the world, performing their duties with the welfare of others always in mind, because by devotion to selfless work one attains the supreme goal of life. May they work carefully and wisely, guided by compassion, and without thought for themselves, he added. [my italics]
Good news is that America hardly took notice. Also that some prominent Christian wingers now feel alienated from all 100 senators, not just the Democrats. A small but significant symbolic event. If our legislative bodies insist on opening their sessions with prayer, a dubious practice anyway, they certainly can't limit it to prayers from Christians & Jews.


Friday, July 13, 2007

Delivery to Newark

In July 1967, I was driving a pickup truck for Brown Hardware & Locksmiths of Roselle Park NJ. I was 18. I liked the job. I liked driving. The small company had just bought a new blue Chevy pickup truck with an extended bed, removable racks, & a loud AM radio. Usually, I made two delivery runs, one in the morning & one in the afternnon, occasionally an all-day. Sometimes the work was heavy & I had full loads; 60 pound crates of locksets for construction sites, aluminum ladders, spools of electrical wire, fragile boxes of long fluorescent bulbs. Sometimes I carried only a couple of items. Some runs there were a lot of stops & I had to rush, other times I had only one place to go. The deliveries ranged through Union, Middlesex, & Essex counties, & even farther afield, a rare drive down to Monmouth or out through Somerset. I routed them ahead of time. I rarely got lost or ran late. If I finished early, which happened often, the boss didn't much care what I did with the extra time as long as the deliveries were done. Once-a-week I brought the truck home on company time & washed it in my driveway. I loved that truck. I loved my pretty girlfriend. I was in a band.

On the afternoon of July 13, a warm Thursday, I had a single delivery, a few heavy boxes of sheet metal screws to a machine shop in Newark somewhere around the edge of the Central Ward, arriving there a little after two pm. It was tough neighborhood of rundown houses & hard-pressed small businesses in old brick buildings, but not scary. The street had potholes & trees. I'd been there before, so rather than go through the hassle of backing up to a crumbling loading dock, I decided to park on the street & hand truck the boxes through the front door, past the office, & directly on to the shop floor. Then I'd head to the Dairy Queen in Cranford, a summer hangout for cute high school girls, & have a root beer float before going back to the store & setting up the next morning's run. Why do I remember this so clearly?

After I'd dropped off the boxes, stashed the hand truck, & was about to climb into the driver's seat, I heard a woman say, "Hey, white boy." I turned & saw an old black woman sitting in a rocking chair on a porch across the street. She was very old, wizened even, with uncombed gray hair, a crone.
"Yeah?" I said.
"You all done here?" she asked.
"Yes I am," I said. "Going home."
"Good. Now you listen to me, you get out of town right away, don't be hanging around."
I had no idea what she was talking about. I nodded, got in the truck, & went to the Dairy Queen.
How did she know? Wednesday night there had been a limited disturbance in Newark over a false story that a black cabdriver had been beaten to death by white cops, some windows broken, some looting. Heard about it on the radio, it was over. The "riot" didn't begin until Thursday night.

By lunchtime Friday, crazy rumors were going around Roselle Park, a small, all-white town about five air miles southwest of the Newark border, but much more distant in every other way. News reports were wildly inaccurate, contradictory. But it was all bad news. Newark was turning into something like Watts in 1965. At the little Spa Diner, a customer seriously said there were caravans of armed black men headed for suburban Union County. Outside agitators in Elizabeth. Trenton, Atlantic City, Paterson all gonna go. Yeah, right. Paranoid bullshit. Fear. Whoever was already in that part of Newark wasn't gonna get out of it. More bothersome to me was that my rock band had a gig that Saturday night at a Rutgers-Newark frat house. It was canceled. We never again accepted a job in Newark. Fear. There were no deliveries to the machine shop in August, probably because it was a minor account & the road salesman wouldn't go there anymore. Fear. I left the employ of Brown Hardware in late August & without enthusiasm enrolled in Bloomfield College full-time. I wanted to keep the driving job & go to night school at a junior college, but I needed the student draft deferment. That was fear, too.*
In 1995, I went to see Allen Ginsberg & Amiri Baraka reading together at Essex County Community College in Newark. It was a great night, two old poet friends on stage, both with deep roots in Newark. They sat at a table afterward & signed books. They were both tired, Amiri hardly looking up to see who was standing in front of him. I slid a copy of his book, Raise, Race, Rays, Raze across the table. It's an out-of-print paperback collection of prose pieces that includes essays about those insane nights & days in 1967 when the State of New Jersey declared open warfare on the black people of Newark, people even an 18 year old, naive white kid knew had never not been under siege. Amiri looked at the book, looked at me, looked at the book again, & said, "Man, you're old." He autographed it. Allen glanced over, saw the book, & chuckled.

* Although this was nothing compared to being drafted, it was the point at which the Vietnam War forced me in a direction I didn't want to go, & not the best direction. Working & part-time school was a sensible arrangement for me. I knew it. But that's another narrative.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Lady Bird

Like First Ladies Jackie Kennedy, Betty Ford, Rosalynn Carter, & Nancy Reagan, Lady Bird Johnson mixed the old-fashioned with newer thinking. All were intelligent, educated women of independent mind, mothers, post-World War II enlightened but pre-feminist in the sense we think of feminism now. Never less than supportive of their husbands' political careers in public, they advised & influenced those men in private. Lady Bird was probably the smartest & most politically savvy of them all. While her chosen First Lady "causes" - wildflowers & highway beautification - may not have seemed so crucially important at the time, overshadowed by the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, & "Great Society" initiatives, she had a tremendous, timely, & lasting influence, helping to bring environmentalism into the political & cultural mainstream. Let's not forget she was a Democrat.

Rick Perlstein remembers Lady Bird with an account of a risky campaign trip she took through the South on behalf of LBJ in 1964.


Air conditioning

About 11 pm last night, when I walked into the other room in this apartment to get something, I thought, Thank heaven for air conditioning. Outside temp had fallen to low 80s, but humidity had climbed to 90%. The room was oppressive.

I recalled my parents buying an air conditioner back when it was a major appliance purchase, like a washing machine, & installing it in their bedroom window. None of us kids thought that was unfair, but it didn't prevent envy. We had ancient swivel fans in our bedrooms, indestructible metal things about as effective at stirring up the air as waving a comic book around. They made repetitive clacking sounds as they swiveled, which either put us to sleep or in my case kept me awake. About every 30 seconds one of those fans would send a brief, faint breeze as it pointed toward the bed. We were reminded that the bosses were snoozing contentedly under a light blanket whenever we went to the bathroom, directly across from their tightly shut door, to splash some cool water on face & neck.

Even now, most older houses don't have central air. Maybe a hole is cut in a first floor outside wall & a large unit shoved in it, as a few of my acquaintances have done. It's not very efficient but it usually works. The bedrooms need their own a/c, & if you have small children you have to keep adjusting the temp & making sure the kids aren't sleeping in the path of an arctic wind. A divorcee I used to visit checked her restless 4 year old's room habitually on the half-hour during TV commercial breaks, even though the thermostat seemed to work pretty good. & always remember to turn them off in the morning, or the electric bill will remind you too late.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Lori Anne

at the edge of god help us
for awhile, prematurely tall,
flat as the world was, a hamster
your living doll turning a wheel

a farm where the future lives,
cows, butthead goat, chickens
are insane, a horse of course
to ride over dandelions

your daddy's a decent guy,
he can fix anything,
my heart is stale white bread,
the earth is real estate



Monday, July 09, 2007

Her Grandpa's Request

On Saturday I received via e mail what was probably the oddest request ever generated through my long association with WFMU. The internet country code on the address is the Netherlands, the syntax of the e mail is English not as first language. A sick grandfather asked that a piano piece titled, "The Storm." by Henry Weber, be played at his funeral. Apparently someone at a university library did web search, which turned up the 1972 album Piano Music In America Volume 1, 19th Century Concert & Parlor Music, performed by Neely Bruce. I aired something else off this album on a 2002 radio show. So a granddaughter contacted me. I haven't listened to it recently. It was never reissued on CD. I picked it up on eBay. The request is too strange for a joke.

This 19th Century concert & parlor music is light classical music, usually imitative of European late romantic music, intended as professional piano recital showpieces or for performance at home by fairly accomplished amateur pianists; the latter were abundant in the growing American middle class before the era of recorded music (& parties often did feature tedious musical performances). The music has disappeared, the good tossed out with the (mostly) bad. But I inherited my dad's proclivity for rooting around in the nooks & crannies of history, & his indifference to contemporary standards of taste (an indifference I proudly put on display every time I do a radio show). Why an ailing old man asked for this particular obscure piece of piano music to be played at his funeral remains unexplained. "The Storm" must have fallen out of the piano repertoire nearly 100 years ago.

My pc isn't equipped for vinyl-digital transfers & I don't miss it, except for right now. I could turn "The Storm" into an mp3 at WFMU or get someone there to do it for me, but I don't go up to Jersey City much. So what else can i do? In the meantime, I tracked down a couple of copies of the albums at eBay available as buy-it-now items & sent that link (there's only one available today....). But I'm not satisfied, not satisfied at all.

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Beach Day

This is not unusual weather for July, & manageable in two & three day patterns. It's when you look at the forecast & see a week of mid & high 90s & no t-storms you becomes grumpy. Jerseyans easily tough out short heat waves. We even enjoy them a little, sort of like pond turtles soaking up the rays on a log, if we can slip back into the water - the a/c - from time to time. We rarely suffer for long stretches the blazing heat of the midwest or the steam-cooking climate of coastal states to the south. There is one peculiarity on days like today: the Jersey shore offers no respite unless you're actually immersed in the water. If it's 95 degrees a block from the beach, it's 95 & higher all the way to the edge of the ocean, & you better be wearing flip flops or an old pair of sneakers for crossing the beach. Low tide tends to attract any green flies in the area. The sea breeze doesn't kick in until after 4 pm, which is about the time sane people are arriving at the beach, anyway. Those without beach badges wait awhile longer.

The first few years I went to Wildwood, I stayed near the boardwalk trying to relive my childhood & made the gawdawful trek across about a mile of stagnant swampland, quicksand, & desert to get the ocean. You couldn't think of just taking a stroll down there to kick your feet around in the water, doing something else for awhile like going to the zoo or the big funky shell shop, & coming back later. You had to do the whole production like the people who set up a campsite for the day, bringing along everything except a personal port-o-potty. You still had to hike to the boardwalk for that when you may have considered it a perfect excuse to go all the way back to your digs & spending some quality alone time in quiet cool bathroom with a Philadephia newspaper (I see The Contrarian nodding his head in assent). So I finally said, enough, & moved uptown to a narrower beach where the old-timers & locals tossed their towels without fear of them being stolen, & the lifeguards didn't have to act like cops, & interesting water birds weren't instantly hunted down by nasty little kids armed with plastic buckets & shovels who had never been shown by their parents how to build sand castles with tunnels & moats.

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Sunday, July 08, 2007

Rose Haven Motel

Gloucester City NJ


Saturday, July 07, 2007

Live Earth

If you think Live Earth is an event that will change world consciousness & behavior about global warming, there's a good chance you also think it's great entertainment. I kept switching over to CNBC during the Mets game, mainly hoping to catch Bon Jovi. Of course, there are cynics who'll say Bon Jovi was only a Giants Stadium stand-in for Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band. Name Bruce's most recent hit single?

Live Earth is the sort of event fabulously rich celebrities & capitalist technocrats like to organize for themselves every few years. I wonder if Al Gore could have inspired it had he not won an Academy Award, which is what made him one of them. The old Al Gore was a brainy, rumpled, but likable former Vice President still existing in the shadow of a superstar named Bill Clinton. For the organizers, the fundamental challenge isn't to reverse global warming but to successfully use & demonstrate technology. & what better way to do that than with a series of coordinated live concerts from around the world, slickly-produced, broadcast on TV & on the web, edited on the fly as a primetime variety show? Stir in slightly offbeat short "message" films as commercials. & give everyone an opportunity to be part of the event by pledging to use $8 lightbulbs & "support leaders who share my commitment to solving the climate crisis..." There's no doubting producer Kevin Wall's committment to his causes, but Live Earth is his expensive playground, a chance to top Live 8. I don't trust billionaires, even liberal ones.


Friday, July 06, 2007

Fan Mail

I received two appreciative e mails for my 4th of July WFMU show, one for a segue & the other a general pat on the back. I don't come across as a DJ seeking listener interaction, so there isn't much, I've just had to accept that over the years. I'm terrible at handling phone calls during shows; it takes most of my concentration to cue up music & push buttons in the correct sequences. I admire multi-tasking DJs who set up mp3 playbacks on the computer while talking on the phone, researching artists on the internet, & selecting the next cut.

I tend to broadly organize sets by genre now. I'm not proud of it. I consider it only borderline free form. But it's easier, & my excuse is that I have to build each show from scratch. I'm not carrying large amounts of new music from week to week, music I've already heard in whole or part that I can reach for spontaneously. Doing a weekly program pushed me toward improvisation, & that often brought a strong emotional component into the mix (even subconsciously). With archived radio programs, there's no need for any WFMU DJ to keep a large personal music library in annual rotation. Everything gets added to the station's internet jukebox. I often relied on familiar music to build sets. I'd have a few favorite songs picked out, & my goal was to fit those songs into a sets during a show. I'd arrive at the station before the show with no idea of how that was going to happen. When the show began, I might have some vague ideas, "concepts" maybe based on what I found in the new bin or came across on the shelves. Like many WFMU DJs, I loosely divided the show into 30 minutes segments, & more earnestly tried to finish whatever I was into at the top of the hour - still do, although sometimes it just doesn't happen. Everybody has their routines. Some music strongly resists being put next to anything else unless I'm in a mood for a non sequitur segue; the challenge there is to find something that sounds completely different but really isn't. I did one of those Wednesday & won't say what it was. I never do. I opened with a 45 minute set of mostly rock music, uncommon for me. But I had a stack of the stuff & I wanted to use it & get it out of my system up front.

Wednesday's disappointment: I had hoped to leave the studio back door open & talk about fireworks with the booming finale of the Statue of Liberty display in the background. Alas,the noise had ended by the time I got on mic.


Thursday, July 05, 2007

The Shattered Idol

Watched an oddly touching & nonviolent episode of The Rifleman today, the old 1/2 hour western starring Chuck Connors & Johnny Crawford as father & son Lucas & Mark McCain. Seems Mark Twain's stagecoach broke down & he got stuck overnight in the town near the McCain ranch. Young Mark McCain idolizes Twain (nicely played by Kevin McCarthy), but the famous writer, though not old, is a curmudgeon. Twain does easily win a hefty bet on a difficult set shot from a sleazy but harmless hotel pool shark (Jack Elam). When the boy asks for preview of the next chapter in Twain's serialized novel, Twain angrily says, "Huckleberry Finn is dead. He's dead! I tell ya' he's dead!" This news, & the bitter personality of his literary hero, crushes Mark McCain, who weeps with disillusionment. From a letter Twain accidentally drops, the older McCain learns he's actually grieving over the death of his son, which Twain blames on himself. But it all gets resolved in short time, & through another more meaningful wager at billiards arranged by The Rifleman. Mark McCain's respect for Twain is restored, & of course we know Twain goes on to finish his masterpiece.

None of this fits into the actual time frame of events. Langdon Clemens died about 4 years before Twain began writing "Huckleberry," & at least ten before the era depicted in five seasons of The Rifleman. But I was impressed with the neatly-written little fantasy, played out realistically within its own improbable universe, respectful of the Twain myth, yet keeping him human-sized. The caricatures weren't stretched, the sentiment was restrained, nobody winked at the camera. "The Shattered Idol" was first aired in December 1961. The irony is that The United States of America had a president in 1961 who had read & could quote Mark Twain.

(I'm not that familiar with The Rifleman, I wasn't much into TV westerns as a kid. This episode had some thoughtful b&w camerawork & a quality music score.)


Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Independence Day

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The Fireworks

The 4th of July used to be my favorite holiday. Since I had nothing to do tomorrow - pretty much the case for the past decade of 4ths - I accepted a WFMU fill-in from 8-11 pm so a family guy could have grilled whatever & watch the fireworks, which I hope he does.

The 4th was ritual when I was growing up. Backyard barbecue. Hoping there'd be no thunderstorms. Around 8 o'clock my parents tossed some blankets & a couple of beach chairs into the car & we drove to Nomahegan Park for the fireworks. Sometimes other kids who happened to hanging out at the house came along. Dad drove to his "secret" parking place in Cranford, a gravel road next to the river that hadn't been a secret to anyone for 20 years, considering how far we had to walk & how many other cars were parked closer. It never ceased to annoy him. We threaded through the gathering crowd as dusk seeped in, found a plot of ground & set up camp. The routine up to this point, from dad's grumpy inability to procure us a VIP parking spot to mom settling into her low folding chair & lighting her first Raleigh, was remarkably similar to going to the beach. In a good year, there weren't many mosquitoes. The fireworks were provincially unspectacular, same as most community displays are today. Although I swear they used to put more bang in the ordinary bombs. I loved the groundworks, Lots of audience-pleasing ooohs & ahhhs for those. Always the eerily burning dollar bill face of George Washington framed with spinning wheels of fire, & a fluttering Stars & Stripes with sparklers shooting off around the edges. Children waved their own sparklers indiscriminately - none of the cold light glow-in-the-dark things. Around the fringes of the crowd near the woods wandered gangs of lucky brats setting off cherry bombs & whole strings of firecrackers; their dads probably made special trips to Pennsylvania just to load up the car trunk with the good stuff, including roman candles. Less fortunate kids had to pay rip off prices at the playground for illicit explosives of any kind.

After the deafening but all-too-brief finale, we did everything in reverse, except now there were traffic jams on every street & no secret shortcuts. When we arrived home, I used kitchen tongs to grab the remaining softly glowing charcoal briquettes from the grill, flinging them into the street where they popped into a shower of sparking pieces & seemed to go out until passing cars stirred them up into small, fiery whirlwinds.

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Sunday, July 01, 2007

Atlantic City NJ

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"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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