Thursday, July 31, 2008

Born to run, old enough to sit down

In Great Britain & Europe, Bruce Springsteen is, I suppose, a venerable rock icon, a working class hero, & a political centrist standing against America's ultra-right government. I can agree with all that. Given the differences between American & European cultural attitudes, he may have a large number of youthful fans over there that appreciate him as "contemporary" music. I don't know. Touring with E Street he packs Europe's stadium venues. But over here his audience looks like this:

Star-Ledger photo
My age give or take a few years & a few geeky kids. & that creaky crowde can no longer be counted upon to fill American stadiums beyond Jersey & a few other persistant pockets of Brucemania. There's a mild controversy about the dispensation of "hold back' tix for events at Giants Stadium, including concert seats in the field sections reserved & sold at original price to politicians & judges & other people of influence & authority. But what does it say when these Very Important Persons keep Springsteen tix for themselves or award them to fat cat pals rather than passing them to their kids - even their 30 year old kids? It means first that Springsteen's audience is old. It also means that in America Springsteen is a rock star for the late Tim Russert, for Tom Brokaw, for Sen. Lautenberg's most favored campaign contributors (the senator dropped his request for tix), jus' plain folks that can certainly afford to see Springsteen at any price. As for Bruce's politics, what's a little New Deal socialism among friends? So his leftist leanings are glossed over as singular opinions, the personal eccentricities of a fabulously wealthy, liberal genius & CEO with a Woody Guthrie obsession, a regular guy kindly remembering the people who made him so rich & famous. I have no beef with Bruce. I respect successful people with scruples. He's an older Jon Bon Jovi with stronger lyrics, if fewer hits. Bon Jovi, in his own way as middle class, charitable, & loyal to old fans, still attracts enthusiastic women in their twenties; 46 year old Jon has a prettier face, always memorable hair, more sing-a-long hooks, & Richie Sambora on stage for the girls who like a bad boy flavoring in their superstar guitarists. But I bet Springsteen has The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams stashed away somewhere in his house, maybe a present from his new manager in 1975.

This week, E Street drummer & real estate expert Max Weinberg put on his tailored suits & assumed his usual position leading Conan O'Brien's TV band, commuting to Giants Stadium afterward, just another day at the office for reliable Max, getting in a little overtime collecting his slice of the Giants Stadium door. Admittedly, I've never been a Max Weinberg fan. He, too, deserves his success.

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Like today's blog post

Later. Whew. was hot. Alright in the shade, where there was shade. From inside Dunkin' Donuts, sipping on an iced decaf, I watched a construction site with ditchdiggers down in a ditch, & hoped they were union workers & not cheap day laborers. They were working dangerously close to a couple of backhoes, & I hoped the heavy machine operators were union guys, too. No way of telling. Except nobody was wearing hard hats & they were still at it after 5 pm. Half listening to Fox News, the daily chatter & soundbites of insignificant campaign news passed off as important & even scandalous. But it's nothing. Utterly, tediously nothing. There or anywhere else. It's like today's blog post. Or like the middle rounds of a heavyweight fight when both boxers gave up on the quick knockout & are expecting to go the distance & they just shuffle around & feint & tap at each other, concentrating on defense, or on cutting open the mouse over the opponent's eye, while the ringside announcer tries to make it sound exciting, & you find yourself distracted by the celebrities, professional female escorts, & oddballs in the crowd, & expressing opinions of what people are wearing.

Surprisingly few for sale signs on the residential streets around here. This city has on of the worst foreclosure rates in the state. The reason may be that it's been many years since houses in this section were bargains, & Hispanics bought them from the old generation in the 80's & 90's & settled in as the city's new middle class. The style of their backyards is often a throwback to the sensible old "European" yards I remember as a kid; very little grass, sunlight on the veggie garden & tomatoes, shade everywhere else.
Just wussed out & canceled a late afternoon appt with the shrink. These appts are 5-10 minute long visits scheduled every month or two months, my choice. I have to take two buses, a walk & one bus, or my preference, just walking over a mile on shadeless streets to a part of town I don't like. My appt days seem to be a magnet for unpleasant weather. Today is 90 degrees, sticky humid, the sort of day if there's a thunderstorm it'll pop up suddenly out of nowhere. I used to take a train to Elizabeth & walk down there in any weather for a twice-monthly 45 minute private session with a therapist who began on time or profusely apologized if she was running late & told me how behind schedule she was running. I stay with this doctor because he's nice guy & knows me & is in possession of a thick mostly uneventful case history dating back almost ten years so when he's informed I've actually canceled by phone (when they get around to listening to the messages, they were too busy to answer) he'll take that as a sign I'm o.k. & still have a supply of Ambien, & use my absence to jump forward on his schedule, since he's always behind schedule, sometimes way behind. I still have to go to the post office & mail a rent check & a birthday card for a Leo.

I was awoken early this morning by a robot call from the VISA card fraud unit inquiring about a debit recorded on my account at 3:45 am. Since I wasn't in a 24 hour Walmart & there's only one automatic monthly payment on the card & this wasn't it, I was alarmed. I phoned back & a robot voice gave the amount & recipient, a company in California, & when I didn't recognize those I was passed along to a live human. I asked for the full name & address of the recipient & was relieved to recognize it was the annual payment for my web site host company in silicon valley. I don't pay much attention to my websites, they just sit out there 24/7 attracting a few visitors a day, & it costs me less than $10 a month.


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

At the library

While I was at the small branch library tonight a man came in to give a talk on "Lighthouses of New Jersey." The flyer taped to the front door wasn't there late last week. He drew an audience of about two. I'm interested in Jersey lighthouses. Wish I was looking at one up close right now. But I was at the library to spread out paperwork on a table & make copies of stuff. I also wanted to scoot up to the Shoprite before I went home. All I would've asked him was if he had done the Lighthouse Challenge, the weekend when lighthouse fanatics rush to visit all the lighthouses in Jersey, & maybe some places where there used to be lighthouses. If he'd been a local author promoting a book I definitely would've found some time for him.

Ask any Jersey author who has done the circuit of libraries & bookstores with a book & they'll tell you about reading for librarians & a couple of people who wandered in, or turning a lectern bookstore appearance into chit chat over lattes. It happens even to fairly well-known writers & performers. Some years ago I went to hear composer Pauline Oliveros & her group at Essex County Community College in Newark. Around a dozen showed up in a large auditorium. A few miles away in New York City she draws hundreds of fans. It was a terrific performance anyway. A double bill of poets Allen Ginsberg & Newarker Amiri Baraka nearly sold out the same venue.

Crowds can work against you. In the strangest poetry reading I ever gave, at Rochester Institute of Technology, there was an audience of over 100. All but a small cadre of local poets were there as a required class assignment. I'm not a standup comic. It was the largest crowd I've ever had without sharing the stage with rock bands, & the only time I've ever felt flop sweat. It is very unnerving to hear chuckles & hmms & see nods of comprehension from a handful of people sitting together front right while everyone else is looking at their watches & thinking about going to the pub for beer as much as I was by the end of the reading.

The only sure draw for a library is a puppet workshop for children, all materials supplied, all kids guaranteed to leave with a puppet.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.: War and the American Presidency (2004)
A 150 page book with a 1000 page title. Revolves around George W. & is even more depressing four years after it was published. From the short last chapter "The Inscrutibility of History."
One thing historical knowledge does rather well, and this is the cultivation of perspective. ... During the Soviet Blockade of Berlin in 1948, forebodings of a Third World War swept Washington. At a panicky staff meeting a young assistant secretary exclaimed to Secretary of State George C. Marshall: "How in the world. Mr. Secretary, can you remain so calm during this appalling crisis?" Marshall replied serenely, "I've seen worse."
In the hours, weeks, & months after 9/11, nobody in the Bush Administration had seen or, incredibly, even remembered worse, or thought America had ever been in greater danger & yet survived. Forgotten were Valley Forge, the burning of Washington DC, Antietam, Gettysburg, The Great Depression, Pearl Harbor, the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Jeff Pearlman: The Bad Guys Won! A Season of Brawling, Boozing, Bimbo-chasing, and Championship Baseball with Straw, Doc, Mookie, Nails, The Kid, and the Rest of the 1986 Mets, the Rowdiest Team Ever to Put on a New York Uniform--and Maybe the Best (2004)
Reread most of this one. Time softens. We forget what a bunch of jerks they were. They were our jerks. For one year the team to beat, the Mets, not the Yankees, were the most hated team in baseball. For all their arrogance & confidence, it still took two mystical interventions from beyond to rescue them from post-season defeats by the Astros & the Red Sox. Who knows what might have happened in Game 6 of the Series had a guy I know not chosen the precisely correct moment to uncap his small vial of 1969 Shea Stadium magic dirt.

Linda Greenlaw: The Hungry Ocean (1999)
Debut book by the captain of the Hannah Boden, sister boat of the doomed Andrea Gail, sunk in The Perfect Storm. One of the best swordfish boat captains on the East Coast, Greenlaw takes the reader through a typical & fairly successful month-long fishing trip. I knew nothing of what it involved except that it was physically demanding, tedious, & dangerous. This kind of long line fishing would be impossible without modern technology; GPS , radio buoys, faxes from the National Weather Service, radar, sonar, water temp gauges, even glow sticks exactly like the ones kids wave at fireworks. But the fishing itself is tough work, done in long shifts of playing out 40 mile long lines, hundreds of hooks individually baited, then sleeping for four hours while the boat returns to the starting point to haul in the line &, hopefully, a lot of big swordfish on the hooks, every one dangerous to bring aboard, & which must be immediately killed, gutted, & put on ice. Some of the hooks have sharks. Smooth teamwork is crucial, good crews difficult to find & keep. The captain & crew receive a percentage of the profits after the cost of the trip is deducted. No profit, no pay.

Also read Greenlaw's fine first novel, Slipknot (2007), a murder mystery starring a marine insurance investigator named Jane Bunker (apt name) in a small Maine fishing port. The scenery, characters, & action all feel authentic, with lots of Greenlaw's dry humor, good start for a series. A second novel has just been published. Did I say I like this writer very much?

I must belatedly mention the death of last April of William W. Warner, 88, author of Beautiful Swimmers: Watermen, Crabs and the Chesapeake Bay, a wonderful book about crab fishermen, their work, homes, history, culture, economy, & the lives of blue claw crabs. It won the 1977 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction. It was an important book for having opened my eyes to a less isolated bay culture that had existed in New Jersey, fragments of which I glimpsed as a child. When I looked for it again, that way of life had disappeared from every place I'd seen it.


Church of the Future

The protestant right has long claimed that it is under attack by liberal secularists, but now we know better. Other kinds of American churches, synagogues, & mosques need protection. A good all-purpose design is a World War Two harbor defense bunker at Cape May NJ. This artillery installation was on land & had supply vehicle access when built in 1942, & is again over dry sand since a dune replenishment program. But this type of structure may be more suitable surrounded by open water or a moat. It has to serve congregations that insist upon non-violence as well as those willing to post armed guards. Recommended especially for Unitarian Universalism, the United Church of Christ, Reformed Judaism, some Episcopalian churches, & for Roman Catholic parishes that persist in sheltering & providing assistance to undocumented aliens.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

Life is a perpetual instruction in cause and effect.

wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson, a Unitarian minister at the start of his great career.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - An unemployed man accused of opening fire with a shotgun and killing two people at a Unitarian Universalist church apparently targeted the congregation out of hatred for its support of liberal social policies, police said Monday.

Knoxville Police Chief Sterling Owen IV said a signed, four-page letter written by Jim D. Adkisson, 58, was found in his small SUV in the church parking lot. The gunfire punctuated a children's performance based on the musical "Annie" Sunday, killing two and wounding seven.

"It appears that what brought him to this horrible event was his lack of being able to obtain a job, his frustration over that and his stated hatred of the liberal movement," Owen said at a news conference.
The only positive thing I can say is that tragedies like this tend to sensitize a few more ordinary people to bigotry, a terrible cost for a little progress. It doesn't much matter to me how religious right "leaders" react, but how Knoxville reacts. This angry, demented man could have followed another line of crazy reasoning & opened fire in the Presbyterian Church right next door, or at a Burger King, or as he had threatened, at his wife. He became obsessed with what that particular UU Fellowship represented. But it's what happens when eliminationist rhetoric - the violent language of the right wing, marinates in the heads of people like Adkisson. What nasty blowhards like Malkin, O'Reilly, Limbaugh, & hundreds if not thousands of local radio talk show hosts & newspaper columnists think is a big joke to suggest, others take with deadly seriousness.

There are 14 UUA congregations in Tennessee (NJ has 21). Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church isn't in competition with the Southern Baptists, but they're not a fringe cult meeting in secret. American UU's have been around a lot longer than our current variety of fundamentalists. UU's gravitate toward progressive causes because they've become a denomination of principles & religious self-reliance rather than doctrines. But then, so do Methodists, Catholics, Baptists, Lutherans, etc. who derive progressive principles from their own doctrines & scripture. I have to approve of a church that has its Sunday school children singing "Tomorrow" instead of about being meek & perfectly obedient.

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Stormy afternoon in New Jersey. Many of the storms were intense. Radar showed cells of 35 & 40 thousand feet moving across the state, the deep red blotches of torrential downpours. Lightning struck & killed someone on a beach at Sandy Hook. None of those great storms came here, they went to the north or south. There were rain & thunder. It was difficult to concentrate on anything. Whenever the rumbles faded, others sounded like they coming closer, faint flashes at the window. Never the kind of flashbulb lightning that makes one's skin prickle a millisecond before an enormous, heart-stopping explosion. But for several hours I sensed it could happen at any moment & could not let my guard down & be taken by surprise. The Mets game on AM radio was a constant crackling static from beginning to end; around the 7th inning the announcers noted very dark clouds approaching. The storms held off at Shea & the Mets won.

Great relief pitcher Goose Gossage was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame today. It took him 9 tries, which became scandalous after a few years. Best known for his 6 seasons with the Yankees, his Fu Manchu mustache, stare, & flailing delivery were almost as scary as his accurate 100 mph fastball, one of the most intimidating pitchers ever. When Goose threw one up inside, the batter knew it was deliberate. He earned the save in the legendary 1978 "Bucky Fuckin' Dent Beat Us?" playoff game against the Red Sox at Fenway, an event even some Mets fans fondly recall. He missed two months of the 1979 season after injuring his thumb during a fight in the Yankee locker room showers.

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Ocean View NJ

Echo Farm Campground. I've passed this place on Route 9 in Cape May. Now it's called Echo Farm RV Resort & it's spiffed up. Still cheap to park there, but with the price of gas you better be towing an economy car behind that RV if you plan on seeing the sights.

Ocean View must have been named by land developers. It's on the mainland & the only way you'll view the ocean from there is by climbing a very tall tree on a very clear day with a strong pair of binoculars.

Click on card to enlarge.

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Saturday, July 26, 2008

Rummage Shop Keyboard

Had to go to main post office yesterday, so walked a few more blocks downtown.
I don't like downtown Elizabeth, avoid it if I can. Especially on hot days. I was sweating anyway. For shopping, downtown Elizabeth is a big crowded nothing. I buy two items there; socks & $10 PC keyboards. I needed a keyboard, this one's nearly filled up with Cheez-it crumbs.

A huge rummage store opened. Clean, well-organized, inventoried, bigger & cheaper than Salvation Army. I get my flannel shirts at rummage stores. I browsed.

Downstairs at this store, on a shelf by the useless used computers & suspect printers, was this:

Stopped me in my tracks, my mouth probably dropped open. It's a mid-1980's Ensoniq Mirage sampling keyboard synth.* Originally sold for around $1500 & was considered "affordable" compared to the competition. Much more complicated to use than it looks, ridiculously small sampling rate & zilch memory by our current standards. 3.5 floppy drive. MIDI control, which soon became available on the toy keyboards at Walmart. Must weight 40 pounds. It has what thrills lovers of antique synths - genuine analog filters. Not a digital imitation of analog filters. The Mirage isn't one of the musical instruments from that era I've wanted for myself, but I sure can admire it. I know how it can be made to sound - very cool. It's a beautiful thing. The price $75. If it has the original owner's manual & Mirage's basic library of prerecorded samples, & if it works perfectly - unlikely ifs for a rummage store, you could turn around & sell it for three or four times that to an eBay collector or a trust fund baby musician in New York with an apartment full of stuff that makes him a genius. I wouldn't even know how to begin to test it out. When it comes to synths I'm a tweeker type rather than a step-by-stepper. I like dials, toggle switches, & faders. Actually, I'd rather have an old Hammond organ. Still, this baby was hard to resist.

*Digitally records - samples - sounds, various functions change & mix the sounds, which become the "notes" on the keyboard. Now, if you don't want to lug a big instrument around, you can just plug a small, plastic piano type keyboard into a laptop. Many bands do.

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Friday, July 25, 2008

Two Jersey politicians

No Jersey politician has bigger problems today than long-serving Assemblyman Neil Cohen (D-Union). His legislative office computer was confiscated on suspicion of containing child pornography (which probably doesn't mean the "Barely Legal Asian Hotties" variety). The alleged photos were discovered by a staffer, reported to Sen. Raymond Lesniak & Assemblyman Joseph Cryan (both D-Union), who share the premises, & they turned him in. "Sources said Cohen was under psychiatric care Thursday night. He could not be reached for comment." That's a bad sign.

More pathetic is the downfall of former Atlantic City Mayor Bob Levy, who was sentenced to three years probation today for fraudulently collecting $24,683 in veterans' benefits over what he legitimately deserved. This guy's sorry situation is hard to figure. He's a native of AC, had a 20 year career in the Army, won a Bronze Star. Army was very good to him after Vietnam; assigned him to the AC recruiting office & then Fort Monmouth as an instructor, perhaps rewarding a talent for exaggeration. After Levy was honorably discharged, he became Chief of the Beach Patrol & had other patronage positions he could have held until retirement if he'd just played the game. Yet he bullshitted people around the city that he'd been a Green Beret, that he'd earned a Combat Infantryman's Badge & a Parachutist Badge. Maybe he eventually believed it himself. But tall tales weren't enough; he lied for extra benefits, too. Levy was not mayoral material; served just 22 months before resigning over this scandal & was never seen as his own man anyway. Not that AC has a history of honest mayors. He punished himself. He's finished in AC & the Beach Patrol, lost the respect of other vets.

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Come Home Barack

You're not running for President of Germany.
"At least 200,000 Berliners heard the Democratic Party candidate make the only public speech of his world tour."

"A Pew Research Center poll showed Germans favor Obama over Republican John McCain by a 49-point margin."
This trip is not helping Obama back here. Most Americans only like nations that speak English as a first language. Of those, our favorite is The Bahamas. We think our presidents should give silly names to the male foreign leaders & give impromptu neck rubs to the female leaders. Show 'em who's the Boss of the Bunkhouse.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Props of sanity

Some picture perfect cumulus clouds late afternoon, sun nicely positioned to iluminate them. Maybe not picture; it's very difficult to capture clouds with a camera or a brush.

I was asked last night if I'd been to the shore this year. No. I just don't like the train trip. If I go to Point Pleasant Beach, I'm really interested in being there for only 2 or 3 hours. I take a stroll through downtown - by the time I arrive the bookstore's about to close; go to the boardwalk, play a few games of pinball. short walk on the beach, then a hike up to Manasquan Inlet & back, get an ice cream cone for the walk back to the station, & I'm done. The train ride is about an hour & 45 minutes without delays, with one transfer & 20 stops. The return trip usually features squawling babies, loud teenage cellphone talkers, a couple of drunks, & the cars get more crowded at each stop up the coast.

I consider what it would cost now to drive to Point Pleasant Beach or any of the locations between Raritan Bay & Seaside Heights I thought nothing of heading off to early on summer evenings because I was bored, or it was hot, or I just felt like looking at water, clouds, & birds while I sipped an iced coffee. That kind of $2 gallon impulsiveness is history, & not ancient history. When I worked in Woodbridge I regularly put 20 to 40 miles on the car plus the price of take out food to squeeze in an hour watching tugboats or sand pipers, I was right by the Route 9 cut off with the famous "To Shore Points" sign, which always beckoned me. If I resisted that, when I got off my usual highway exit, making a right instead of left sent me toward the Sewaren waterfront & public boat ramp across Arthur Kill from Staten Island. My small car was stocked with two beach chairs (one adjustable), a camera, binoculars, notebook & pens, & a copy of Sunflower Splendor: 3000 Years of Chinese Poetry with a sun-faded cover, the props of my sanity.


Why I like David Letterman

David Letterman might be a Repug or Democrat or independent. He jokes with Giuliani, shows respect to McCain, gives Hillary space to do prepared shtick & genuinely likes Bill Clinton. It's obvious his dislike for George W. Bush grew steadily from 9/11 until it became open contempt. The Bush administration deeply offends something in Letterman's core Hoosier heartland values in a way Ronnie, H.W., & Bill never did. & he was much younger & nastier back then. Tonight he gave not one but two segments to Jane Mayer, author of The Dark Side:The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals. A serious writer. There wasn't a laugh in the entire interview, & Letterman didn't reach for any. They talked about torture. The studio audience had no choice but to listen. Having Mayer as a guest was an endorsement of her book.

I cannot imagine Jay Leno, Conan O'Brien, or Craig Ferguson doing this. They are all three terrible interviwers. O'Brien wastes his interviews fighting the limitations of not being an animation. Ferguson thinks dumbing himself down was a requirement for citizenship. On the Tonight Show they make all the geezers sit behind the young females in the front rows who get to jump up on camera when Leno makes his gladhanding entrance. Jimmy Kimmel can dig into a subject but rarely does. But his humor has sharper edge to begin with.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

say the magic words

Bush says he's lifting ban on offshore drilling (a minimum ten year process if we start today), a couple of weeks later oil futures drop below $140 a barrel , & McCain says in effect, See how great offshore drilliing is? All a president's gotta do is utter the magic words.

Heck, if that's all it takes, if it's only mass psychology (which is mostly what drives futures speculation anyway), we can solve all our nation's problems merely by announcing that we have found solutions, without actually doing anything about them. That's what Repugs do best. Nothing. Iraq was supposed to be a nothing, a profitable nonsolution to a problem it could not solve, thieving another nation's resources by having our armed forces occupy it on behalf of Halliburton. It's much easier to steal from the American people, 'cause we're already an occupied & pacified populace.

Even T. Boone Pickens disagrees. Swift Boat Boonie resembles Mr. Scratch in The Devil & Daniel Webster, you know he's gonna getcha in the contract's small print. He's also being a sensible capitalist when he says it's time to stop fixating on our 3% of the world's oil reserves & start building more wind farms in Texas; a lot more. After all, the profit's not in how we generate our energy, but in who controls the energy, whatever it happens to be. So why pay for fantastic skyscrapers in Dubai & seraglios in the House of Saud?

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Phillies 8 Mets 6

One guy on the radio had it right; the only reason the Phillies stopped scoring runs in the 9th was because they were tired of scoring runs, figured they had enough on a warm night, & wanted to go back to the hotel bar & have a beer.


Con job

All Olympic games are con jobs, by the Olympic committee, by the host countries. China has made no secret of why it is hosting the Olympics & what it expects to accomplish. There are a few parallels with Berlin in '36, when Hitler showcased the New Improved Germany.

China has shut down factories so the athletes won't gasp from pollution. Ports have been closed for "security" reasons. What little dissent exists outside of Tibet has been silenced, & the repression in Tibet continues. According to Pew polls, the Chinese people apparently don't believe we know or think about this stuff:
Ninety-three percent said they believe the Olympics will help China's image around the globe. A similar number voiced confidence that the games will go well: 96 percent said their hosting of the Aug. 8-24 competition will be successful.

In both cases, the optimism was shared by people of all ages and income groups, and men and women alike.

The findings point to a divergence between the Chinese sense of their image overseas and how foreigners view them. In the new poll, three-quarters of Chinese believe their country is liked abroad. Yet of 23 other countries where Pew has polled this year, China is viewed positively in only seven.

They're as deluded as we are. Of course, the more medals a nation wins, the more admirable that nation is in all respects.

Medals. National honor. Product endorsements. The stakes in the Olympics aren't high enough.
There should be real prizes. Territory. Weapons. Tribute.


Monday, July 21, 2008

Fire the asshole

If it wasn't from Michael Savage, this ignorance would be astonishing:

NEW YORK (AP) — Radio talk show host Michael Savage, who described 99 percent of children with autism as brats, said Monday he was trying to "boldly awaken" parents to his view that many people are being wrongly diagnosed.

Some parents of autistic children have called for Savage's firing after he described autism as a racket last week. "In 99 percent of the cases, it's a brat who hasn't been told to cut the act out," Savage said on his radio program last Wednesday.

Savage offered no apology in a message posted Monday on his Web site. He said greedy doctors and drug companies were creating a "national panic" by overdiagnosing autism, a mental disorder that inhibits a person's ability to communicate.

On his radio show last week, he said: "What do you mean they scream and they're silent? They don't have a father around to tell them, `Don't act like a moron. You'll get nowhere in life. Stop acting like a putz. Straighten up. Act like a man. Don't sit there crying and screaming, you idiot.'"

Savage must be the only person in America who does not know a family with an autistic child.

I had the very interesting experience of volunteering for a small support group of parents of autistic children, about 30 years ago. Weekly, for a few months, my job, along with three other volunteers, was quite simple: We sat in a wall of chairs between a group of severely autistic kids on one side, & their parents & a therapist on the other. We had to keep the children in their space & prevent them from hurting each other or themselves while the adults observed their behavior at a slight distance, compared experiences, & discussed the therapies & strategies available at that time. Occasionally, the therapist would ask us to do something with an individual child, interact in a certain way or offer a small toy. Some of the children showed separation anxiety from parents they could see but not reach, others were indifferent. One could broadly characterize the behavior of some as bratty, putzy, an act, or antisocial . But those were judgments we could not make, as they implied a self-conscious willfulness that was just not evident to me. Whatever choices the children were making were in the contexts of their autism. I could not fathom what was going on inside the minds of the children, but they had minds of their own. For some of the parents, the weekly hour was a rare respite. They could sip coffee without it being grabbed at. We even gave the parents a ten minute cigarette break. What a test of patience & love those children were. Convinced me that working with autistic kids wasn't my thing. Bless them & their families.

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Controlling the Game

I'm not a political news junkie. I follow the campaign without dissecting stuff I think won't last much longer than a 24 hour news cycle except on Fox. I know how I'm voting in November. I'm a reasonably attentive Democratic voter. I have noticed that media cannot get a firm handle on John McCain. This seems to be because Obama is controlling the game so well. Everything McCain says & does is in reaction to what Obama says & does. It's like watching a good basketball team establish a pace. Even when Obama does something questionable, or something questionable occurs, McCain rushes his shots. When McCain says this or that wouldn't be possible in Iraq without the surge working, he reminds everyone that the surge was a desperate attempt by Bush to get a war he shouldn't even have started under control, & anyway by the time McCain reacted to Obama, Obama was having his photo ops in Afghanistan, reminding everyone which nation was our original response to 9/11 & that we haven't settled it or caught Bin Laden. The whole "time horizon" thing was Bush's reaction to our Iraqi government generally agreeing with Obama, & McCain came across like a guy on the sidelines reacting to Bush. You mean they want us to leave?

On the economy, McCain believes big lender banks are the victims, which they are in his universe. It's OK to bail out investors who made bad investments in banks that made bad investments in banks that made bad investments in individuals who were trying to make good investments in real estate but shouldn't have qualified for mortgages. Hell, if a bank tells you you can handle a mortgage, who you gonna believe, the bank or the doubtful voice in your head? The bank of course. You can trust banks. But you can't trust whining hoi polloi. When that line of reasoning didn't go over with Americans he had to dump Phil Gramm on a Friday hoping hardly anyone noticed, & it probably worked. Now he has to find another "advisor" since polls show he's considered extremely weak on domestic issues, he's so intent on running for commander-in-chief. But there's a problem with that. In domestic matters, commander-in-chief doesn't mean squat, or isn't supposed to except when levees break in New Orleans or foreigners fly jets into buildings. In peaceful foreign policy, commander-in-chief is the Big Stick other nations know the president carries but would prefer not to have waved about in their faces if they pose no serious military threat to us.

McCain doesn't have a prayer running on the economy. This is dangerous.


Sunday, July 20, 2008

a small storm

Over to a friend's house three blocks away late afternoon to feed her cats, a quiet dead end street, decided to avail myself of her a/c & sofa & watch the Red Sox/Angels game. I'd brought along something to eat, thinking I might hang out. When the game ended I channel surfed for awhile. Heard the rumble of distant thunder a bit after ten & went outside & sat on the front steps, a line of storms coming from northwest, flashes illuminating the clouds, outlining them. Didn't know if they were headed my way but hoped for some cooling downdrafts. The wind kicked up, swirling warm & cool. The storms seemed to be dying out. Began to rain, drops at first, starting & stopping, then steadier, the scent of shower, nothing torrential, just what remained of a cloud-wringing. I moved under the roof overhang. The lightning stayed in the clouds, no great claps. The wind blew fresher. I could hear the rain in the trees. It was a small, friendly storm. When it ended, the three old cats had disappeared into their night places, the young one stretched out on the cool wood floor, awake, tail twitching, observing harmless invisible things. She was dismissing me. So I shut everything off, locked up & walked home, sidewalks already drying out, the air summery, the oppressive heat gone until tomorrow.

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Cape May NJ

What's slightly unusual about this card is that it's a view from a shaded hotel porch.
Windsor Hotel in the 1930's.
Too hot for the beach, think I'll just sit here.

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Saturday, July 19, 2008

Aunt Jean & Uncle Jack

My sister has been way out in western North Carolina all week, a lot closer to Dollywood than the beach, trying to convince a very elderly aunt & uncle (92 & 99), with the help of their grandson, that they need to move into assisted living or at least have someone on the premises every day. This is not an easy task. Our Aunt & Uncle were active into their 80's. They traveled the world, they were dedicated skiers. This aunt is the oldest & sole survivor of three siblings, my mom the youngest. My sister is especially close to them. She's named after our aunt, & our uncle has adored this particular niece from the day she was born. It meant he preferred her over the two nieces we considered serious party poopers at Christmas gatherings. I haven't seen them in - must be nearly 20 years, when they had recently taken an Amazon River voyage, uncle said he had a blast & aunt refused to get off the boat because of the bugs & heat but otherwise enjoyed the scenery. They were getting on in years then.

They seemed like total opposites. My uncle was an outgoing, playful, ageless preppie, funny, dapper dresser - if we were anywhere near the same size when I was in high school I would've begged him for his castoff clothes. My aunt was serious, kind of uptight, New England matronly athough they lived near New Brunswick NJ. The only time I had a "relationship" with my aunt was when I lived in New Brunswick & would drop by her office on the Douglass College campus of Rutgers, she was always glad to see me & chat for a few minutes although I had hair down to my shoulders, & wore fraying jeans & faded flannel shirts ( the standard egalitarian uniform of that time & this). They've been devoted to each other for seven decades.

Apparently, sister has the situation stabilized enough to return home. She probably wishes she could ship the two of them up to Jersey so when they need her she could just drive over in her car instead of packing her luggage & flying. At this point, the Smokey Mountain scenery has no advantages over the hills of Morris County.


Friday, July 18, 2008

Aspirational Gas Nozzle

It was a good day for creepy political language. The White House said that America & Iraq are seeking "a general time horizon for meeting aspirational goals, such as the resumption of Iraqi security control in their cities and provinces and the further reduction of U.S. combat forces from Iraq."

The term time horizon is not an invention of Bush's advisors, although in this context it means somewhere over the rainbow. Aspiration goals is also not original. A posting a year ago at Unspeak website picked the phrase apart:
“Aspirational” is a glossy-magazine lifestyle fantasy of fast cars, large houses and single-malt whiskies. And aspirations are always virtuous, even if they are — almost by definition — not actually going to be accomplished.
Then there was Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho, a man I definitely do not want standing at an adjacent men's room urinal, saying he does not want Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Nigeria, etc. "jerking us around by the gas nozzle." Videos of his astonishing statement are everywhere. We get what you mean by gas nozzle, Larry, but wonder who Saudi Arabia & Venezuela signify. Anyone we know?

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Happy Birthday Nelson Mandela

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Brother Super Powernote

Here's a "laptop" I still have (one of several antiques). It's a Brother Super Powernote portable word processor. I picked it up on eBay before the turn of the century for about $75, mainly to input setlists during radio shows before WFMU instituted program archiving & real time song posting. But I did a lot of writing on it at a local coffeehouse. It has an LCD screen impossible to see in bright light. Internal memory is 63K & it takes a standard floppy disk, easy to save & transfer files in text or better using conversion software. There was an optional 2400 baud modem, an instant relic. Very nice clock & alarm function, Lotus, & a Tetris game. 300 page owner's manual I rarely needed to consult.. A solid, compact 4 pounds. It's a beautifully designed machine, but had no chance on the market, Brother trying to sell it in the 90's just before Windows 95 & the internet changed the universe & ISPs had to stop charging by the hour. The last time I tried it the Brother battery no longer held a charge. I opened up the Powernote on the train once & a couple of guys across the aisle from me with expensive laptops went nuts, they loved it. Some of the similar old Tandys are collectables. They especially wanted to see the Tetris. They looked so disappointed when I left the train. Brother tried once more to create a low end, internet-ready laptop, a contraption with a crazy operating system, no hard drive, & impossible to upgrade. By that time you could buy a used Thinkpad with twice the capacity & functions for less money.

Brother & my beloved Smith-Corona made some excellent memory word processors in the 70's & 80's. But their developers could not see what was right in front of their eyes in computer technology. They kept thinking like typewriter companies. More on this this when I post on my two Smith-Coronas.

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Some comedian does a bit about the headache-inducing musical 42nd Street:


The sound of a blogger convention, if not quite as loud.
Would one have dared show up at last year's Kos Convention without the newest most paper thin laptop? This year's Netroots Nation in Austin TX must have hundreds of people getting eyestrain as they attempt to input 300 word blogposts on tiny Blackberry keyboards & iPhone touch screens.

Typical political blogger types range from angry, egotistical blowhards who get about 200 unique visitors per day (most staying under 10 seconds) to modest, conscientious newshounds who get about 200 unique visitors per day. With threads at the Kos website commonly running to 500+ comments, the most insignificant matter is covered from every angle. It's impossible to claim an original insight, much less a scoop. & if by chance one stumbles upon originality, the odds of anyone noticing are infinitesimal. Being a blogger is similar to being a poet except one doesn't have to be concerned with economy & line breaks. Poets have a saying, "Publishing a book of poetry is like tossing a feather into the Grand Canyon & listening for a echo."

Did I ever mention that my favorite book of American prose is the Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant (popular abridged version)? Grant was a great prose writer because he reputedly wrote the clearest, most concise orders & battle reports of any General in the Civil War, tailored for telegraph. There was no misunderstanding them. Of course, many of his orders bordered on criminally insane, in effect, "Commencing at 6 am, charge up the treeless slope in your front against entrenched enemy positions at the crest & be slaughtered. Repeat until the enemy runs out of men, you run out of men, or I order you to stop." More words than Grant would have used. I highly recommend Grant's book to political bloggers, or The Haiku Handbook by William J. Higginson for those using handheld devices. Other bloggers can stick with Ulysses by James Joyce & The Complete Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson.


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Earn that tip

Usually, I have no problem tossing a few small coins into the cup by the register at Dunkin' Donuts, almost an automatic gesture. Even generous when the girl asks if I want whipped cream on my hot chocolate, maybe one time out of every five. Tonight, I wandered into the cool place coming back on a muggy evening from the library & supermarket. The big screen TV at DD was switched to Fox News last month & O'Ratface was on. I've asked several times, please put it back on CNN. One girl rang up my small overpriced beverage while another filed a cup from a hot water & powdered mix dispenser, the entire transaction took maybe 30 seconds, & I received 28 cents in change, which I put in my pocket, a cheapskate. I saw nothing that they had done to earn an extra cent, especially after a friendly librarian had renewed a book for me that I didn't feel like doing online myself (while another librarian googled information on the nutritional value of fish for a phone caller) , & the cashier at Shop Rite had been very polite & efficient & reminded me that I'd left my baseball cap in the red basket, & they don't have tip cups.

If the DD servers labor over an order, do a barista thing, sure, that's tip work. The friendly Filipino ladies at the DD in my former town used to give me a senior discount when their boss wasn't around, although I was barely eligible for AARP, because they were betting I'd toss the difference into the tip cup, so I did. That's resourcefulness. But I don't even want cream put in my coffee for me. I like to look at black coffee, judge its strength & heat, & then decide how much cream it needs. DD is also the only coffee place where the servers can be such automons that they don't hear you say "No sugar." Which you discover two miles down the road when you sip the coffee & go "Blaaah, it's sweet."

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Another yawner

the baseball All Star Game has ended at 1:30 am in Yankee Stadium, the Bronx. New Yawk. On a run scored on a freakin' fly ball out. 15 innings, AL winning 4-3. Here's how to prevent long, boring, extra inning All Star Games:

Each manager gets to choose two pitchers for the opposing team.. The rule is that they must have been in the regular rotation of a MLB team since the start of the season. This guarantees that both bullpens will have two bad pitchers, who almost certainly will be used in any game that threatens to be endless, & can end the game tossing extra base hits.

Or stop the game after 12 innings, bring out batting practice pitchers & have a home run contest. Something like that works in hockey & football.

Or, when the bench has been emptied after 11 innings, allow any player who started the game to reenter the game. This doesn't help with pitching, but it brings sluggers back to the plate.

Or play the All Star Game on Sunday afternoon.

The best part was the introduction of Hall of Famers before the game, in a Stadium where nearly all of them had played, some in World Series. Hank Aaron. Willie Mays. Willie McCovey. Harmon Killebrew. Ernie Banks. Robin Roberts. Ozzie Smith, Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson. Many missing faces, like Johnny Bench, Tom Seaver.

The worst of the Yankee fans were there, boorish & classless, jerks who would rather their AL home team lose than that a Boston player should help win it.
The sportswriters enjoyed the extra innings more than regular fans. But they were in the press box. The 9 inning game was interesting enough. For me, it was a 9 inning game that took 15 innings to complete. To endure that many extra innings, you need care more about who is still playing, who is available to play, & who wins. The interest would have increased if position players were forced to pitch.


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

We used to call it pantsing

& nerdy high school boys tightened their belts in mortal fear of having it done to them.
Crackdown on Saggy Pants

Paterson NJ - Fashion, like art, is in the eye of the beholder -- or your elders.

"I think we have to teach people how to dress again," said 1st Ward Councilman Anthony Davis, who is tired of seeing men, especially young ones, wearing their pants too low.

Last week at a City Council workshop, Davis said he is considering proposing an ordinance that would allow police officers to issue tickets to men and women who flagrantly show off their underwear. The line between fashion and indecency could be defined in City Hall, if Davis' proposal goes through.

The idea of outlawing "saggy pants" is still in its infancy in Paterson, but it has popped up around the country in various forms, from Florida to Dallas. Proponents argue the fashion, which is prominent mostly in urban areas, is disrespectful and should not be tolerated -- at least not in public buildings.

Opponents, like Tip Morrisons, who was wearing shorts well below the hip on Monday, thinks Davis should not dictate how to wear the clothes she pays for.

"He don't buy our clothes. We buy our own clothes," said Morrisons, a construction worker.

Davis, who sponsored last year's symbolic resolution to ban the use of the N-word, acknowledges it could be difficult to enforce the saggy pants ordinance. But, he said the latest trend of flashing bunched up boxer shorts is "nasty."

"You have kids showing themselves, flashing themselves," said Davis, who wants to attach the ordinance to the city's indecency law.
This silly prison-inspired urban hip hop style has been around so long it had nowhere to go but down. Believe me, most of the wearers don't look half this good. For many it's probably the only stuff they own worth showing off. Unlike the affluent suburban teenagers who buy all the saggy, baggy clothes they want with credit cards supplied by mom & dad. Despite the possible hiding places in the apparel, the style at its more extreme is impractical for concealing weapons & drugs, committing crime, & running from the police. Guys have to practice methods of walking that allow them to look cool while keeping their pants from dropping to their ankles & tripping them, & they resemble the characters in Monty Python's "Ministry of Silly Walks" skit. There's just so many ways one can incorporate a constant "pants hitch" into one's movements without it looking like a compulsive tic. What are we to think that the baggy young men are rarely seen with baggy young women? & when they are, they prefer short, submissive females with prepubescent bodies. Prison style, indeed.

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Monday, July 14, 2008

The Mets, pinch me

Suddenly they're 51-44 at the All Star break, 1/2 game behind Philly & tied in the loss column, great pitching from starters & bullpen, timely hitting, sharp defense, 9 game win streak mostly beating up two sorry west division teams at Shea which is what good teams are supposed to do. One cannot assume anything with da Mets, but who figured two weeks ago these guys would awaken so fast from their somnambulism? Winning is definitely more fun. We can dream a little bit, at least for the duration of the All Star break, of bringing down the curtain on Shea with some magic.


Cheap gas courtesy of Jesus

If you're homeless, hungry & on foot, this won't help you:
MORRISTOWN -- Temporary relief from record-high fuel prices is in sight, as the Liquid Church will again hold a Gas Giveaway, on Aug. 3 at the Exxon station on Morris Street.

The Christian church, located at 96 Speedwell Ave., will hold the event that day from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Gas will be sold for 99 cents per gallon to anyone who shows up, with the church paying the difference from the pump price.

"We wanted to demonstrate that God's love is free of charge. There are no strings attached," the Rev. Tim Lucas said in a statement.

Before the "Giveaway" starts, the church will purchase fuel at regular prices, estimated to be $4 per gallon. During the four-hour period of the giveaway, or until they run out of pre-purchased gasoline, customers can fill up their tanks for just 99 cents a gallon. The Exxon station is located across the street from the train station.
"There's no catch," Lucas added. "We aren't trying to raise money, convert people or make a statement. All we really want to do is serve our neighbors and remind them of a simple truth; whether they drive a Hummer or a Honda, God loves them."
God loves everyone although Jesus personally preferred poor folks. I don't trust these people. They meet in the Morristown Hyatt, hand you a Starbuck's, & baptize you in a hot tub. The pastor, who has a huge head & huge sculpted hair & looks like he used to be a child TV actor, refers to congregants as "peeps" & uses other "cool" words. Yuck. He'd compare prayer to Wi-Fi. There's a slick website. They brag about giving away 10,000 bottles of nonjudgmental water at the Asbury Park Gay Pride Parade (gas, water, Liquid Church, get it?), yet nowhere on the website does it say they're welcoming & inclusive, key words for any congregation that unconditionally accepts LGBT as members. Look around the website & hints show up here & there of a conventionally conservative, patriarchal church ruled by ambitious Pastor Tim with a persuasive smile upfront, no doubt with a firm hand behind the scenes & God's voice echoing in his head. Liquid Church is just a new variety of young, upscale Baptists, & if it came to that for me I'd rather hear a gospel quartet in a country church than watch a Powerpoint light show accompanied by a Christian alt rock band & a free latte in a cardboard cup.


Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Whiners

I agree with Phil Gramm that we're a nation of whiners, but not for the same reasons.

We didn't whine enough about stolen presidential elections.
We didn't whine enough about the Patriot Act.
We didn't whine enough about Iraq, the casualties or the cost.
We didn't whine enough about FEMA & Katrina.
We didn't whine enough about flim flam mortgages.
We didn't whine enough about veterans' care.
The list is longer.

But when we have to drive with forethought & efficiency so as not to waste expensive fuel ( the process began a long time ago, Carrie's blog ran a series of alarming posts on it), then we whine loud & long. Put it on the list & prioritize it.

No folks, Gramm was not referring to whining politicians but to us. Gramm was a spy for Repugs while he was still a Democrat, was owned by banks when he was in the Senate, became a bank lobbyist when he left the Senate; he's listening very closely to their whining as John "Savings & Loan" McCain's "economic advisor." With the Repugs, we get banks, oil, & bad religion, the first two screw us while the third tells us not to screw, just the emphasis changes. Don't be fooled by Gramm's academic resume; every university in America has at least one crackpot Ph.D professor in the Economics Dept. but Gramm's the only one that became a sleazy senator from Texas.


Toms River NJ

Richman's Dairy Barn

Route 37 is long past being an underdeveloped stretch of highway with sand shoulders, seasonal businesses, & glimpses of summer shacks tucked back in the piney woods. Traffic jams are now year-round, begin on the Parkway, & may continue past the mall, apartment complexes, furniture stores, auto dealers, & franchise restaurants all the way to the causeway across Barnegat Bay.

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Saturday, July 12, 2008


I drank a 12 ounce can of Barq's root beer today. It wasn't good but most soda isn't. Mistake. It had so much high fructose corn syrup, caffeine, & carbonation that for the next two hours I had jitters, gas, & peed about five times - I lost count. Another crap product brought to us by Coca Cola. I didn't know it was the only root beer promoted as an energy drink. If I ever want to do that to myself, I'll have a double espresso shot cappuccino so I at least get some pleasure out of the experience. I suppose most beverages sold as "root beer" are no such thing anyway. Hire's, A&W, Stewart's are all owned by the same company, so much for authenticity.


Charlie and Chet

Chet Baker: The Most Important Jazz Album Of 1964-1965 (Colpix CP 476)
Chet Baker (flh) Phil Urso (ts, cl) Hal Galper (p) Jymie Merritt (b) Charlie Rice (d)
NYC, June, 1964

Chet Baker: Baby Breeze (Limelight LM 82003)
Chet Baker (flh) Frank Srozier (as, fl) Phil Urso (ts, arr) Hal Galper (p, arr) Michael Fleming (b) Charlie Rice (d)
NYC, November 14, 1964
Charles Rice really did record with the incomparable Chet. The 88 year old employee of the Camden NJ Board of Education is under indictment for "theft" of less than $200 worth of gasoline. Those are the numbers. Seems Charlie had an informal arrangement to top off his tank when he used his car for shelter while pumping gas for Board of Ed vehicles. Sounds fair to me. Something that would have been difficult to put into writing. Even a gas jockey at Hess gets a little heated & air-conditioned booth. Charlie's had his modest job for 26 years, so do the math. If convicted, this former jazz drummer loses his job & pension. With the help of a musicians aid group called Jazz Bridge, Charlie has hired a very expensive Philadelphia defense lawyer. The state is spending thousands to make Charlie's life miserable, & it's costing thousands to get Charlie off the hook. Sheesh.

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Friday, July 11, 2008

Two Slices

Sal, I'll have two slices plain. I'm getting a snapple from the fridge.

I got two slices left with peppers, same price.

OK, long as they aren't dried out.

Whadda you care? I seen you go in Pizza Hut. What's new?

Somebody slashed my front bike tire at the library.

You got enemies.

That a question, a theory, or a fact?

Sombody don't like you.

Who doesn't like me?

I don't know who don't like you. Everybody don't like somebody.

It was a cheap front tire, easy to replace.

That bike with the big basket?


Slashed it cause he couldn't steal it. Only bike around looks like that, you'd catch him if he rode it around town.

When did you see me go in Pizza Hut?

With that blonde woman you used to go with, the one who painted the bungalow around the corner.

That was years ago. You have spies at other pizza places?

I was at the bank across the street. What happened to her.

Didn't work out.

Your fault, then.

My fault? Why was it my fault, Sal?

She was a nice woman. Used to buy a tunafish sub but brought her own drink, one of those awful Mexican sodas they sell next-door.

Hmm, I thought she didn't like those.

See, she kept secrets from you.


What a ridiculous week. Wouldn't even know Verizon was turned back on if I hadn't picked up the phone. I wasn't expecting a dial tone. Almost bought a cheapie Tracfone at Cost Cutters. Missed my late night chatroom. The major annoyance was that I couldn't transfer anything from here to the library computer. The library doles out computer use in 30 minutes chunks, whether you're online or using the word processor, & you have to sign on again. You also have to remember to logoff any website. I don't want the next user reading my e mail.

I also missed the week's news stories in detail. Not that it matters. It seems to have been pretty much the same as last week.

I did work on some poetry stuff. I made a top five score on Slam Tilt pinball, which I rarely play anymore. I did it with sound turned off.

A backhoe crunched a Verizon cable by the new school. That's hearsay, probably true.

The Verizon robot voice says service will be restored by 11 am July 14.

Every day a guy drives up in a Verizon repair truck, sets out orange road cones, rides the cherrypicker up the pole on the corner, fiddles around with the connections for a short while, descends, collects the road cones, & leaves. I think he's doing it for show.

Optimum cable trucks have been common in the neighborhood all week.

Last night we had a domestic disturbance on the first floor, a disturbed young tenant who was self-medicating with six packs. This is very rare in my building. The police were summoned via cell phone. But if we had a fire & yanked the hallway alarm, the bells would clang here but the Elizabeth fire dept would not receive the message.

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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Third day without Verizon. There was a solitary guy up on a cherry picker late this afternoon. I know it could be a lot worse. Think New York City, heat wave, power failure, Con Ed.

Monday, July 07, 2008

I don't have a cheap cell phone. There are a few reasons I need one: My Verizon service is out today. It alarmed me at first. I paid the bill last week, it's never very high. There's been no shutoff warning. The wires seemed o.k. I was about to go up the street to call Verizon from a friend's house when it occurred to me to test the doorbuzzers, which use the phones. None worked. Then a guy from the 3rd floor came down & said his phone was off, too. The entire building is out. We were unhappy but relieved. The woman in A4 who takes care of building problems wasn't home.


Sunday, July 06, 2008

Manasquan NJ

The Osprey Bar

Many moms & dads gazed longingly through the doorway at the cool tropical splendor of this place as they escorted the brats to the beach on a blazing hot afternoon. At night it turned loud, crowded, & sweaty with a mixture of pheromones & aloe vera lotion.

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Saturday, July 05, 2008


Who spends $700 for a piece of jewelry they see on a TV show hosted by a woman named Caroline with a grating Texas accent? Really, I'm curious about this. That's a big chunk of money to put on a credit card for a gaudy ring riding a plastic display carousel on television. Caroline sold at least 4 items at that price during the 5 minutes I was watching. Isn't it more fun to go to a bunch of reputable jewelry stores & make a gay sales clerk earn his commission?

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TV Fireworks

Washington D.C.
PBS. Staid. Nobody likes Washington much right now, we're all waiting for the new guy. Jimmy Smits. Jerry Lee's band carried him through "Great Balls of Fire." The "Killer" looks like a corpse propped upright up at his own wake. 1812 Overture with cannon. Marine Drum & Bugle Corps plus xylophones stiffly playing marches as fireworks exploded over Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial in the frame. Calendar pictures. Audio wasn't very good. Get those jarheads some Sousaphones or bring in the Army's marching musicians from Fort Myer. Play John Philip Sousa properly & you can do the polka to the "Stars & Stripes Forever."

New York City
Like the parade, a Macy's advertisement. Like New Year's Eve in Times Square, this gets slicker & dumber every year. Can those crowd reaction shots with the children & the rich blonde matrons with the V.I.P seats. Stop putting "Stuyvesant Town" as the location, it's the freakin' East River. Unless there's a color in a song title, the music has nothing to do with the fireworks except for the amount of time that segment takes. Everything has a "theme." The TV viewer might as well turn off the sound & play Dark Side of the Moon, they'll probably fit together just as well if not better. Since I didn't have Pink Floyd handy, I turned this show off after awhile & watched a Team USA softball game on ESPN.

For good reason, these folks believe they own the 4th of July & it shows. Best orchestra for the occasion, the Boston Pops, which swings when it wants to. Best host, newly sworn citizen Craig Ferguson you'd never guess has been on the wagon for years. Patriotic singalong including "Yankee Doodle" & everyone sangalong. Best props; the decorated portable bandshell, handpainted signs, flags, Uncle Sam hats the vendors were probably selling. The crowd (maybe some in the Pops, too) happily but not recklessly unsober, like they've been nipping from flasks for hours. Children on daddies' shoulders don't look befuddled or scared. The fireworks a glorious mishmash over the Charles with a middlebrow prerecorded soundtrack that had a couple of unexpected turns, not stopping to announce each new song. This year it climaxed with the ending of Mahler's 1st Symphony, pretty cool.

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Friday, July 04, 2008

Happy 4th of July

It's impossible to say anything good about Jesse Helms as a senator. He was a bigot, spoke as a bigot, ran for office as a bigot, was elected as a bigot, voted as a bigot. If he is considered by some to have represented Christian "values," then the foremost of those values is bigotry, & whatever decency there is in his political legacy is an accident. An unfortunate coincidence that he died on the same great day of the year as Thomas Jefferson & John Adams. I think Jesse passed on before midnight & they deliberately waited over an hour before officially pronouncing him.
Speaking of Jefferson, a friend of mine goes to Monticello every July 4th (if it's not 100 degrees) for the large, annual naturalization ceremony. Having grown up within view of Monticello (& what a sight it is viewed from several miles away), & not as a descendent of Virginia's landed gentry, she understands the contradictions & paradoxes of the place. Put it this way: What the uppity folks on the hill, the Randolphs & Jeffersons & their class denied for several hundred years was always accepted common knowledge to the folks at the bottom of the hill without the DNA proof. So her yearly pilgrimage reminds her we are a nation of slaves & immigrants. For all his flaws & hypocrisies, I think Jefferson would be pleased that his plantation hosts the event. Unfortunately, Bush went down there year, God knows why, & screwed up a local tradition.
I turn on the radio it's the Yankee game, at the Stadium, top of the 7th, Boston leading 6-3 with men on lst & 3rd, one out, clearly a tense moment that John Sterling is trying to call the old-fashioned way with long pauses & crowd noise, commentator Suzy Waldman blabbing on about the Yankee-Sox rivalry of the 70's, you could sense Sterling wanting to say, "For cripessake Suzy, just be quiet until something happens." The batter strikes out & catcher Molina nails the guy trying to steal second, great double play.
The 4th of July is a day when it's foolish to look at the people next to you at the fireworks waving sparklers & little American flags & wonder if they're liberals or conservatives. Some liberals seem to think conservative patriotism is always war-mongering & some conservatives think liberals acting patriotic is posturing. I like the ground-display fireworks of the flag, sparking & waving, the crowd whistling & cheering, & there's a Sousa march blaring through the loudpeakers. Composer Charles Ives loved the hoopla so much he wrote music imitating 4th of July fireworks mixed with band music, which made it very modern music in 1913, although it wasn't performed until 1932 in Paris.
There's something peculiar about Christie Brinkley.


Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The Temple of Knowledge

The death of Madam Marie disturbed me. I've been wondering why.

Always this disclaimer: Bruce Springsteen has almost nothing to do with my feelings for Asbury Park, boardwalks, fortunetellers, or the Jersey shore. I am my own person. My family has a history with the south Jersey shore dating back nearly 100 years. Drawn by Atlantic City, our spawn began scattering out from Philadelphia to live in Atlantic & Cape May Counties a long time ago. I've never met most of them. My brother, step-brother, & their families near the shore aren't bennies or shoobies. I am.

My grandmother brought me to Asbury Park when I was five or six. Had she lived a few years more I would've gotten around to asking her why. A chance to get away from all of us for a few days & she takes her moody, anxious grandson with the short attention span. We stayed with her ladyfriend a block or two from the boardwalk. I recall very little of that weekend. I rode the tiny putt-putt boat on Wesley Lake & liked it. I remember flowers everywhere, in front yards, the parks, by the lake, lining the streets. Asbury was fantastic with flowers. That was the old Asbury Park. I don't remember Madam Marie but she was there somewhere.

More than a decade passed until I returned as a teenager with a drivers license. Asbury was a lively little boardwalk. I looked down at it at first, not yet appreciating the special qualities of different boardwalks. . I went in the evening to stare at girls, play pinball, roll up my pants & wade, occasionally see a name band at Convention Hall, soak up the boardwalk atmosphere. The local music scene didn't interest me. Sometimes I drove down the coast via Sandy Hook. Madam Marie was there. For all the hugeness of Atlantic City's boardwalk, & my familiarity with it, I can't recall seeing a fortuneteller booth on it. That seems impossible. It had everything else. Asbury had everything, too. Just not as much. Or a diving horse.

Asbury boardwalk remained a fun place for another decade, even as downtown Asbury Park collapsed. Then it became impossible to ignore the increasing grimness & griminess. But it clung to life for yet another ten years. Madam Marie stayed. No city in New Jersey threw away so many advantages. It took an exceptionally corrupt, exceptionally stupid city government many years to kill the old Asbury Park boardwalk. & the worst of it coincided exactly with the rejuvention of other boardwalk towns. At the bottom of the slide, when the buttercup lamp fixtures that had once lit the kiddie rides were finally removed, the connection to Ocean Grove torn up, the Casino doors locked against the crime & despair, the decaying boardwalk an empty shell thrown up on the beach echoing only the seagulls & breaking waves, you could go to Keansburg, a town nearly everyone had once assumed was staggering toward the grave, & have a delightful time. It broke my heart. The Temple of Knowledge survived the catastrophe.

Madam Marie was the final connection to the old Asbury Park. Everything else now is different. The continuity is broken. I feel toward Asbury much like I feel toward Atlantic City. I can't pick up the thread of my youth there as I can in Seaside Heights, Wildwood, Point Pleasant, Ocean City NJ. Losing Atlantic City put a hole in my life, because I lost a large part of my grandmother when I couldn't find memories of her there anymore.

Madam Marie was also a matriarch. Her great-granddaughter said Marie was "very, very strong until the day she died" as a point of family pride as well as of fact. A queen rules until she is dead. One of her chosen successors made the announcement, & I suspect Sally Castello, herself a fortuneteller, knows exactly in whose unique footsteps she is walking. Sally didn't learn the trade in fortuneteller college. If she's good, she understands the expectations of those who enter the "Temple of Knowledge." She knows that a single line in an old Bruce Springsteen song is what brings many of them there, or that they could be gay guys from the Empress Motel resort asking when they'll meet the men they'll marry, literally. She knows what to say when they don't find Madam Marie herself sitting inside. She'll have her walk-in boardwalk trade for the short cash readings, & her regular local clients. With fortunetellers you get the time & attention you pay for. No matter how talkative she may be, she'll obey the fortuneteller's code of silence, symbolized by a flimsy curtain of beads or gauzy fabric, but inpenetrable & mysterious. Which is why they act cranky toward nosy, noisy little kids.

Madam Marie was about ten years older than I thought she was, old enough to be either my mother or my grandmother. She was on the boardwalk before World War Two, an established, familiar attraction by the time my grandmother took me to Asbury Park as a child.

That's why I mourn Madam Marie.

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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Madam Marie Castello

Boardwalk fortune teller Madam Marie dies

ASBURY PARK — It was one line from a Bruce Springsteen song that made the boardwalk fortune teller world famous. And now, "Madam Marie" has passed away.

Marie Castello, who had told fortunes since the 1930s and became famous for her presence and predictions on the Asbury Park boardwalk, died Friday, her great-granddaughter, Sally Castello said today.

Family members were attending morning services today, Castello said.

The psychic reader and advisor was 93. She became known worldwide from Bruce Springsteen's homage to her in his music.

"Did you hear the cops finally busted Madam Marie," Springsteen sang in his 1973 song, "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)," "for tellin' fortunes better than they do."

"That was just the Boss," said Asbury Park Deputy Mayor Jim Bruno. "She was never arrested. But Springsteen turned her into an icon."

Bruno remembers his own run-in with the psychic.

"I was a 12-year-old kid," he said. "And I don't remember what I was doing, but I remember her chasing me away from her shack. Her death is a real loss."

It was also somewhat unexpected.

"She really wasn't sick. She just wasn't feeling well," Castello said. "She was very, very strong until the day she died."

Madam Marie bragged that she had told the fortunes of everyone from Judy Garland to Springsteen himself. Legend has it that she told Springsteen he was going to be a success. Springsteen later joked that she told all the musicians that.

And Springsteen never forgot Madam Marie.

"He always comes by to say hello," she told Press columnist Bill Handleman in May. "He knows where he came from."

Marie Castello closed down her regular operations on the boardwalk in the mid-1990s after a dropoff in business. She continued telling fortunes in Ocean Township.

But Sally Castello is one of the family members who still does readings at the Madam Marie booth not far from Convention Hall on the boardwalk.

"The booth will always be there," Marie Castello said in May. "The Temple of Knowledge, that's a landmark, that's nostalgia, they'll never tear it down."

I never used her counseling services. But one my old girlfriends was rumored to have consulted her not long before we broke up. Everyone spending time on the Asbury boardwalk would see Madam Marie sitting in front of her little building on warm summer nights. During her long career she heard it all, thoughts & situations people wouldn't tell their closest friends, or their priests. It isn't the accuracy of predictions that gain a fortuneteller or "advisor" her most loyal clientele so much as her ears & her confidentiality. She was a local businesswoman, established, a professional keeper of secrets. She didn't roll up the rugs & disappear after Labor Day. Asbury Park was, & remains, her family turf just as Mrs. Fatima has Point Pleasant Beach, & I forget the name of the lady in Keansburg. Until the 1990's, Madam Marie was available year round weather permitting. Every boardwalk needs a fortuneteller.

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A sellout to the protestant right?

Obama to expand Bush's faith based programs

Reaching out to evangelical voters, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is announcing plans to expand President Bush's program steering federal social service dollars to religious groups and — in a move sure to cause controversy — support some ability to hire and fire based on faith.
Obama was unveiling his approach to getting religious charities more involved in government anti-poverty programs during a tour and remarks Tuesday in Zanesville, Ohio, at Eastside Community Ministry, which provides food, clothes, youth ministry and other services.

But Obama's support for letting religious charities that receive federal funding consider religion in employment decisions could invite a storm of protest from those who view such faith requirements as discrimination.

Obama does not support requiring religious tests for recipients of aid nor using federal money to proselytize, according to a campaign fact sheet. He also only supports letting religious institutions hire and fire based on faith in the non-taxpayer funded portions of their activities, said a senior adviser to the campaign, who spoke on condition of anonymity to more freely describe the new policy.
David Kuo called Obama's approach smart, impressive and well thought-out but took a wait-and-see attitude about whether it would deliver.

I'm not much rattled by this. Obama's support of FISA is more serious. Every poll I've read indicates that hard core evangelicals would never vote for Obama in numbers significant enough to warrant going after them. Never mind David Kuo's reaction; he's disappointed by Bush, but remains a completely politicized religious right winger with unbreakable ties to the Repugs. But once the federal money spigot is turned on, it's very difficult to turn it off.

This speech was delivered In a central Ohio town, at a local, mainstream Presbyterian USA church. It's being spun on the surface toward evangelicals; underneath, this was as much a message to centrist protestants & Catholics, denominations with established social service agencies & missions that don't have a rep for evangelizing the people they serve, but do have concerns about the kinds of strings that are attached to public money. Catholic charities help undocumented immigrants & would turn away government funding rather than be required to rat those people out to the Feds. I'd like to hear reassurances from Obama on that matter. & we must keep religion out of public funded birth control & sex ed matters. But mainstream church agencies & programs are the absolute bottom safety set for a lot of desperately needy people in America, in places where government has left gaping holes in the net. Bush's desire was to substitute religion-based social services for government aid. He screwed even that up. With Katrina, America learned what would happen when Brownie's FEMA couldn't do a fine job. I don't believe Obama intends that neglect of federal responsibities. I don't like a Faith-Based Social Services program operating out of the White House. Unfortunately, we already have one. If Obama grabs Ohio & PA with this promise, I suppose it's worth it.

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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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