Saturday, May 31, 2008

Tilt-a-Whirl by Chris Grabenstein

First the ALA capsule:
From page 1, this debut stands out as refreshingly different. Billed as the first entry in Grabenstein's Jersey Shore series, the story is set in Sea Haven, a town that will stir memories for East Coasters who went "down the Shore" each summer. The story centers on the murder of real-estate tycoon Reggie Hart, who was shot in front of his teenage daughter, Ashley. Danny Boyle, a 24-year-old "summer cop," encounters the hysterical girl while on patrol with his partner, John Ceepak, an ex-soldier who has returned from Iraq with some demons left to exorcise. Although Grabenstein crafts a first-rate mystery, what makes this novel special is its two protagonists. With young Boyle narrating, the reader gets to know Ceepak gradually, through his partner's eyes. At first Ceepak's personal code of honor only amuses or annoys the cynical Boyle. But as he (and we) get to know the former soldier, the portrait of a true hero emerges. Grabenstein brilliantly evokes the endearing seediness of a Jersey Shore town in summer, but it's his development of the Ceepak-Boyle relationship that makes this an absolute triumph. Jenny McLarin
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Well alright, I was not as bowled over, but it is a first novel (2005) & first in a series now up to 3 episodes with a 4th out in August. The two cops aren't fully dimensional & the plot turns extremely distasteful. But Grabenstein has put down a strong foundation, & he has a good sense of humor, if not the lunatic streak of Carl Hiassen or Tim Dorsey.

The location is a thinly disguised Long Beach Island NJ, & I didn't get the impression Grabenstein really knew the place intimately. Danny Boyle is supposed to know it, he's the local guy, & the narrator, he doesn't provide much insight into the local culture, & he's not that interesting yet. At age 24, Boyle isn't likely to be much of a Springsteen fan either, but he knows all the lyrics, the only thing he has in common with Ceepak. So Grabenstein doesn't dig into the most potentially volatile faultlines: The economic dislocation of LBI's year-round inhabitants, the people providing skilled trades & services, & who are now forced to live off island; & the annual influx of seasonal labor, many of whom are very sleazy characters, some of whom stay around offseason for the cheap rents (a more serious problem in larger boardwalk towns). But I suspect this series improves book-by-book if Grabenstein received some substantial advances & could afford to stay on LBI. In Tilt-a-Whirl, Grabenstein's view of the Jersey shore is that of a benny, the odd name locals still apply to summer vacationers. (I say this as a benny writer).

I read Hell for the Holidays, a 2007 novel & second in a series by Grabenstein featuring Jersey City FBI Agent Christopher Miller. It was stronger writing than Tilt-A-Whirl. Again, there were some unnecessary plot contrivances - nothing as silly as Robert B. Parker hands Spenser nowadays. Too many far-fetched coincidences. But the two ultra-right bad guys, a wealthy demogogue & cold-blooded Army-trained terrorist, are really evil, & in different ways as it turns out, although they're both sociopaths. Grabenstein now sketches out minor characters quickly & efficiently, & just as efficiently kills them off. I really liked an FBI mole named Tiny, & was sorry that he won't be showing up again.

Complaint: the print in the Ceepak series is so small & faint it gives me eyestrain.

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Friday, May 30, 2008

Of the six poems mentioned in yesterday's post, the editor took three - batting .500 is great - including the one I thought he might not like, & the one I wrote the previous night, & a poem I wrote for this blog on a 4th of July, but not the poem I've been tinkering with for years. But I'm not gonna give up on it. I may have to try the most radical sort of revision I do, rewriting from memory, an adventure since I never memorize poems. But I aways wanted to hire an actor to play me at a poetry reading.


Thursday, May 29, 2008

John Adams

After reading David McCullough's biography, & watching the TV series, I'd still rather spend an hour with Thomas Jefferson at Monticello discussing any topic of his choosing than an entire day with John Adams.

Sent off six poems to an editor friend. One I wrote down last night, a short anecdote I've been telling for so long that it's edited itself. Another very short poem I wrote in the 1980s but could have written last night, & revised last year. Sent an account of a strange dream from the point-of-view of a character in the dream talking to me. That's the one I think he'll like least, but you never know. Last month, another editor surprised by taking two poems that were out of usual styles.

A poem I hesitated sending was originally written in the early 90s, misplaced several times, so I would wonder where it was, & then it would show up again. It's sort of a love poem, with some wonderful lines - I don't say that much about my own poems, but it held together awkwardly, which means I was fighting it, trying to make it say one thing while the poem itself wanted to say something else, usually less complex, because I don't make complicated poems. The closer a poem is to what it intends for itself, the less one needs to tinker with it. I had two versions going under two titles. It never seemed like an old poem. Finally, I acknowledged the most serious problem was that it had one too many women, & she was the one in the first two stanzas as a backstory, quickly pushed offstage. There's a third mentioned toward the end who distracts me to my regret as part of the tale, & had some swell poems written about her at the time. The woman who is really the subject & star has been trying to tell me all along, "Get that first cold-hearted bitch out of my fucking poem, dickhead." Which is how she used to talk when she was really annoyed. She's not annoyed in this poem; she's beautiful & center stage in a parking lot behind a bar in Woodbridge NJ at 2 am & we're both pretty sloshed & she's singing. I edited out the first woman's stanzas, added punctuation (often a major decision) & judged the poem not quite finished but at last in a form worthy of print. That's a lot of writing about a 35 line poem I'm not even posting here for now.

If anyone from my past thinks I ought to have written a poem for or about them, it's very possible that I have & it'll pop up some time.


Wednesday, May 28, 2008

can't write about everything

Jimmy McGriff, great jazz organist from Philly. died. Jimmy went big into funk in the late 60s & 70s, some LPs that got bad raps generally compared to his earlier records, but which I liked for their stretched out dance grooves, organ bouncing on top. Jazz organ always tapped popular taste, & organists often have a taste for corny (I can play organ). Jimmy was also part of the B3 organ scene that once flourished in Newark NJ.

I resist writing about a lot of stuff. The other day I listened closely to Interstate by Pell Mell, a forgotten1995 album by an obscure instrumental group, had a few mostly positive things to say about it, & instrumental albums of the era, went to Amazon, & found four short reviews already there, all slightly overrating it five stars. I was gonna give it four stars, an honest assessment from an experienced pair of ears, but my critique wouldn't have been front page, so I figured it would never get read & skipped it.


Earle Hagen

For years I've been complaining about lousy movie music (music for comedies is especially awful*). I've also griped about the dearth of good TV show original theme songs. A guy who composed great TV theme songs just died, Earle Hagen. Composed excellent TV scores, too. & the classic tune "Harlem Nocturne," which sounds like a private eye theme song & was used as one. Everyone knows the whistling theme fromThe Andy Griffith Show. Fans have a special high regard for his innovative theme & episode soundtrack music for I Spy, one of the best series scores ever, ranking with Peter Gunn & Mission Impossible in an era that did not lack great TV music. When I hear the "bonk bonk" signature & cheesy synths of the Law & Order shows, or the anti-themes for shows like Medium, Cold Case, & Without a Trace, I remember that TV drama & adventure series were once the class acts of TV music, with professional Hollywood musicians performing the music of accomplished composers.

* Every gesture & expression is musically underlined cartoon style. When an actor laughs I expect to hear corny yuk yuk sounds from a trumpet. This isn't really the fault of the composers. It's an unsubtle degraded attempt at audience manipulation, like obnoxious, relentless laugh tracks on sitcoms. If they could get away with putting a laugh track in a feature film, they would.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


Like a lot of people who don't have to worry about severe weather, I've always wanted to see a tornado. There was stunning video of a tornado in western Oklahoma last week, filmed from a newscopter about two miles away. It captured the tornado forming, , the dust whirling into the vortex, & the twister blasting apart a pig farm, debris flying & swirling (couldn't see the poor pigs). It was a classic tornado. Among the best film I've seen of a tornado. It's somewhere on CNN for May 23, here's a still from right after it touched down. It got bigger fast. Most are taken from ground level, the storms obscured by clouds, rain & dust, & brief because the person filming it has to hide. The copter pilot, very experienced at his work, said that so many people chase tornadoes now that there's often heavy traffic headed toward the storm. Although his job is warn people in the storm's path, he's also telling them where to find it. He has to concentrate on keeping a safe distance; he said he can feel the copter being pulled toward storms.

On Sunday, an EF5 tornado, the strongest designation, completely leveled half of Parkersburg Iowa. Shredded the place. It's amazing only 7 people were killed. A tornado siren was installed in that part of the town only ten days ago.

I missed my chance to see a tornado - at least the underside - in Rahway a few years ago. I happened to be at work in Woodbridge, about five miles away, & I was outside on my break watching tremendous thunderstorms pass to the north. When I drove home shortly after six pm, I had to pass through a police checkpoint at the edge of downtown.* Power was out. One of those storm cells dropped an FI tornado in Rahway River Park. It skipped through the park, jumped several streets & came down Central Ave., which was right next to my apartment building. It lifted off the ground & sheered the tops off tree after tree, big trees, old trees. It must have been terrifying. I walked around for an hour. There wasn't much serious property damage except where limbs had fallen on roofs & cars. But some of the old-timers were stunned, broken-hearted almost, at the carnage to the trees, which couldn't bend to the sudden increase in wind. The National Weather Service confirmed it was tornado. It was about the mildest level of possible tornado. I got a lot respect for tornadoes that day. But I was still disappointed I wasn't there, & I can't say if I would have been cowering in the bathroom or standing outside like a crazy person screaming "woo hoo!" I've had both reactions to scary weather. I did give up my fantasy of chasing storms across the prairie states.

*The checkpoints remained all night, & a driving curfew was in effect. But I had a tremendous craving for Dutch Maid donuts, & challenged myself to find an open route to the Quik Chek. I did, & at midnight the convenience store & Dunkin' Donuts next to it were crowded with people also compelled to evade the blockades. I know now the Rahway police left those few paths open deliberately, they simply didn't have personnel to seal off a large section of the town. Fallen trees pretty much did the job for them


We have a primary in New Jersey a week from today. I have to vote because of several local elections, which can be decided by single digits. For United States Senate, I'm inclined right now to vote for Congressman Rob Andrews, running against incumbent Frank Lautenberg. Not that I care much, or there's significant differences in their generally liberal views, or I think Andrews stands much of a chance of winning, or even that he's my first, second, or third choice to move up. Lautenberg's age - 84 - wouldn't be an issue if his seniority made him a powerful, visible, outspoken member of the senate. My feeling is, what the heck, why not fill that seat with an obviously qualified younger person now rather than later, & let Andrews, who is very ambitious & energetic, start building his own seniority? He really wants the job. Who's to say who will get that seat six years from now, when Frank will almost certainly retire? Jersey gets back about 39 cents of every federal tax dollar, we can probably do a little better than that, the House of Representatives is good training for playing the system. 2008 would have been a safe year for Senator Frank to step down without risk to the senate seat. The Repugs have nobody. The Dem congressional seats are all secure. He didn't do the right thing.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day 2008

I read somewhere the suggestion that Memorial Day has been trivialized by making it a Monday holiday. I don't think that's exactly true. I think we've trivialized all our holidays. Monday holidays are convenient for just about everyone, including business. A holiday on a Tuesday or Thursday invites a four day weekend. Memorial Day is much more of a start of summer celebration now. The 4th of July used to serve the purpose, believe or not. Beyond that, Memorial Day cannot be turned into anything other than another retail shopping occasion. Shopping is the #1 hobby. It feeds on every other hobby.

Memorial Day comes to us from the Civil War. My grandparents' generation, born around the turn of the 20th Century, were the last to directly feel that connection. But through them, I felt it, helped by the Civil War Centennial while I was a teenager. About the time Memorial Day would have begun fading in significance, we had another great war that touched everyone in America, & so it became an important day in the 1950's & 60's, with parades concluding in solemn & touching ceremonies at town monuments to war dead. Those monuments had many additional names from World War Two.

Now we have trivialized war. The burdens are shared by relatively few Americans, all "volunteers" & their families - if three & four deployments of the same Guard & Reserve units could be considered volunteering. Soldier graves are dug one at a time, here & there, at widely separate places. it's easy to avoid seeing them. Where profit was once the great opportunity of war, now it provides the reason itself. Iraq is about profit, & all the other reasons are ruses. We know them to be ruses. We have the proof, for God's sake! The ruses are possible only as long as most Americans can be distracted & not asked to sacrifice anything. Our president sacrificed his golf game because he felt families of dead American soldiers would be offended by photos of him swinging a club on exclusive links with oil billionaires & other war profiteers. Instead, he takes long, invisible vacations at a remote location in Texas. His emotional response to the war he started is mere sentiment, & that enrages me. It is about patriotic display without substance. It is about crocodile tears. It is about not fearing for the lives of his children, that they might be swept up in a sense of duty or by economic necessity & themselves "volunteer" for a year in Iraq or Afghanistan, or staring at arrays of screens & switches deep inside a ship, or even sitting at a desk in the middle of a hot, boring military installation in America. In a way, George W. Bush is perfect for an America that fights two wars at once as we complain bitterly about the sacrifices we are forced to make because of the price of a gallon of gasoline.

Drive to the cemetery, look at the little flags on the graves, & think on that, & think on how this day once helped to heal the deepest divisions of this nation, & how it still tells us that there are worthier sacrifices, ultimate sacrifices even.

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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Point Pleasant Beach NJ

Click to enlarge. North end of the boardwalk well away from the amusement area. Despite an unfortunate condo development in the parking area, this remains a favorite Jersey shore location, particularly around sunset when there's a lot of boat traffic in the inlet. The people fishing along the bulkhead are regulars who don't care if they catch anything, a local scene with the flavor of a time when you didn't have to be rich to live near the water. There's a monument to fishermen lost at sea, a classic Coast Guard building, no frills motels, sea food restaurants, docks, & fishing boats of all kinds, including some rusty old trawlers.

It's sad but inevitable I suppose that the people moving to the Jersey shore have little knowledge of the history or respect for what remains of it.

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las bicicletas en la noche

My unsubstantiated opinion is that 80% of the bicycle riders in this city over the age of 18 are illegal immigrants. But that's not my complaint.

These guys - they're 99% males - ride their bikes in the street at their own risk any time of day. After dark, if they think the risk is too great, & ride on the sidewalks, they put me & everyone else on foot at risk. I have to walk a lot. Sometimes I'm in an alert, observant frame of mind & paying attention to everything. Other times, like tonight, I put myself on automatic pilot & think as I walk. I write. I sketched out this as I was walking. Observant or not, I can't see bikes coming at me from behind on the sidewalk at any time, & often can't see them coming toward me at night. Maybe the rider can't see me, although I usually wear orange hats afer dark. Tonight I wasn't. Streetlights don't always help, creating deep shadows & twilight conditions. I'm not against sidewalk riding. It's a city, even the leafy suburban type side streets can be crazy. I have a very small folding bike I got for sidewalk riding. It turns & stops on a dime. Most importantly, it has a bell attached to the handle bars. On the rare occasions I take it out after dark, always on sidewalks, I attach a bright red blinking light to the front. I saw a regular bike in the street tonight with one on the rear, a thoughtful rider concerned with his own safety.

But twice tonight I was almost run down by bikes going very fast toward me on the sidewalk, pedaled by grown men who looked Hispanic. I didn't see either of them coming until they were nearly on top of me. They gave no warning of any kind. I'm a pedestrian. Sidewalks are for pedestrians so we don't have to walk in the streets & be run over. In some towns, riding a bike on the sidewalk is no more legal than driving a car on the sidewalk.

Like most humans, I have a little devil perched on one shoulder & a little angel on the other competing for my attention. The devil represents what philosopher Allan Watts called "the irreducible element of rascality" in people. I usually listen to the better angel of my nature. Some night, as a bicyclist rushes by me on the sidewalk, scaring the wits outta me, the little devil might make me give the rear wheel of that bike just enough of a kick.

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Saturday, May 24, 2008


I went to Jersey City last night. Expected to turn in the simple form WFMU fill in DJs are required to submit twice each year, then answer some e mail, audition music, & record a few things. Pseu Braun was on the air, & Bryce, Maria, & Joe S. were hanging out in the studio with her. It was Bryce's birthday. Joe pulled up a chair for me, so I sat down & hung out, too. We watched Pseu do her show, chatted about the music & other stuff (wandering into the topic of crustaceans & their live behavior). After awhile, Pseu brought out a delicious Amish style carrot cake with walnuts & creamy white icing & we all had a big slice. Didn't sing "Happy Birthday." Then I had to hurry to catch my trains, which I did.

I used to do this fairly often, dropping in on the small studio gatherings. When I could get to the station faster, sometimes I'd be listening at home & hear or guess who was there, impulsively jump in the car & go. It was the only way I'd get to see some DJs, since they live all over the map. Pseu was one of the few I did cross paths with on occasion outside the station, at a small South Amboy tavern back in the 90's. There are some DJs. when they have evening or weekend shows, don't mind visitors in the studio. They're capable of socializing while they select & cue up music. They're like people who enjoy cooking while you're in the kitchen. This has always been difficult for me, I tended to lose track of what I was doing & miscue recordings even when I was on every week & my hands automatically found the correct faders & buttons. The comfortable approach is to just loosen the process up enough so it sounds like that's what was intended or it doesn't matter because after all it is WFMU with people hanging out in the studio or listening somewhere else while you do a free form show.


Friday, May 23, 2008

helium or hot air?

The Hillary VP balloon - is it helium or hot air?- smacks of the Ford/Reagan dance in '76 when Ford looked like a sure loser & Reagan's people wanted a negotiated co-presidency. But Obama is in good shape in the polls & Hillary Clinton doesn't represent an opposing ideological faction of the Democratic Party. In '80, Reagan used Bush to settle down the Ford wing & it turned out he didn't need to do it. But VPs don't have to be powerless. They can be wonky advisors like Gore, or the real brains of the outfit, like Cheney. One problem with Hillary is Obama gets Billary, which means he risks all the trouble he's had from them in the primary, but inside his own campaign.

I think a large number of Clinton voters had no intention of voting for her in November anyway. All those voters in PA & Ohio & West Virginia & Kentucky know the difference between President & Vice President. If economically-stressed white Democratic voters prefer McCain - who has never in his entire life had to deal with their concerns - to Obama, then the problem is racism, & putting Clinton on the ticket won't help. They still get a choice between a black president & white president, if that's what really matters to them. The older feminists who see Hillary Clinton & hear Helen Reddy singing "I am woman, hear me roar" need to take another look at Nancy Pelosi, who already has real power, & consider the advantages of a Democratic President & Democratic Congress.


Thursday, May 22, 2008

Braves 4 Mets 2

Swept 4 games in Atlanta.

It was August 2005, his first season managing the Mets, that I first had doubts about Willie Randolph. The Mets were a sloppy team, screwing up the basics Willie aways did so well, & blowing games. But they were high-spirited team on occasion, showed some attitude now & then, & they were hanging tough just outside of the wild card slot. That race was wide open. They were a slightly underdog Mets, not quite glued together. They needed some talking to, some explaining, a few kicks in their asses. It was the kind of disjointed team a manager like Lou Pinella would have yelled, sulked, juggled & wrestled into the playoffs. Willie didn't do it.

In 2006 the Mets were worthy of the World Series & everyone knew it. They got within one game. Well alright. That happens. Mets fans aren't like Yankees fans. It was a fun year. No regreta.

2007 was inexcusable. The Mets piled up a lead in the NL East, coasted through the second half of the season, & then the notorious choke at the end when they only needed to win one friggin' game. The whole sorry month of September summed up by images of slumping, dispirited Jose Reyes failing to dig in his cleats & run out grounders to first, stone-faced Willie in the dugout as if he believed he had done everything possible. Something was terribly wrong in the Mets clubhouse. It's still wrong now. Maybe the Mets are just an unmagical assortment of quality ballplayers & lay it on GM Omar Minaya's shoulders. Maybe the Mets & Yankees should trade managers, bring Joe Girardi over to Shea where there's a need for a guy capable of losing his temper with moody batters who don't run out ground balls, & relief pitchers who don't shut up, & umpires who don't see the foul poles; & send Willie Randolph to the Stadium where the players don't need motivational speeches & lessons in fundamentals, & the clubhouse has been self-policing since Jeter was named captain.


Yearning for Zion Ranch

Appellate court overturns polygamist sect custody decision
SAN ANGELO, Texas - A state appellate court has ruled that child welfare officials had no right to seize more than 400 children living at a polygamist sect's ranch.

The Third Court of Appeals in Austin ruled that the grounds for removing the children were "legally and factually insufficient" under Texas law. They did not immediately order the return of the children.

Child welfare officials removed the children on the grounds that the sect pushed underage girls into marriage and sex and trained boys to become future perpetrators.

The appellate court ruled the chaotic hearing held last month did not demonstrate the children were in any immediate danger, the only measure of taking children from their homes without court proceedings.
Based upon what information Texas released regarding the original complaint - one anonymous phone call from outside Texas - I'm inclined to agree with this decision. Texas investigators had not infiltrated the sect, had not collected evidence, & had no named complainant. The state was completely unprepared for the raid. You couldn't bust a drug ring on such flimsy grounds, it would be tossed right out of court.

They can say the men are panderers & rapists, & that the mothers are complicit, & it makes sense in the present, if not in the strange 19th Century world furnished with up-to-date conveniences the sect was trying to preserve inside their compound, a frontier time when even if polygamy was was practiced only by Mormons, forced marriages of underage girls was common enough, & every kind of patriarchal abuse accepted if not condoned by law. Aside from the marital peculiarities, these kinds of closed religious groups are all over the map, most are very small, & we have little idea what really happens inside of them. It's alright to us if religious groups practice forced obedience, shunning, repression of civil rights, psychological manipulation, & willful ignorance in education, as long as there's an apparent exit door marked on the inside, although walking out the door requires a courage few of us possess, & a will to leave behind everything & everyone a person has known & loved.

Past experiences have demonstrated that it's almost impossible to "deprogram" people who have grown up in these closed, secretive cultures. The only hope for the children, I think, is to place them & their mothers - insofar as the Texan authorities can sort that out - with Mormon foster families, to hand the entire mess over to the Latter Day Saints, which, of course, Texas cannot do. & in exactly what other matters can the State of Texas be trusted to do the right thing? In the timeless lyrics of Shel Silverstein: I'm goin' down to Texas, and be one more horse's ass!
Legit religion is so protected, so venerated in America, that it's often difficult to figure who is in charge of mainstream & popular religious organizations, who makes the decisions, & how their money is earned & spent. It's more difficult to see inside the reclusive groups that allow some public scrutiny, like the various Anabaptist & ultraorthodox Jewish sects. The Amish are the best known of the Anabaptists, they rely on tourism, & it still takes effort to know who they are & how they're organized. One can find fairly easily a number of internet boards set up by lapsed & expelled members of these sects & read a variety of opinions attacking & defending their practices.

The Bruderhofs are a pacifist Anabaptist sect with a number of farm collectives in New York & PA, known for their wood childrens' products, & admired by conservative peace Christians (yes, those old-fashioned types exist) for their books & meditative writings. There is no private property in a Bruderhof community. Three years ago, the Bruderhofs suddenly pulled down all their websites except the commercial ones, with little explanation. Apparently, the ruling "fathers" decided they'd become too worldly. They are private & withdrawn, but Bruderhof communities will admit visitors, & send their children to public schools for the required number of years. If a religious group with no legal standing builds a walled compound in the middle of nowhere, doesn't recruit, arms itself, bars outsiders, how is anyone to know what goes on in there unless someone comes out & exposes it? Our tendency is to leave them be. Out of sight, out of mind.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008


There are a few women I call sweetie sometimes when I see them. They call me hon or something like that. We've known each other a long time. No other women hear it from me.

I worked only briefly in the kind of large office environment where one had to be very careful regarding "improper" language & there were written policies & procedures for making complaints. I've worked in retail store environments where coworker language was no issue - back in the stockrooms the women flung as many words as the men.
Even if he publishes his own string of crappy weekly newspapers, as James Devine does in Union & Middlesex Counties, & they are borderline slanderous on the front pages - I enjoy the dirt, & filled with lots of garbage inside, & he gives them away for free in supermarkets, & the only reason one might take it home is for a Mexican restaurant discount coupon, & he writes his own copy, it's still a bit much to call himself a "Democratic strategist" & say that he was the "mastermind" behind the defeat of Perth Amboy mayor Joe Vas. Yeah, like I'm an influential blogger & New York City media cultural icon. This is what happens when I'm stuck in a checkout line in Pathmark & the only magazines in my lane are in Spanish. I used to stumble through basic Spanish writing, maybe I should brush up.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

I wanted to go to Jersey City for a few hours this evening, but I also wanted it to be a pleasant journey since I'd be spending as much time in transit as at the destination; good coffee at Newark Penn Station, sunset over the greening old garbage dump mounds of Hackensack Meadowlands, perhaps egrets fishing Passaic River, the New York skyline across the Hudson. The rain did not let up until suppertime, damp temp in the low fifties, I thought, this can wait another day or two.

We haven't had a happy sunny breezy May, the Mad Month - no month is crazier with blooming things. I believe people fall in love more in May than in any other month. There may be a lack of statistics to prove it but there's plenty of poems & tra la la songs as evidence. Happened to me a few times. It's mostly molecular, of course. Can't gripe too much, there was a run of great April days & not so many showers.
Saddened that Sen. Kennedy is so gravely ill. When I was unsure about voting for Obama in the Jersey primary, Kennedy's endorsement counted for something, just as he intended. I was looking forward to Ted introducing Barack at the convention - certainly, he's getting an invite. If we're on the eve of an historic Democratic victory, no one deserves more to enjoy it than Sen. Kennedy.


Monday, May 19, 2008

Jan and Sheridan get hitched

Jan, my distant cousin from England, vacationed in Florida last week with Sheridan, her companion of 22 years. They got married at Sarasota County Courthouse. I assume the contract is binding in Great Britain. These impulsive, romantic lovers! They kept the plan secret even from their kids, who were with them. From the Sarasota website
Obtaining a Florida marriage license has never been this easy, just read the following and you will be on your way.

The Sarasota County Clerk of the Circuit Court does not accept credit cards or personal checks. Identification with a photograph (i.e. driver's license or passport) and your Social Security card is required, as well as the date any previous marriages ended.
They celebrated with Tommy Bahama's Coconut Shrimp, described 0n the menu as "crispy coconut encrusted jumbo shrimp served with papaya-mango chutney and Asian slaw." The Crab Calloway sounds great, too. Jan didn't report on what or how much they drank. Hopefully, many appropriately tropical cocktail toasts; Sheridan is reputedly excellent at delivering them. I'm delighted for the happy couple. The bride was beautiful. The only disappointment is that the groom didn't wear a coral guayabera for the occasion.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Mets 11, Yankees 2

So much fun seeing the Mets drive over to Yankee Stadium this weekend & deliver two whuppings. They've been a .500 team for nearly a year, & on Thursday they took themselves out of a game with bone-headed baserunning worthy of their sloppy kids 2005 season. I'm still not convinced the awesomely talented Jose Reyes isn't a head case, & they really need Pedro Martinez back in the clubhouse. But when they rough up pitchers like Pettitte & Wang, I permit myself a raising of expectations.


Surf City NJ

Won't mom be surprised? She's expecting to phone up a couple of pizzas & relax on a chaise lounge with a cocktail.


Saturday, May 17, 2008

A Big Breezy Day In May

reminding me of the only time I was ever paid for doing a free form show at WFMU, in 1997, in East Orange (unfortunately a pre-archive show). Upsala College had closed for good, so WFMU rented a basement for a week in the church across the street from our studios - no space for this in the house, moved over all the fundraising marathon tee shirts, prizes & premiums - hundreds of large boxes that had been stored in a trailer behind the station, stacks of CDs, records, books, envelopes, cardboard mailers, invoices, endless rolls of pre-printed address stickers, packing tape dispensers, a closely monitored but cranky postage meter - & set up a large, temporary shipping room to get all of this stuff out. Throwing lots of swag at contributors is a WFMU tradition. As an inducement to help, DJs who could work several 8 hour days got an hourly wage & a free lunch. There were four or five of us who took the deal. It was worth the expense, because Station Manager Ken & shipping boss Scott could train us once, & give the one day walk-in volunteers simpler tasks or let us train them.

On Friday, Ken was pushing to finish up, have everything sealed & delivered to the post office by 5, & vacate the church basement. But he'd have to skip his weekly afternoon program, head over to the church, pitch in wherever needed, & especially be there to grease any glitches immediately before they stalled the assembly lines. A quick head count in the kitchen at lunch told me I was the only DJ on the premises who was available & experienced enough to throw together a radio show fast. I was also needing every hour of that paycheck. I'd been out of work, just completed a short computer course, been rehired at Pearl Arts Supply store, but that wouldn't start for another week & I was broke. So when Ken asked me, I said sure, if I stayed on the clock. I probably didn't have to say anything, but in my mind I'd already put those three hours into my gas tank. I wasn't gonna fill-in unless I was certain I could filler-up.

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Friday, May 16, 2008

Music for a Rainy Friday Night

Bobby Hackett was Jackie Gleason's preferred soloist on the series of easy listening snoozefest LPs The Great One produced in the 50's. But Hackett really knew how to play the trumpet. Miles Davis admired his tone & way with a ballad. Hawaii Swings is something less than a classic jazz album, but a lot better than a novelty. Hackett assembled a fine band for the date including Bill Kahakalau on steel guitar, & Billy Bauer or Bucky Pizzarelli on guitar &/or ukulele. Here's three delightful pineapples in Real Audio.
Maui Chimes & Hapa Haole Hula Girl on this link.
Song of the Islands on this link.


All for his personal use

& he was growing it to break a Guinness World Record for 24 hour doob smoking.
A Bradley Beach man who won a reversal of his 50-year prison term for growing marijuana in his apartment was re-sentenced today to a 15-year stint that could have him released in just over a year.

The new sentence ends five years of legal fighting by William Allegro, who claimed the stiff penalty was the result of bad advice from his attorney, who later was disbarred for drug use.

Charged after authorities found 19 pounds of marijuana growing at his garage-apartment during a 1999 fire, Allegro, now 40, was convicted the following year of maintaining a drug production facility and possession with intent to distribute.

Talk about excessive sentences. He's served six years. He'd pull less time for a drive by murder. But he probably would've gotten the death penalty in Texas. It's also a reminder to use only the highest quality extension cords for grow lamps. In a legal world, Allegro might be a decent label for his product, although Andante would be better. & if the product were any good, the main stems, stalks, & roots would go into the compost heap & not be included in the weight. Maybe a good defense lawyer would've raised that point.


Thursday, May 15, 2008

Tradition is June Wedding

This New York Times report gets to this point:
In Thursday’s decision, the [California]Supreme Court ruled that the correct standard of review for plaintiffs claiming discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is “strict scrutiny,” the standard used in race-discrimination cases. Under that standard, the government must demonstrate that it has a compelling interest for the law it is defending and that the distinctions drawn by the law are necessary to protect the interest.

Lawyers for state identified two interests that they said justified reserving the term marriage for heterosexual unions: tradition and the will of the majority. Chief Justice George said neither was sufficient.

The State cannot apply religious standards except as those standards exist in the contexts of secular "tradition" & "will of the majority." Then they are not applied as religious standards. We know that the majority, without legal restraints, oppresses the minority, & that tradition commonly is a rationale for all kinds of nonsense. I might consider domestic partnerships sufficient for the time being if Americans understood equal means equal. We don't. We're too accustomed to separate but equal.

Once the state has permitted domestic partnerships providing the rights of marriage except use of the word "marriage" itself, it has no compelling interest in maintaining a separate definition of the word. Neither does the majority, as the majority would know it it acted rationally rather than from prejudice. Tradition is - tradition is the Seventh Inning Stretch at Yankee Stadium where they make everyone stand up & sing "God Bless America" & you have to stop & sing even if you're a pregnant woman hurrying toward the rest rooms. The tradition used to be "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" & nobody got uptight. Tradition is also a wedding in June. Traditions change. Since the state failed to convince 4 of the 7 justices with tradition & majority will, the court had to bring this to the fore:
“The right to marry,” Chief Justice George wrote, “represents the right of an individual to establish a legally recognized family with a person of one’s choice and, as such, is of fundamental significance both to society and to the individual.”
Now more individuals in California have that right. That's all there is to it, really. Anyone losing sleep over same sex weddings at the Unitarian church deserves to suffer.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Edwards delivers his resume

John Edwards endorses Barack Obama tonight. Elizabeth Edwards does not. He wants a job. Attorney General would be swell. She favors Clinton's health care plan. That makes sense. I favor it, too. Neither the Obama nor the Clinton plan is what we'll eventually get. We'll have some kind of broad reform. But reform is likely to be patchwork, not a deep overhaul of the system. It will have a bit of everything. Extensions of Medicare & Medicaid, private plan subsidies, tax credits, adjustments in reimbursement rates, small business incentives, sliding scale drug copays. Every interest group involved in legislation will have one hand in & one hand out. Clinton's influence in congress will easily match Obama's, & top his in the private sectors. So I don't think Elizabeth Edwards need worry about which plan is placed on the table. They'll both be placed there, & promptly shredded.

John's endorsement isn't nearly as important as he thinks it is. There's two enthusiastic endorsements Barack absolutely needs: Al Gore & Hillary Clinton.


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Robert Rauschenberg

"You begin with the possibilities of the material."
Robert Rauschenberg, Titan of American Art, Is Dead at 82

When I was "coming of age" in the arts, I saw only two kinds of contemporary artists; those who found a way through Rauschenberg, & those trying to avoid or ignore him (This was 15 years after he became famous). I've always felt somewhat estranged from the latter. Rauschenberg was the broad & generous way. He was already in the "history" I encountered as a student of art. Was it right to take such an either/or attitude? Yes, in the sense that Rauschenberg opened up a better perception of beauty. When I found that beauty - it took some effort - I could not reject how it had been shown to me. Some things stayed ugly. Certainly, it was easier for me, driving into "art" from the land of rock & roll, which had different "standards," paying little attention to the borders I was supposedly crossing. Others had a great investment in maintaining & protecting those borders. Rauschenberg was no threat to me. He was only a puzzlement. Rauschenberg is partly responsible for my obsession with boardwalks & parking lot carnivals, & for why I was so comfortable doing free form radio. He affirmed a way of experiencing the world that I believe is natural for human beings, but which various cultural & religious agents & institutions are always telling us is too generous, or not discriminating enough. I don't want to burden Rauschenberg with too much responsibility; artists create out of what is already present in a culture, & as a culture is present in themselves.

I look at this art piece by Rauschenberg. Then I look at the collage of cards & pictures & magnets on the refrigerator door. A metal shelf unit with carousels, ceramic lighthouses, red toy piano, old radio, a dream catcher hanging off one side, topped with dusty decorative camel from India.

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Monday, May 12, 2008

National Poetry Month is over

I didn't follow up on writing some posts for National Poetry Month in April. I did amuse myself with reading Spring And All by William Carlos Williams & doing some cut up games with the poems, which I may post here as a "review.'" Coincidentally, some poetry zines arrived in the mail. I had a poem published in a lovely anthology, but that was earlier. I actually wrote a couple of poems. & I googled a number of poets I know to find out what they're doing. Not much. Except for Joe Weil, who has his first book from a quality academic press scheduled for release in September. Painting the Christmas Trees is coming from Texas A&M University Press; funny this quintessential Jersey poet* is going through a Texas house. But it shows that he's transcended New Jersey, a feat not accomplished as often as one might think given the number of good poets bred in this state who never break the borders. Joe's better than good. He's also teaching a seminar in Ireland this summer, no doubt a dream gig for him.  An overnight success he is not; this guy's slogged through a thousand local readings, many where you pass the hat & it doesn't come back with enough to pay for a stop at Dunkin' Donuts on the way home. I suspect he's finally about to cross over into something very special in a literary career; gaining a readership that comes to the poet rather than the poet having to be the supplicant all the time.

*These come in a variety of shapes & sizes, but relatively few qualify.


Sunday, May 11, 2008

Hello Dolly

I watched a large part of Hello Dolly last night, the movie starring Barbra Streisand & Walter Matthau. My impression generally of Broadway musicals is that most are elaborate drag shows, with women playing the female parts as men dressed as women. Hello Dolly was the gayest musical I ever saw. There isn't a single convincingly heterosexual male role in the production. At the center is a queen of queens, fittingly played by Streisand as the ultimate Barbra Streisand impersonator doing Barbra rather than Carol or Pearl as Dolly Gallagher Levi (with Streisand, it's more Levi Gallagher). Oh. those hats! Matthau plays the grumpy old bachelor (chlldless widower), Horace Vandergelder, twice Dolly's age. We need not even discuss the two shop clerk best buddies, Cornelius Hackl and Barnaby Tucker, more comfortable with each other than they'll ever be with girls ( in the Broadway production, Charles Nelson Reilly played Cornelius). Between feats of acrobatic tray juggling, the astounding dancing waiters of Harmonia Gardens literally pranced about with rumps protruding like nubile women in a fertility ceremony. In the most unpleasant, impossible of endings, the free-spirited, irrepressible Dolly abandons her downtown New York City lifestyle to live happily ever after as the dutiful wife of a boring, unaffectionate bourgeois shopkeeper in provincial Yonkers. Even more unbelievable given Matthau despised Streisand & there isn't a hint of chemistry or growing affection between them. Their relationship is more inexplicable than the cop-out Lerner & Loewe implied for Henry Higgins & Eliza Doolittle at the conclusion of My Fair Lady.

Two decades later, Dolly composer/lyricist Jerry Herman, along with Harvey Fierstein, collaborated on La Cage aux Folles, a remarkable & very funny look at how straight & gay relationships are essentially the same, but disguised it as a drag show, & chose a straight actor, George Hearn, to play Albin, the female impersonator "wife" of a nightclub owner.

At Church

Trinity United Church of Christ is located on Chicago's South Side. During one of the Sunday services, the pastor asked how many in the congregation were unemployed. Half the people raised their hands.

If you attend church regularly, how many in your congregation (other than retirees) would raise their hands?
If Jesus were there in person, sitting in a pew, would he raise his hand?
If you think Jesus wouldn't raise his hand, what was his occupation?
If you named an occupation, is it the same one Jesus would have claimed for himself?
Afterward, at church social hour, would Jesus be chatting with the employed, the unemployed, or everyone about equally?

What did you think of those men Jesus brought along with him to church? Did they look like his posse?
Did you introduce yourself to Jesus, expect he'd come over & introduce himself, or hope you wouldn't have to talk to him at all?
Assuming there were plenty of donuts, did Jesus ask if he could take a couple of donuts for later?
If Jesus asked for a couple of donuts, why did he want them?
Where did Jesus stay on Saturday night?


Hightstown NJ

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Saturday, May 10, 2008


I don't send much snail mail. I pay three monthly bills by check. Occasionally, a birthday card. Last Christmas I sent out a bunch of cards, bought seasonal stamps & just used up the extra. I discovered a nearly full sheet of 34 cent baseball stadium stamps in my assorted greeting cards box, wonderful designs, but I don't collect stamps. So I had 5 cent & 2 cent stamps to to bring those to the first class rate. I still have a few ordinary 41 cent stamps. Now the cost is going up another penny. It didn't occur to me to buy "Forever Stamps" - the ones you can purchase today for 41 cents & use when the rate rises to 42 cents on Monday. If I send 20 cards out at Christmas, I'll pay the extra penny each for a pretty picture. The other day, I saw a terrific die cut folding card in the drugstore I wished I'd sent a friend for her birthday two weeks ago. It was five dollars. But she did alright with a regular card & a folk art postcard tucked inside of that & a Fenway Park (she's a Boston fan) & Tibetan necklace (she makes jewelry) stamps on the envelope. The post office is issuing a Frank Sinatra stamp on Tuesday. My friend Carrie subscribes to an e mail card service offering mesmerizing, nearly 3-D animations of flowers blooming & little birds & butterflies magically emerging from the blossoms & flitting about. She doesn't need stamps & when she does maybe she sneaks the envelopes through the postage meter at work. Sometimes I just search for a scan of an antique card on eBay & stick that in an email, people seem to like them, it's a thoughtful gesture in its way. Now I know how to make postcard reproductions at the Drug Fair photo kiosk. The postcard rate is rising to 27 cents. The 4"x6" photo is 29 cents. An editor asked for some poems last month, send hard copies or put them in Wordpad format attachment & e mail them. Guess which method was easier & free?


Friday, May 09, 2008

Congratulations Graduate

My nephew, Joe, officially picks up his college degree tomorrow. A Bachelor of Science in Sports Management with a Business minor. He completed the program in 3 1/2 years. & he's already got a great job in professional sports. That doesn't surprise me. He's graduating from Liberty University in Lynchburg VA. That does sort of surprise me, or it did at first.

I hardly know my nephew. He's aware of me & has been in contact. I like him. He was raised out of sight in south Jersey. Maybe his parents thought I was a bad influence. But that can't be. For 25 years I've been nothing but beneficial for the Youth of America, indeed, even globally. Well, those few who paid attention. Anyway, when you grow up in the vicinity of Atlantic City you've heard everything & then some & there isn't much remaining that will disturb your sleep. That probably set Joe apart from many of the more agitated students who arrived at Liberty from the provinces with no conception of a city constructed on a fragile sand barrier island in the 19th Century for the purpose of selling sin under the guise of offering fresh ocean air & artesian well water, & which no storm has ever succeeded in ruining. It's my theory.

I still have no idea why Joe chose a fundamentalist Baptist University - albeit one with up-to-date technology, & which will be richly endowed by its alumni in the years ahead - from among all possible protestant schools of a conservative doctrinal bent. He was raised United Methodist. I will grant that Liberty is in a part of the world I've seen & like, has a first rate Division 1 women's basketball program, & lacks a wretched fraternity culture. He loved it there. One should attend a school one loves. I never did. I've never doubted that Joe has his own independent mind. Neither of his parents are from families inclined to apologize for their tastes & opinions. He couldn't know his paternal grandfather & namesake, but I sure did. & if that Joe were alive today, he'd be in Lynchburg for the happy occasion. He liked the scenery down that way, too. & he was crazy about his grandkids.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Keeping the music playing

Bill & Chelsea looked tired & a bit morose, forcing enthusiasm for another round but ready to sing "Auld Lang Syne" & go home. That was the picture I saw from Indiana last night. Put 4 fresh alkaline batteries in Hillary & she'll keep the party going.

No matter how Hillary does her delegate arithmetic, it always adds up the same: Obama doesn't have 2009 or 2025, whichever number she uses, which means he hasn't won yet, which means she hasn't lost. That's one way of looking at it. Her way.

Hillary is running out of money. But there aren't many primaries remaining on the calendar.

How does she shut down a campaign for president that began in 1999 when she decided to run for the senate in order to run for president? She had four months circled on her calendar, March, August, November 2008, January 2009. Four major speeches. When this thing started she thought she could assemble the best campaign team since David Davis master-minded Lincoln's nomination in 1860 all by himself. & Barack Obama - before 2002 her Illinois people would have pointed to him as a go-to guy in Chicago's 13th Legislative District. Hi Barack. Do you need a new community center or something? Funding her campaign would pose no problem when everyone knew she would win. Plenty left over after the primaries. She'd just have to swat a few pesty Democratic governors & senators out of the way. Then take down the next whacko in a Republican Party that had nothing but whackos standing in line behind George W. Take him down the way George beat Gore & Kerry. Of all the Democratic candidates, Hillary is the only one who didn't think she needed to factor a lucky break into her campaign strategy.

Barack became one of the pesty senators. Then Hillary became Barack's pest.


Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The Cat Killer

Here's a local story so horrifying I hesitate to post it. But I know my readers include many animal lovers.
Grand jury indicts man for animal cruelty in 19 cat deaths
Anthony Appolonia answered newspaper advertisements seeking homes for cats.

The cat rescuers who gave 19 felines to Appolonia between October and December thought they were giving the animals, house pets and stray kittens, a loving home.

Instead, the 50-year-old unemployed Aberdeen man tortured and killed the animals while he went on the prowl for more, authorities said today.

A Monmouth County grand jury indicted Appolonia today on 19 counts of animal cruelty, offenses punishable by at least five years in prison per cat, said Monmouth County Prosecutor Luis Valentin.
You can follow the link if your stomach can handle more details. Ledger commenter Joeworker writes, "This can't be his debut at this behavior." How true that must be. As we add "alleged" behavior.

The calculated deceits & sadism of this demented man set him apart. He doesn't even have the sorry rationale of "bloodsport," sending animals to painful deaths in cock fighting rings & dog pits. But animal cruelty is epidemic, mostly individual, invisible & ignored. I'm not even speaking of the mass production food industry. Pets starved, abused, neglected, abandoned. Wherever I've resided, I've had neighbors who should not have had the right to keep pets (or raise children). The easiest & most common way to train a "junkyard dog" for guarding one's backyard is to make it so miserable it wants to rip any living thing to shreds. My friend Gina brings stray cats in from the outside that obviously spent time in other human homes. One of them, Fred, a wonderful, friendly creature with a soul of his own as surely as you & I, reacts to sudden movements as if he expects to be literally kicked around, although he has received only kindness & respect from the lucky day he found shelter with Gina.

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Hoo are you

Indiana nuns lacking ID denied at poll by fellow sister

About 12 Indiana nuns were turned away Tuesday from a polling place by a fellow bride of Christ because they didn't have state or federal identification bearing a photograph.

Sister Julie McGuire said she was forced to turn away her fellow sisters at Saint Mary's Convent in South Bend, across the street from the University of Notre Dame, because they had been told earlier that they would need such an ID to vote.

The nuns, all in their 80s or 90s, didn't get one but came to the precinct anyway.

"One came down this morning, and she was 98, and she said, 'I don't want to go do that,'" Sister McGuire said. Some showed up with outdated passports. None of them drives.

They weren't given provisional ballots because it would be impossible to get them to a motor vehicle branch and back in the 10-day time frame allotted by the law, Sister McGuire said. "You have to remember that some of these ladies don't walk well. They're in wheelchairs or on walkers or electric carts."

Nonetheless, she said, the convent will make a "very concerted effort" to get proper identification for the nuns in time for the general election. "We're going to take from now until November to get them out and get this done. You can't do this like school kids on a bus," she said. "I wish we could."

This is sure to piss off Mr. & Mrs. Contrarian, graduates of Notre Dame & St. Mary's College respectively.

Monday, May 05, 2008

What, me elitist?

Let's go for the easy Quote of the Day:
"Plaintiff will testify at trial that he needed to have a disrobed male present in the room with them" in order for him to become physically aroused, McGreevey lawyer Stephen Haller wrote in recently released court papers. "This tends to prove that plaintiff was at least bisexual, a fact which should have been obvious to defendant prior to the marriage."
The plaintiff is former Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey, involved in a "sordid" divorce trial with Dina Matos McGreevey. But all it tends to prove is what I suspected about McGreevey long before he resigned - that he was one of the most unimaginative politicians in a state filled with dull-minded legislators. Bored married folks resort to elaborate mental fantasies in order to become aroused with their own spouses. Jim couldn't even picture a studmuffin? He shouldn't have married such an attractive, ambitious woman. Street gangstas who know they'd be killed for expressing their true feelings go for "shorties," under-nourished, nonthreatening girls with the bodies of adolescent boys.

On the other side, Dina wants compensation for the First Lady lifestyle she would have enjoyed if her husband had not resigned. This is also peculiar, since Jim's adminstration would have slid into some political scandal ruinous to his career regardless of his sexual orientation. The McGreevey experience in general so freaked out Jersey Democrats that they actually talked about reform for about 15 minutes.

Can't locate a full quote in context for Hillary's Town Hall with George Stephanopoulos. What is this obssession Hillary Clinton has with "elite opinion"? Isn't she the elite of the elite? Politicians can never go wrong, at least over the short haul, appealing to the most base instincts of American voters. The first thing they do is pretend they're not elitist. Would Hillary ever seriously threaten the oil industry? Of course not. Up at her level there's no political parties, there's only those who give money to her campaign now & those who will contribute later. Probably the most difficult appointment to make in America is for a round of golf with Bill Clinton. Bill ain't playing the public links with the 19th hole at some bar down the road where any old duffer can bend his ear while he's bending his elbow.

Politician: Oil companies will pay the 18.4 cent per gallon federal tax this summer.
Oil company accountant: According to my calculations we'll have to add 20 cents to the price of a gallon at the pumps.

We need to be concerned with the quality of the elitists a president chooses to occupy those coveted offices in the White House & Federal buildings. I want reasonably high-minded men & women in them, people with strong ethics & the ability to think beyond next month. I don't want the collection of three-card monte hucksters, hack slogan writers, shills, grifters, compulsive liars, & moral deviants Bush assembled for his adminstration. Those types are never "elitist." They'll come right to your front door & offer you a great deal on repaving your driveway. They'll do it today, right now, in fact.
I'm leaning toward Rob Andrews in the Senate primary. Probably because I've never liked Frank Lautenberg & I know almost nothing about Andrews. Hardly anyone actually likes Lautenberg.

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The singing nightbirds are marvelous.

I don't think they're true mockingbirds, but they have quite a repertoire. I can hear one now somewhere up the block. The other night I heard two while I was walking home, very loud - they're not fun to have right outside the window. They had robin, crow, sea gull, & blue jay in their songbooks, along with the various common sparrow chirps & whistles. In the past, I've heard them do crickets, cicadas, sirens, & what sounded like car alarms & weed whackers. One night, when I lived where I could hang out on the fire escape, I brought my Casio keyboard outside & tried without success to get one to sing a three note phrase. I didn't give the bird much time - I was concerned it might have already woken up some neighbor & I would enrage a sleepless, frustrated person.

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Sunday, May 04, 2008

Fort a teenage unbeliever

Russell King posted a diary at Street Prophets, My Son Won't Be Confirming Today. His son is 14 & cannot accept the existance of God much less affirm the minimal requirements of Christian orthodoxy, which requires - let's face it - believing possible what is clearly impossible. No doubt, this created a difficult social situation for Russell, since confirmations are usually big family & church occasions with gifts & parties afterward. Early confirmation is traditional in many Christian churches. Similar to but not quite the same in meaning as a Jewish Bar Mitzvah. Catholic kids like confirmation if only because they get to choose a new name from a long list of Saints. In many cultures, a ritual, formalized religious passage into adulthood is required. But not in America. Fortunately, there was no pressure in my family or Methodist Church, & I never seriously considered being confirmed into "membership" any more than I thought I was a good candidate for the Boy Scout "God & Country" badge.

I disagree with the practice of early confirmation. I think it's too young an age. It's also an age when a lot of kids go through the process only because it's easier than resisting it. They aren't certain of what they believe, or are passing through phases, & yet are asked to declare that they have no doubts, by adults who won't admit that they have doubts. Kids that age are are rarely ready for the serious literature of spiritual doubt & anxiety, particularly the reasoning literature. So God bless the young man who could neither make the promises nor treat Christian confirmation as a mere traditional formality.

I'm more generous toward infant baptism. It is a reassuring sacrament for adults, always an occasion filled with deep sentiment. The infant is welcomed into the community of Jesus Christ, usually, not always, with the promise that the child will be raised Christian. The exact meaning & purpose of infant baptism vary. But it is not a decision made by the infant. That's a theological & physical impossibility. It's a decision by parents on behalf of the baby & the community. Here's where my variety of protestantism kicks in. Although the child now belongs to the community of Jesus, which is preached as existing both temporally & eternally, no earthly organization has the right or the power to stand between an individual & God by predetermining the timing & conditions of that relationship. The community, or any institutional structure created by the community, doesn't have this right or power even when an individual is completely turned away from God, denying the existance of God, seemingly at the most extreme estrangement. A baptized person remains within the accepting embrace of the community no matter where that person stands in relation to the community. For all that I cannot affirm with certainty, for all that I doubt, I affirm this as gospel truth. The door is never closed because there is no door. The Christian belief is that God is not & can never be estranged from this world or anyone in it. This relationship doesn't depend on how we feel about it. It doesn't exist because a number of people happen to believe in it. The relationship would still exist if nobody believed in it. That's the good news of the Easter message in a hardboiled decorated eggshell. Whether you or I believe it or not.


Pompton Lakes NJ

It's never rainy or hot & humid inside Willowbrook Mall.

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Saturday, May 03, 2008

Something in the air

I've never suffered much from seasonal allergies, or been affected by cats & dogs. Walking into direct sunlight can make me sneeze, & certain cheap perfumes do me in instantly. Today I woke up with a stuffy nostril & an itchy, watery left eye, I was in bed thinking what's this all about? Took awhile before the obvious answer: Something is blooming, some flower or tree, it'll last a few days & if it bothers me too much I'll take a spoonful of nonprescription antihistamine. I feel for people with serious allergies. A former girlfriend was allergic to everything. The most recent time I saw her a few years ago, I knew right away she was having a bad day, her face puffy & pink. I'd seen that condition so many times. Enjoyable moments I took for granted - the smell of mowed lawns, the colors of wildflowers, taking a walk in a park, going into a pet person's home & being introduced to the furry occupants, a social event where women wore expensive fragrances - were important considerations for her for which she had to be prepared .

This is a really profitable area for drug companies. Not content with selling needed prescription medicines to genuine sufferers, they go after boneheads. A current TV ad shows a happy woman sitting at a table decorated with fresh cut flowers, a long-hair cat on her lap. Clearly, she's relaxing at home. If you're seriously allergic to cat hair & fresh cut flowers, it stands to reason the first line of defense is that you shouldn't keep a long hair breed of kitty & deliberately stick your nose in a vase of daisies.

Even worse is the commercial where a guy pulls a small rug out of his dryer & sneezes. Some things make everybody sneeze.The man's body is telling him to take the damned rug outside, stand upwind, give it a shake, put the thing back on the floor, & wipe his nose on his sleeve. But no, this is now an illness. We must turn to the miracle of prescription drugs. How wussy can you get? It's as bad as the commercials for antacids we're supposed to take before we gorge ourselves on hot buffalo wings, nachos & flaming picante salsa, pepperoni pizza, washed down with a gallon of tequila.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Whatcha workin on there Sam?

military bob dosposalCivil War cannonball kills Virginia relic collector

CHESTER, Va. - Like many boys in the South, Sam White got hooked on the Civil War early, digging up rusting bullets and military buttons in the battle-scarred earth of his hometown.

As an adult, he crisscrossed the Virginia countryside in search of wartime relics — weapons, battle flags, even artillery shells buried in the red clay. He sometimes put on diving gear to feel for treasures hidden in the black muck of river bottoms.

But in February, White's hobby cost him his life: A cannonball he was restoring exploded, killing him in his driveway.

More than 140 years after Lee surrendered to Grant, the cannonball was still powerful enough to send a chunk of shrapnel through the front porch of a house a quarter-mile from White's home in this leafy Richmond suburb.
These guys have obsessions. It isn't just the money - although the market for war relics never slumps. Probably 90% of the artifacts we have from the Civil & Revolutionary Wars were found & preserved through private enthusiasts & collectors.

My dad, Joseph S. Rixon, wasn't a relic hunter, but he was a relic collector. Among the items in my house, we had muzzle-loading rifles (my sister learned to target shoot them & became a world champ); a deck cannon from a World War I freighter I can boast of having fired over the Manasquan River ( a blank charge, of course); a World War II artillery shell that was supposedly disarmed; & a can of black powder for the rifles - the loose stuff wasn't explosive but it burned like crazy when we dribbled trails of it around the backyard. Dad's pièce de résistance was a full-sized working replica of a Revolutionary War cannon with a trailer to haui it around. His dream job, which he didn't get until he was in his fifties, was Supervisor of Building & Grounds Maintenance at Washington's Headquarters & Jockey Hollow National Park in Morristown. He would have understood & liked Sam White. I suspect dad might have doubted the wisdom of disarming a complex 9-inch, 75-pound naval cannonball in one's driveway. Having the mind & education of an engineer, he would have asked Mr. White a few very pointed questions about the design & origin of the object, then called for a bomb disposal team. Sad accident. A known civilian casualty of the Civil War, 2008.

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Thursday, May 01, 2008

April 31

May Day. Holocaust Remembrance Day. "Mission Accomplished" Day. Yet, May 1 took me by surprise. I couldn't figure out why until I looked closely at the Weird New Jersey Calendar on the wall & realized it has an April 31. All month long I've been glancing at it without noticing the numbers, & thinking the last day of April is today. There's even a weird event for the date: "Hunterdon County Courthouse employees claim ghost of Bruno Hauptmann is switching the lights on and off, 2006." That must have been some spooky day in Flemington NJ, since it didn't exist anywhere else. Turn the page & there's May 1 on Thursday: "New issue of Weird NJ."


"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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