Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Two teachers

I met & befriended two men who were influential enough to be considered my mentors, Joel Oppenheimer & Lou D'Antonio. They had similarities. Both were geniuses & innovators in their art & craft; Joel as a poet, Lou as a radio personality, & were less well known than they could have been had they chosen to manage their careers differently. Both were natural teachers, & great storytellers with gifts for the American language. Both practiced the dictum of poet William Carlos Williams that "the local is the only universal." As good teachers, both had the patience to suffer fools - up to a point. Neither of them was religious in a conventional sense, although Joel was indisputably Jewish & Lou was raised in an extended Italian-Catholic family that provided his tales with wonderful characters. Yet both were deeply spiritual people in the sense artists find the connectiveness of things. My relationship with them was in the form of an apprenticeship, not a classroom experience. Urbane men, Joel transplaned to New Hampshire in 1980 (died 1988), Lou to Vermont in 1990. For love. Lou just passed over.

I was not like either of these guys. But I was intuitively aware that I needed something of what each of them had. Chutzpah? They helped me break through shyness, & to find the courage to circumvent my stuttering, so I was able to inflate a modest amount of talent & make some public - even competent - uses from it. Did I satisfy them? I doubt it. But given how little they had to work with in me, I made them proud on a few occasions.

Lou, I think, was most pleased when I showed up at his wedding with a good-looking blonde on my arm a few months after I'd been devastated by the end of a long relationship (which occurred in the middle of a WFMU fund-raising marathon, Lou had insightfully grasped the situation, & carried me through my show that week). The lovely woman & I proceeded to drink a lot of champagne & do silly dances & enjoy ourselves immensely. That was a side of me neither he nor a number of other WFMU DJs had ever seen.

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Monday, March 30, 2009

In paradisum deducant angeli

About 600 words in notepad, unsaved file, I was online, the PC freezes, no choice but reboot & start over. I never learn. I was writing about Lou "The Duck" D'Antonio, a friend & mentor at WFMU in the 1980's, who died a few days ago in Vermont of a rare form of cancer. Over 40 years after Vin Scelsa & Lou turned WFMU free form, the station is still imprinted with their personalities. I'll be posting more about Lou soon.

Great film composer Maurice Jarre also died. I can't bring myself to blame him for writing one of the all-time most insidious ear worms, melody of a zillion cheap wind up music boxes, "Lara's Theme" from Doctor Zhivago. That song, along with the theme from Lawrence of Arabia, financed his alimony. Jarre composed the weird score for Max Max Beyond Thunderdome, but not the theme song, "We Don't Need Another Hero."

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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Purdue 67, Rutgers 61

#7 RU (21-13) 33 28 61
#6 PU (25-10) 40 27 67

Ouch. The Rutgers women could have won this game & they know it, but their defense wasn't there for most of the first half, & the seven point lead Purdue took made all the difference in the end.

Well, who thought they were a Sweet Sixteen team six weeks ago? Or two? Their 5th consecutive appearance that round. & if UConn takes the national title, then this was a season not to make a run to the Final Four. The freshmen learned that they succeed or fail on The System, & they know how it feels to play in the Big East & NCAA spotlights, for a famous (if notoriously strict) coach. They've heard the crowds at the RAC. Epiphanny, Rashidat, & Brittany will be seniors next season. Interesting year with a surprise finish - the double overtime loss to Louisville & thumping Auburn. I'll miss Heather & Kia, but they had college careers few athletes experience: A Big East title, four outstanding NCAA tournaments, & a magical run to a championship game in '07 against Tennessee (followed by the Imus affair, which was handled so well that it was a positive for the program). Rutgers was the only Jersey Div. 1 basketball team in postseason play this year.

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Little Egg Harbor NJ

The "Mystic Isles" section of the "Mystic Islands" development, 1960's.

I have a number of postcard images of these kinds of places. As as a kid, I sensed that there was something very wrong about them. Not that I would have objected to living on landfill next to a dredged canal. But it was clearly different than building on dry land & sandy barrier beaches. I thought of the South Jersey bay marshes as wild & pristine, accessible only by shallow draft boats or brave people wearing hip boots. I was unaware that these enormous, flat, tidal expanses had been farmed for salt hay since colonial times, & were still harvested along Delaware Bay. I only explored the edges, collecting cattails & poison ivy rashes. When they were built, anyone objecting to the massive, permanent destruction of wetlands was considered a kook. This was progress, inevitable & unstoppable. The environmental movement & changes in laws slowed but failed to halt the ravages. Once these marshes were established as "land," they remained real estate. So the small prefab vacation houses constructed on sand have been razed & replaced with large houses built on pilings. Although some of the lagoons are silted up & barely navigable. Bay culture has gone to museums, & the environment degraded beyond reclamation, at least until global warming raises the sea level enough to flood the developments with every nor'easter & monthly moon tide.

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Friday, March 27, 2009

The Act of Settlement

It's about time they changed the laws that kept a royal daughter from marrying a bastard son of an Archbishop of Dublin. Great Britain may someday have a female Catholic monarch ruling a mostly secularized populace with her Muslim subjects bound by Sharia.
A throne for a Papist Queen?

LONDON (Reuters) Britain may end centuries of discrimination by reforming 300-year-old laws that ban the monarch from marrying a Catholic and give male heirs prior claim to the throne, the government said Friday.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has held talks with Queen Elizabeth, who had no brothers, on changing the 1701 law on succession that was drawn up at a time of widespread hostility to Roman Catholics.

The Act of Settlement
bars members of the royal family from becoming king or queen if they are Catholic or marry a Catholic. It also gives male heirs precedence in the line of succession.
The law was passed to ensure that all future monarchs would be Protestants, after the Glorious Revolution of 1688 when the Roman Catholic King James II was deposed and his Protestant daughter Mary and her Dutch husband, William of Orange, were invited to replace him.

Opposition to Catholics in Britain had its roots in Henry VIII's split from Rome in the 16th century, suspicion of the Pope and Catholic France and Spain, and a 1605 plot by Catholic gentry to blow up parliament in London.

Under the statute, male heirs to the throne automatically take precedence over women, monarchs must be Protestants and marriage to a Catholic bars royal heirs from taking the throne.
Prime Minister: Your Majesty, we are considering important changes in the Act of Settlement regarding females & Roman Catholics.
Her Royal Majesty: Oh? Have I a papist great-granddaughter now? They try to keep things from me, you know.
PM: No, Your Majesty.
HRM: Very nice. Is that all?
PM: That is all, Your Majesty.
HRM: Thank you for coming. Good afternoon, Mr. Brown. Please allow my dogs to enter as you leave.

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Danny Wayland Seals

"England Dan,"1948-2009

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Everything I like is cool

A few times each week I stop by my facebook page. Between visits, whole days of friend postings have scrolled off the page. I have 72 friends. I ditched one yesterday, nothing personal, but he was posting literally dozens of daily entries for his 350 other friends & I figured he wouldn't miss me. Didn't notice the "hide this friend" button until afterward, so I'll add him on again. I'm at the point where the list of suggestions for new friends rarely uncovers someone I've overlooked. I searched the maiden name of an old girlfriend & discovered her married name - probably have it in my box of old letters in the closet but I was never curious enough to dig around & find it. I was hoping her friends list would include some musicians & artists I knew in the 90's; no luck there. Glad to know she's still an artist & still making goofy faces in photos.

Meanwhile, a friend at My Space, which I rarely visit anymore, was complaining in her My space blog that nobody was reading & commenting on her blog. I wrote her & said that nobody follows My Space blogs except on band pages; if she wanted to be a blogger she ought to switch to Blogspot & write more often than twice-a-month, but even blogs with regular postings & a core of readers didn't necessarily generate comments. I suggested that she join Facebook. Facebook has toys. You can post Twitter length comments without twittering. & everything you post spends a few hours on the home pages of everyone on your friends list. The more friends they have, the less time your posts are visible on their pages. I play with some of the applications. I found out that Patti Smith is punk rock star I most resemble. The other day I used an application to choose five albums that shaped my life, from the available database. I wasn't gonna put a lot of thought into it. I quickly chose:
This is the kind of list hipsters use to advertise their coolness. But I can't be too revisionist in the matter; my cultural code is that one should openly embrace what one likes. Nearly my entire music collection past & present could be extrapolated from those five albums. To be fairly complete, it needs only two more: a Greatest Hits of the Four Seasons including "Candy Girl" & "Marlena," & Balinese Gamelan "Music of the Morning of the World," a 1967 Nonesuch LP that opened up a musical world & was, at the time, the most exotic music I'd ever heard outside of movies. Life shaping hit singles is another list. The top of that list has long been the same song: "Little Darling," first by The Diamonds, then by The Gladiolas when I heard the original.

There's another Facebook fun list, "Albums I like that I shouldn't." Wrong attitude. Right attitude: Everything I like is cool.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

I almost feel sorry for curmudgeonly conservative columnist Paul Mulshine. His employer, The Star-Ledger, is on a slow slide toward extinction. His old school journalist coworkers from the opinion pages accepted buyouts. He's been forced to become the very thing he hates - a blogger. The most vociferous critics of his blog aren't the liberals he's been pissing on for decades, but rather the hordes of anonymous morons raised up & empowered by the right wing media begat during the presidency of Ronald Reagan; angry white men attracted to Limbaugh, O'Reilly, Malkin, & Coulter like gnats to doggy doo. Limbaugh moved into the empty shell formerly inhabited by Top 40 AM radio. His style is that of an obnoxious, bigoted jock unencumbered by music or the old FCC Fairness Doctrine.

Paul is acceptable to that bitter demographic as long as he's attacking Socialist Democrats , urban schools, affordable housing, & the EPA. But when he turns his attention to neoconservative foreign policy & Republican Big Stupid Guvmint, he becomes their target. Then he has to explain to them why he is a "real conservative" & his blathering critics are not. They are, he says, followers of Trotskyites.

I say they're Republicans. It's too nifty a trick to blame Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld on Think Tank ex-Commies (though there's some truth in it), thereby turning 99% of the American electorate into dupes of the Left.

Paul issues dire warnings about the collapse of print reporting. (I wonder how much of Associated Press profits are derived from internet deals like the one with Yahoo?) Paul himself is a columnist, not a reporter. The Ledger pays him a salary & gas allowance, gives hm a desk, computer, & a phone. Paul finds topics, does some research, talks to a few people - ancient screwball Phyllis Schlafly is a favorite source, maybe he drives someplace for a looksee, confirming whatever opinion he already held when he chose the topic. I'm not aware of a single column where he confesses that his investigation has resulted in a change of mind. Paul has always been a blogger type.

Paul & I do share some views. We both think Max Weinberg isn't a very good drummer. We also agree on what ought to be conservatism, but not on what was conservatism. While Paul's beloved Ronald Reagan talked a good game, the guys who brought us Bush II were running the plays from the White House basement. Reagan was the proto-Bush.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Two Books

Doris Kearns Goodwin, Team of Rivals:The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (2005)

If you've read a first rate Civil war history & a bio of Lincoln, this is a very entertaining book that fills in a lot of blank spaces. Though at 800 pages it's a bit unwieldy for bedtime fare in the hardcover edition.

The topic is Lincoln & his cabinet, which included three opponents for the 1860 nomination, a wealthy Democratic lawyer who'd dissed Lincoln a few years earlier & had served in Buchanan's cabinet, an influential Connecticut newspaperman, & an ambitious son of a powerful political patriarch. Seward, Chase, Bates, Stanton, Welles, Blair. They all come out looking pretty good, except Secretary of the Treasury Salmon Chase.

I want to like Chase. He overcame a difficult childhood, had few advantages other than education, was the most committed abolitionist in the cabinet. He buried three wives, at which point he gave up on marriage. He also was an excellent Treasury Secretary. But the man was incapable of seeing an even halfway true reflection of himself, let his ambitions cloud his judgment, could not admit mistakes, believed he was telling the truth when he lied, had no sense of humor, & was the only one of the "rivals" whose character was not changed for the better through close proximity to Abraham Lincoln. Chase believed America should have made him president just because he was Chase. Yet, because his devoted, pretty, & superbly educated daughter was the belle hostess of Washington society, Chase's dinner table & social events were the most sought after invitations in town. ( She made a bad marriage with a rich, alcoholic, abusive Rhode Island industrialist & politician, divorced, & died in poverty .) Chase never understood why Lincoln & Sec. of State William Seward became pals (they were actually birds of a feather), or why seeming opposites Lincoln & War Secretary Edwin Stanton bonded (they were of one mind on preserving the Union, Stanton gave Lincoln competence & loyalty, & Lincoln in turn gave him a long leash to run his important dept as he saw fit, & they shared a tendency to morbid sentiment.)

Goodwin is a popular writer. She wisely put all her notes at the end where they can be conveniently ignored. & she leaves you wanting to learn more about all her characters, because they are characters such as rarely rise to similar positions of power now.
Peter S. Wells, Barbarians to Angels: The Dark Ages Reconsidered (2008)

The premise is legit: Our view of the so-called Dark Ages (A.D. 400-800) was determined by historians looking at the period from the perspective of Rome, especially Edward Gibbon. The Glory of Rome overrun by hordes of migrating, ignorant, smelly barbarians. Wells proposes that it wasn't so bleak, or dark; the Empire fell apart so slowly as to not even be noticed by people living then; life went on & in fact improved for many as the Roman military withdrew; there's little evidence of mass migrations & sudden dislocation throughout most of western Europe & Scandinavia. There's plenty of evidence for stable, prosperous trading & manufacturing centers & farm villages, & the emergence of a Charlemagne had been building for a long time.

This is all quite educational, but Wells, a professor of anthropology, doesn't make the Dark Ages particularly interesting. You get facts, research, museum displays, & probabilities, but little sense of how people lived, their dailyness. He shines a light on the stage, but it's mostly tableau. No one is moving around on it. 200 pages.


Anti-Catholic Alert

From Newt Gingrinch:
# It is sad to see notre dame invite president obama to give the commencement address Since his policies are so anti catholic values
about 10 hours ago from TwitterBerry
Newt's third wife, Callista Bisek*, is a Catholic, & he's converting from Southern Baptist to make the marriage spiritually copacetic.

Nobody is more Catholic than a convert.

*The woman Newt had an affair with before he divorced the one he married after he ditched the one with cancer. Anyone care to explain the applicable Canon Law?

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Monday, March 23, 2009

Even if Alaska's Mount Redoubt doesn't completely blow its top, we're probably seeing Bobby Jindal's presidential ambitions go up in smoke. 50,000 feet up. Bobby is the Louisiana governor who criticized earmarks for volcano monitoring. Ain't no volcanos in Louisiana. A succinct summary of conservative provincial values. Democrats don't have to dwell on this; Sarah Palin will rub Bobby's face in volcanic ash come 2012. She can see the volcano from her window. Well, almost.
Rutgers 80, Auburn 52

I thought Rutgers would need two impressive wins to reach the Sweet 16. Required only one (the VCU game was sloppy). 27 points for Prince. Four in double figures. Held Auburn to 28% FG. Did it with little support from bench. No second half fade. Home court alone can't account for this. I'm impressed. Keep playing like this, they can beat any remaining team in the bracket.
Nazi Existentialist Philosopher Confusing Quote of the Day

"For the temporality of resoluteness has, with relation to its Present, the character of a moment-of-vision. When such a moment makes the Situation authentically present, this making-present does not itself take the lead, but is held in that future which is in the process of having-been."

Martin Heidegger

Sunday, March 22, 2009


Ball State 71, Tennessee 55.

A 12 seed upsetting a 5 seed isn't that unusual, but in 28 years of the women's NCAA tournament, Tennessee had never lost a first (or second) round game, & won those games by an average of over 20 points. & the Vols, though having an off year, were still loaded with high school All-American freshmen & coached by Pat Summit & her sideline brain trust, & they are the defending champions. So here come Ball State, a mid-major playing in their first tournament, with a first year coach who hadn't even recruited the players. It didn't take long for Ball State to realize they could run with the Vols, who played like an inexperienced team. When the Vols' best player went out with a knee injury before halftime, Ball State knew they could win. They came out in the second half & kept playing a patient game, establishing themselves as the superior team, hitting beautiful three pointers & forcing turnovers. At last, even Summit knew it was hopeless, stopped yelling & sat down. It was a marvelous game to watch. The heavily partisan Vols crowd was stunned. They're like Yankees fans.

14 seed Liberty U never had a chance against Louisville. Four years ago, Liberty recruited tall triplets Megan, Molly, & Moriah Frazee. Only Megan played tonight. Liberty dominates Big South, but is handicapped at taking the program to the next level when only born again girls would want to play there, & the best ones would get equally strict, Baptist discipline from C. Vivian Stringer at sinfully secular Rutgers.

How come CBS, with TV rights to all the men's games, doesn't get the NCAA to stagger the start times farther apart? Basketball is a game of flow & momentum, which why double digit leads are quickly erased. It was insane when CBS tried to cover the finishes of three games at once this afternoon. The game to stick with was 9 seed Siena versus overall 1 seed Louisville. Louisville had pulled slightly ahead in the final minutes but is a poor free throw team, so Siena's end game strategy could pay off in a win or tie. CBS kept switching games so fast that the announcers didn't know when they were on the national broadcast, & as a viewer, I could hardly keep track of what I was watching.


Kenilworth NJ

Upsala College dorm, 1923

Upsala College went defunct in 1995.
The biggest mistake Upsala made might have been relocating the college in 1924 from then farmland & wooded Kenilworth to suburban East Orange. Kenilworth was ideal for a growing, young college. It had cheap land & a small downtown that even now one could imagine as a college town. Kenilworth was a community with a guaranteed future. Although Upsala rooted well in East Orange, it never had a really attractive campus, despite the several fine, old houses it had purchased. The school was always hedged in by residential streets & apartment buildings. The neighborhood experienced a drastic, baffling "white flight" in the Seventies & the school gradually lowered its admission standards to keep enrollment up. Among the ill-conceived plans tossed around to rescue the college, wasting time & money that would have been better invested  in reviving the school's  once-prestigious theater & dance  programs & promoting its proximity to NYC,   one involved  transplanting Upsala to Sussex County, to a site probably like the one it had vacated in Kenilworth.

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Saturday, March 21, 2009

I know what I'll be listening to over the next few weeks. I was delighted to receive two large box sets from ESP-Disc: Billy Holiday, Rare Live Recordings 1934-1959, & Charlie Parker, Bird In Time 1940-1947, Selected Recordings and Rare Interviews, both produced by Michael Anderson. These are completist kinds of recordings, with widely varying sound & performance quality; airchecks, rehearsals, amateur tapes. Mike's informative notes assume the listener's familiarity with Billy & Bird. This stuff is treasure for me. Mike is a walking music encyclopedia, he loves so many different kinds of music that in person he connects with you no matter what tastes or level of knowledge you have.

When Mike's show followed mine at WFMU (as "The Good Doctor" at 2 am), I challenged myself each week to segue into his program with music that would get me a smile & a compliment. One night, I was closing with Pharoah Sanders' ethereal version of "Moonlight In Vermont," more a meditation on the moon than Vermont & romance, it was gonna run over, Mike said, "Don't fade that out, I'll wait."

Friday, March 20, 2009


The president's staff made a calculated pick of a date for a presidential appearance on a late night talk show. NCAA basketball on CBS had Letterman locked into a repeat, so there was no favoritism or ratings bomb; it's probable some promise was made for a future appearance by the president or the First Lady. Letterman, after all, provided the Obama campaign with one of its best weeks when McCain abruptly canceled an appearance to rush to Washington & save the economy but was caught live on the CBS news raw feed taping a segment with Katie Couric in New York at the same time he would've been in the Late Show guest chair. Letterman is also a sharper interviewer than backslapping Jay, pleading ignorance with politicians before zinging some pointed question his researchers prepared for him.

As for Obama's "Special Olympics" slip with regard to his bowling score, the cranks complaining the loudest also oppose stem cell research.

We Americans have small patience for details unless they involve gadgets, recipes. & celebrity scandals (see 9/11=Iraq+WMD). So while it's good that we're raging at A.I.G. bonuses & capitalist exploiters, we still don't get it; the facts of the astounding greed & legal scams have been available to us for many years. The indignation of America's only native criminal class - congress - is laughable. They've always known the details, from long before Wall Street was ripping off the Federal Guvmint directly & merely playing three card monte on the American people with the consent of both political parties. It's sickening to hear Pelosi's evasions (disgraceful recent interview with Charlie Rose) & Republiban lies (every day). The moment a politician prefaces a statement with the adverb "Frankly," you know you're about to hear bullshit.

I don't think Americans expect the President to lose his cool. Outrage isn't his personality. We do expect him to get control of his economic team & make it clear to them that they aren't working for Wall Street anymore; they're working for him & us. Because they aren't feeling the anger. & pretty soon, the American people will decide he isn't feeling it, either. We don't care about the damned White House garden.

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Six years later

Our nation enters this conflict reluctantly, yet our purpose is sure. The people of the United States and our friends and allies will not live at the mercy of an outlaw regime that threatens the peace with weapons of mass murder.

We will meet that threat now with our Army, Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard and Marines, so that we do not have to meet it later with armies of firefighters and police and doctors on the streets of our cities.

Now that conflict has come, the only way to limit its duration is to apply decisive force. And I assure you, this will not be a campaign of half measures and we will accept no outcome but victory.

My fellow citizens, the dangers to our country and the world will be overcome. We will pass through this time of peril and carry on the work of peace.
George W. Bush, March 19, 2003
& war is what we got.
The Battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began on September the 11th, 2001, and still goes on.
In these 19 months that changed the world, our actions have been focused, and deliberate, and proportionate to the offense. We have not forgotten the victims of September the 11th — the last phone calls, the cold murder of children, the searches in the rubble. With those attacks, the terrorists and their supporters declared war on the United States. And war is what they got.

George W. Bush, May 1. 2003

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Mad Marchness

Let's get the predictions over with & watch some basketball. I'm not doing brackets this year. Much as I'm tempted to fill them out just for fun, I can't do it without being compelled to look up all the damned team records & stats, & with no office pool....

We can pray for an all Big East Final Four. Although I don't care for UConn or Louisville, druther Pitt, Syracuse, or Villanova, I'll settle for any as National Champs. But I'm not convinced this is a Big East year. Could be an ACC year. I'll say it is: North Carolina, Duke, Wake Forest, plus Memphis. NC wins it.

UConn, of course.

I've read that they're vulnerable because they destroy opponents by an average of 31 points & never had to win a close game. Yeah, right. It's isn't as if they've been playing Patriot League teams all season. So who came closest to scaring the Huskies? Rutgers & Notre Dame.

Rutgers: Their 7 seed is for strength of schedule & a Hall of Fame coach. But my girls beat only one ranked opponent in ten chances, that was their best game, they haven't strung together two consecutive impressive victories all season, no reason to think they will in the Tournament, even at home. If they beat Virginia Commonwealth at the RAC, they'll meet Auburn. If they get past Auburn, all bets are off.

Cinderella: You'll love 12 seed Marist Red Foxes, the small, formerly Catholic college from upstate NY, coached by a guy who came over from the local high school. 29-3, ought to be 31-1, with the early loss to Oklahoma. Best, unlikely scenario: They upset Virginia & Cal, meet UConn in Sweet 16, making Huskies sweat for half-a-game. Talented team, but coming from Metro conference, almost impossible to know how good they are at this point. Virginia's great coach, Debbie Ryan, has won 698 games, all at that school.

Liberty University: I try to keep up with my nephew's Baptist alma mater. 14 seed Lady Flames got senioritis in regular season finale, otherwise would've run the table in Big South. Last chance for the amazin' Frazee sisters, Megan & Moriah (what happened to Molly?) against 3 seed Louisville. Problem is, Big South is really small, & the Big East is really big. But the Cardinals may not have recovered psychologically from last week's humiliating whupping by UConn, & there could lie an opportunity for The Flames, who never go to the Tournament with "Jus' happy to be here" attitude.

Dangerous: 5 seed Tennessee, if the freshmen decide they don't want to wait until next year.

Except for UConn, it could be an anything goes tournament. But at the end, UConn struggles with feisty Maryland, then wins easily over 2 seed Stanford.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Mortality Radio

WCBS-AM, an all-news station in New York City. A full 35 minute cycle from top of the hour is national headlines, traffic, weather, sports, traffic, weather, business, traffic, weather, local headlines. All the commercials , commentary, other news are squeezed between those rigidly scheduled segments. Charles Grodin gets paid for reciting an opinion no longer than a Twitter in a "wish I wuz dead" tone of voice. Dr. Joyce Brothers sounds as ancient as she is. Now you also get thematic-related oldies song clips before certain news stories; I think, there's another annoying duty for some staff engineer.

It has to be unsettling when you're stuck in a traffic jam & the 60 second health report tells you you're three times more likely to have a heart attack after being stuck in a traffic jam.

Then there's the commercials. In only 1/2 hour you're likely to hear about cancer treatment, heart surgery, joint replacement, prostate vitamins, assisted living for rich people, hospice care, a Jewish funeral home. Around St. Patrick's Day you get tours to Ireland - visit dead ancestors! Other commercials lean toward luxury cars; Lexus,Mercedes. BMW offers a Jacuzzi & full body massage while you're waiting for an oil change. Rub in it in on folks driving old Toyotas. But wait, all suits on sale ninety-nine dollars! Your life is a cheap suit.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Am I Irish?

Presumably, my paternal grandmother, Nana, grew up around a great deal of Irishness in Philadelphia early in the 20th Century. Irish lived with Irish in cities back then. But she & the two aunts I knew, Bella & Mary, ditched the overt ethnicity when they married, keeping only a Catholicism in which they preferred the Sacraments be dispensed by priests of Irish extraction. The American branch of the Church in my childhood was still ruled by Irish-Americans at the higher levels of hierarchy, & most parishes tilted to one ethnic group or another. My grandmother's parish was St. Joseph the Carpenter in Roselle rather than Church of the Assumption in Roselle Park, the latter organized & built by the town's large Italian-American community. I dated three girls from St. Joe's, two of them from the church's now defunct Girl's Catholic High.

I've never felt seriously deprived by not being raised Catholic or with an Irish-American identity. In fact, there was little of the latter among the Irish-Americans I knew, & I knew plenty. No one took classes in Irish dancing or language. I suspect most Irish-Americans moved to Roselle Park to escape ethnicity. They kept some of the superstitions, & too much of their oppressive Jansenist form of Catholicism, so unappealing compared to the Italian variety, which was balanced by festive, Mediterranean traditions. Italians knew how & when to party, & they had better cuisine & music. My grandmother certainly had a bit of lace curtain affectation, a tendency to look down at poorer urban Irish-Americans. Sadly, I know so little about Nana's upbringing in Philly that I have no idea how she was raised, except that she had excellent cursive penmanship - a sure sign she didn't like being whacked on the knuckles by shrouded nuns.

Of four siblings, I'm the only one who showed much curiosity about Catholicism, & so became the only one singled out for attempts at conversion. That we weren't raised Catholic was no doubt a great heartbreak of my father's side of the family, & the blame for this was placed squarely on my dad, not on my protestant mom. But dad's antipathy to Catholicism was justified by years of strict Catholic education, including an exhausting & tedious commute to the militaristic Jesuit Xavier High in New York, & by his own father's nominal attention to religion. Dad's story was that his dad once dropped him off for Mass, begging off attendance that morning with the excuse of not feeling well, & was returning home. Dad wasn't feeling so hot himself (he'd say with a smirk), so he skipped Mass & walked to a local restaurant, where he found his father enjoying breakfast. So dad traded his religion for bacon & eggs & the Sunday papers, not once expressing the slightest regret or guilt over the decision. He was not "lapsed."

My interest in Catholicism - only an early indication of an attraction to cultural exotica & perplexing theologies - was noticed by Nana & apparently signaled across the matriarchal web. As a young adolescent, a nun-Aunt I'd never met sent me a book on why I should be a Catholic; actually just the Baltimore Catechism with a different cover & special introduction for non-Catholics. I still have it. But the book explained everything I didn't like about Catholicism: Here's the question, & here's the answer you have to give. It was the same dreary instruction book all my Catholic friends had had to memorize while I was being instructed by kindly Methodist women who taught the Bible from a sort of story-teller's oral tradition with the aid of coloring books & lots of singing. The paradoxical hubris of Northern Methodism was that it believed not acting superior to other varieties of Christians made Methodism the superior denomination. Unless WASP is ethnicity, the Methodist Church had no ethnic culture. It had produced some powerful hymns, & some blandly quaint celebrations like springtime Strawberry Festivals, & some congregations leaned toward Episcopalian practices - what we called "high church" Methodists. So I was intrigued by religions with strict belief systems, ethnic identities, & great art. Quite early on I arrived at two conclusions & one question:
How Irish can I be when my introductions to the culture were Going My Way & Darby O'Gill and the Little People?

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Monday, March 16, 2009

two sad events

Two sad events over the weekend.

Citizen Kafka (Richard Shulberg) died following a long battle with MS. A legendary figure around New York in music & alternative radio. In the late 90's, "Sid" brought his great radio show, Secret Museum of the Air, to WFMU from WBAI for about 5 years, co-produced with Pat Conte. They found an astonishing variety of music on old 78s. The guy was constantly in motion, an ebullient personality. I don't think I had conversation with him lasting longer than five minutes, he was always headed into the production studio or on his way out the door to a gig with his wacky bluegrass band. It's impossible to imagine him anywhere but New York City.
Tragic car accident, seven teenagers from Roselle Park High School, crammed into Mazda. The car flipped over on Route 35 in Toms River Saturday evening, injuring six & killing the captain of the wrestling team. I grew up in Roselle Park, I have some idea how ripped up the town must be. A similar tragedy occurred while I was in high school.

I read judgmental comments online about no seat belts, overcrowded car, probationary licenses. Yet, the first thought I had was that a bunch of friends from RP, driving around the Jersey shore, was what I would expect of teenagers from the town. Poor judgment, yes. But they weren't gangbangers looking for a drive by target. In my era, over 40 years ago, before seat belt laws & special licenses, we did that all the time. If someone had a car on Saturday night, you gathered up friends & drove somewhere; to the shore, to a diner, to visit somebody's cousin. If you went to a boardwalk, chances were very good you'd meet another bunch of kids from Roselle Park doing the same thing. Maybe that hasn't changed much. What also hasn't changed is that RP is a small town, 1 sq mile. You graduate with classmates you've seen every school day since kindergarten. They don't live 15 miles away but literally up the street & around the corner. This kind of thing doesn't touch the community in an abstract or distant way. It's like dropping a bomb on the town's heart.

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Morgan NJ

Cady's is long gone, but everyone familiar with the Jersey Coast train line or Rt. 35 south of the Raritan River knows this place, Morgan (Cheesequake) Creek. Because I so rarely drove this stretch back from Sandy Hook - Garden State Parkway crosses a marsh 1/2 mile west - it was just a brief, scenic view of Raritan Bay, until one afternoon when I was stuck in a traffic jam at the drawbridge & impulsively pulled into a parking lot & walked around. There's a marina, but it must have been a lively little fishing village, later a tourist stop, until the construction of the Parkway diverted shorebound traffic. Much of the bayshore area had a strange quality of backwater isolation until about twenty years ago, which was the largest part of its charm.

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Saturday, March 14, 2009

There must be a milk glut. Yesterday I bought 1/2 gallon for$2.29; for $5 I could've bought two gallons. So how come yogurt isn't cheaper? & why aren't there deep cuts on peanut butter? PB wasn't tainted with salmonella, but clearly it isn't selling like it usually does, the shelves are crammed.


NEW YORK – Three people were arrested and six others hurt Saturday after bedlam broke out while they waited to audition for "America's Next Top Model," police said.

Police didn't know what prompted the chaos involving hundreds of people outside the Park Central New York hotel in Manhattan. The panic left the street outside the hotel littered with shoes and clothing, according to news reports.

Three people were arrested on disorderly conduct charges, police said. Authorities also shut down the audition, saying it wasn't properly organized.

Tyra Banks has said she created the show to counter stereotypes about beauty, and Saturday's auditions were open only to women no taller than 5-foot-7, which is shorter than the industry's conventions.
What a mess the ladies left.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Are we surrounded yet?

A summary of the recently released American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS). Americans are becoming less religious. Christians & other kinds of "believers" are declining as a percentage of the population even as certain kinds of believers grow in number.

Gary Laderman at Religion Dispatches suggests another way of looking at religion:
What if there were more to religious life in America than belief in God? More holy possibilities than those outlined in the so-called “Great Religions of the Book”—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—or other sacred texts like the Upanishads in Hinduism or the Tibetan Book of the Dead in Buddhism?

What if religion is better understood as a ubiquitous feature of cultural life, expressed through and inspired by basic, universal facts of life and fundamentally biological phenomena in human experience: suffering and ecstasy, reproduction and aging, family and conflict, health and death.

To get here, the question must change, from “Do you believe in God?” or “What is your religious affiliation?” to something like, “What is most sacred in your life?”
Today is We Surround Them day, an invention of right wing media creep Glen Beck, & endorsed by camp icon Chuck Norris. Look at the first four of twelve "principles" Glenn lists:
1. America is good
2. I believe in God and He is the Center of my Life
3. I must always try to be a more honest person than I was yesterday.
4. The family is sacred. My spouse and I are the ultimate authority, not the government.
Note the order. This is Beck's 's hierarchy of the sacred. No surprises there. Nations invent the forms of religion that award sacred primacy to the nation. #3 seems to have wandered in from the Boy Scouts. #4 is quite strange. If government is not the ultimate authority, why is America #1 (it exists,. strictly speaking, as a political institution), & what authority does God have? & what happens when "spouse & I" cannot reach a consensus? Who is the ultimate authority then?

The whole We Surround Them thing is stinking shit anyway. What frightens these people so much that they are more threatened now than under the inept, corrupt, deceitful Cheney/Bush adminstration? Despite our economic woes & two wars, a large majority of Americans feel better about the nation, the government, & our prospects. What American does not believe that our ideals are basically good? Since when is religious belief a requirement for good citizenship? To claim parental authority is "ultimate" (ultimate is a strong word) is a rationale for the abuse of children.

Grr. I began this post intending to write about the sacred & the profane being two sides of the same coin, & how the arts - even religious-themed art - show us this.

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

The last newspaper

My older brother Jim had an afternoon paper route. He delivered 80 or more newspapers, six days, earned less than the morning routes but didn't have to collect or get up at 5 am. His territory was the west end of town. There were a lot of territories. Every delivery day he rode his bike with the enormous handlebar basket to the distributor's garage, folded his papers with the other paper boys , stuffed them in the basket, & pedaled his route. Occasionally, he let me ride along & help - maybe I saved him ten minutes if that; in exchange he'd take me to the 5 & 10 & buy me a 45 record. He'd also buy one for himself. Every town had paperboys riding bikes morning & afternoon, & a few older people delivering by car.

My dad subscribed to two papers, Newark Evening News & Elizabeth Daily Journal, both long defunct. All the other major papers (except NY Daily News) were at the public library up the corner, I passed it every day as I walked to & from school. Because newspapers were so popular, newspaper collection drives were major fund-raising events. All papers were saved, bundled & tied (a tedious chore), & stacked out of the way in anticipation of the Boys Scouts drive. The drive was a big volunteer day, widely promoted & tightly organized. Dads with station wagons or, better yet, pickup trucks, were sought after. A trailer was rented & parked at the central collection point. Bundled papers were put on the curb. The elderly received special "in house" service.

Newspapers were in decline long before the internet. 35 years ago, careers in newspaper work, in the newsroom, offices, & plants, were considered iffy, very much a gamble, because the industry was shrinking overall, & technology was eliminating many of the skilled, union positions. The use of stringers was increasing; part-time pieceworkers covering local government meetings & high school sports. I did some stringer reporting & knew I was no more than an amateur dabbler, at best the writer equivalent of a paperboy, & paperboys were more important. For me, columnists were the stars. Younger general interest columnists were rare & worth envying. Pete Hamill was a popular model for this writing, if one wasn't seduced by the gonzo style of Hunter S. Thompson.

I was able to write a regular local newspaper column only by doing it for free, & with that pay there was no way I would stick my neck out very far over local political issues. I didn't need enemies. I also saw no reason to develop a consistant style, so I bought a couple of anthologies surveying American newspaper column writing dating back to the colonial era & let those inspire many of my pieces. After all, one of the most famous columnists of all time was a cockroach named archy who wrote his columns in lower case free verse poetry by diving headfirst on to a typewriter, approximately the same method I have for poems. The only battle I had with an editor concerned my use of the ampersand (I lost). Other than that, the young editors at the weekly chain were so glad to have my oddball 400 word space-fillers that they wouldn't even correct my punctuation, assuming it was deliberate & they would offend me by applying standard rules. Many "personal" bloggers write like local newspaper columnists from back when thousands of small cities had a daily or a popular weekly (Anyone remember Erma Bombeck? Every paper that ran her column had its own homegrown humorous homemaker).

An article in the New York Times got me thinking about this: As Cities Go From Two Papers to One, Talk of Zero. Over the next year, possibly over the next few months, some major American city will become the first with no major daily newspaper. Why? Sadly, it might not be because the last newspaper is unprofitable, but because the parent corporation greedily gobbled up newspapers, incurring huge debt loads it cannot pay off. The media empires are toppling themselves when leaner, independent newspapers are finding ways to keep going. There's still a demand for dailies, but newspapers need the flexibility to adjust to the market. They won't be what they were, but they'll still provide important coverage of local news, politics, & sports, conceding geography where they compete with newspapers better positioned to cover those areas. A website will be a crucial part of the operation. I read the New York Times online much more than I ever did the print version. Yes, I feel like I'm cheating.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

What kind of cool am I?

Hey, did you ever believe Bristol & Levi would get married if mom didn't win? There's no advantage at all in it now. Do what you gotta do, young woman, because you'll never be the president's daughter.

I never learn. Cheez-its are just cheese-flavored matzohs & too many crackers make one constipated.

Didn't finish the other post I was writing, & the headlines are too depressing for comment, so here's a fav photo of Sammy hugging Dick, a great cultural moment. No idea who that other black guy is, but the smiling faux hippies are probably Up with People or some lame singing group. Sammy's shirt was open almost to the waist & he was wearing a gold medallion on a chain.


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Happy Birthday, Chuck Norris*

I used to finish work at 9 pm Saturdays, as often as not it was like a weekday evening for me, I drove home, made supper, switched on the tube, & watched part of Walker, Texas Ranger while I ate. It was a strange show, made weirder with guest stars like Gwen Verdon, Paul Winfield, Lee Majors, Gary Busey,"Macho Man" Randy Savage, drag performer RuPaul. I couldn't decide if it was deliberately weird; seemed unlikely it was that way on purpose. Chuck Norris struck me as an actor - like Chuck Heston - who rarely had a handle on the whole picture. The bad guys always lost, kicked into submission, of course. Twice, once in real time & once slo-mo. Often, a woman's honor or a child's innocence was being protected. It was a western where the Hero rode a pickup & his sidekick a sports car.

Now Chuck has ideas about becoming President of Texas.
When I appeared on Glenn Beck's radio show, he told me that someone had asked him, "Do you really believe that there is going to be trouble in the future?" And he answered, "If this country starts to spiral out of control and Mexico melts down or whatever, if it really starts to spiral out of control, before America allows a country to become a totalitarian country (which it would have under I think the Republicans as well in this situation; they were taking us to the same place, just slower), Americans won't stand for it. There will be parts of the country that will rise up." Then Glenn asked me and his listening audience, "And where's that going to come from?" He answered his own question, "Texas, it's going to come from Texas. Do you agree with that Chuck?" I replied, "Oh yeah!" Definitely.
It would be unfortunate if he tried to reinstate slavery, or steal land from Mexican-Americans. But as long as Texas doesn't have nukes, & they let us remove all our planes, tanks & guns & other federally-owned stuff, & paid us for the real estate, I don't see Texas posing much threat, they'll be too busy down there guarding all their borders. Don't know what they'll do about Austin. Maybe declare it an open city & move the capitol. We can revoke George's citizenship, too.

*Also Osama bin Laden.

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Monday, March 09, 2009

Customer in front of me at 99 cent store purchased $40 St. Patrick's Day decorations including stack of green plastic derbys.

Dressing for March temps in 40's; going up or down? fair or cloudy? Windy? drizzly?

Because I combine visits to the library with the supermarket, the size & weight of books do matter. Also, I do most of my reading before sleep, & thick books are uncomfortable, & my reading eyesight is weak. I had Team of Rivals, the Lincoln book by Doris Kearns Goodwin sent over to the branch. It's about 900 pages. When I picked it up tonight my shopping attitude changed (plus I checked out a paperback novel rather than a hardcover). My shopping list was small, but I skipped the quick browse, didn't want to be tempted by any sales on 1/2 gallons of juice or canned stuff. Limited space, & weight adds up fast.

I seem to have tapped into a cluster of my high school classmates on Facebook. I've had no connection with those folks over the decades. It's easily explained. By the time I graduated, I had no close friends in my class. I was hanging out with my next-door neighbor's pals, a skateboarding crew, he was a year behind me. My family had lived in the town since the 1920's, but we sold the homestead a year after graduation. Upon graduating I almost instantly became a pot-smoking, garage band musician, gravitating toward New Brunswick, the only music scene in Jersey other than Asbury Park. So what few connections I had were lost. The class reunions I heard about cost a little more than I was willing to spend on the events, it wasn't an attitude or anything stopping me.

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Sunday, March 08, 2009

Louisville 87, Rutgers 82

A double overtime heartbreaker in the Big East Tournament against the #7 ranked team. The go-to girl, Epiphanny Prince, fouled out in first OT. The usually reliable defense collapsed in the second half, giving Coach Stringer fits (I've read some cogent arguments that she's been too slow this season to adjust to opposing coaches' 2nd half adjustments), but for two straight games they've shown the offense we'd expected at the beginning of the year when pollsters had Rutgers at #6 preseason. They just don't have enough experience beating good teams.

Notre Dame, an inconsistant squad like their male counterparts, lost to Villanova, an "upset," but the Wildcats beat the Irish during the regular season, & they have a fine defensive game. My interest in Notre Dame teams mainly concerns their play against PAC 10 teams. Since the era of the UCLA / John Wooden dynasty, Notre Dame has been my appointed team to defeat west coast schools. UCLA, USC - & probably every PAC 10 team hate losing to Notre Dame, & that's good enough reason for me. Anyway, it'll be a shock if UConn doesn't win the National Championship.

Yesterday, Kean University (the school around the corner from me) was knocked out of the Div. III tournament. Our state colleges probably siphon off just enough local high school & community college talent to handicap the recruiting efforts of Jersey's smaller Div. 1 programs. Athletes run up less debt without a sports scholarship at a Div. III state school, & the social life is cheaper, too.

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I dislike dreams where I'm trying to go somewhere in Jersey. Last night, I was with some people - who they were probably wasn't so significant - & we needed to catch a NJ Transit local train to get to a town to pick up a car to take a boat to the Jersey shore. After we were in the car, it was suggested that we stop by a local bar & give a friend a ride home from a party. We went to the bar, our friend was there sitting at a table, I recognized a number of Jersey poets, the party was breaking up, it was very late, & we were wasting time trying to pry our friend out of the joint. At this point dream lucidity began kicking in, & I was thinking how absurd it all was. You couldn't possibly take a boat from there to the shore, yet outside was a canal with a number of small boats all going to different places at the shore. But it was the middle of the night & I was tired of traveling, & not interested in taking a long boat ride or engaging any of the dream companions in conversation to find out what it might really be about, because even familiar characters in dreams rarely are who they appear to be, their answers are always evasive or cryptic, & you have to approach them with bemusement if you want to enjoy the encounter. So the dream ended without any resolution, & I woke up with the annoyed feeling of not having been asleep at all but of having used a lot of real world energy inside a dreamscape, to no purpose.

Then my daily horoscope for Scorpio was: Are you hungry for a more intellectual connection with that new cutie in your life? Start getting comfortable with the idea that it just might not happen. Oh come on. There's no "new cutie," & I was 22 years old the last time I was with a woman I might have referred to as a "cutie," & that was her nose. They've always been "cuties" to me, intellectual or not. "Intellectual" has never been a qualification. But "ignorance" has always been a disqualifier.

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Little Ferry NJ

Vecchiarello's Rainbow Room
Set up for a wedding. 1960's?
(Table is blocking exit door)

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Saturday, March 07, 2009

A birthday

A's birthday is today. I resided next to A for 13 years. We occupied the two small second floor apts in a four family house on a dead end street in Linden NJ. We shared the fire escape, had the same view out the rear windows - a magnolia tree & a park. She lived with J, & they had a very comfortable place. Their bedroom was at the front, a living room in the back with a sofa, & a small kitchen. Our bedroom was at the back, the kitchen was a little larger, & my artist girlfriend needed the other room for her huge metal desk & steel storage cabinets. My record collection was also in there, & our clutter spilled over into in an attic room. Our place was less comfy & more centered around the kitchen table. Before the attic got filled up with junk from us & A & J, we had a party up there. Good party, too. One of the guests got drunk, danced too energetically, & went crashing through a thin wall to the eaves. At the time, he was involved in probably the most intense one month romance I'd ever seen, the kind that ignites fast, goes supernova over a weekend, & burns into a cinder. They're fun to watch, but they damn near incinerate you when you're in them.

J & I were with women other men tended to fall in love with. Both women were Pisces - sign of the fish, both raised as strict Catholics, both cohabitating to the disappointment of their parents, but very different. Mine had a cool mysteriousness, Neptunian in the planetary sense, & it was years before I realized that she wasn't hiding much; it was an illusion of watery depths, the manipulation of surfaces, waves, ripples, reflections. She was a pond. I'm not knocking it - it made for some terrific, unusual art. A was warmer, more sensual, more talkative, she decorated her environment & herself better, & she had a closer relationship with the ocean. My girlfriend, for all her musicality, had a poor sense of rhythm. I loved dancing with A. A & J reached a point where they decided to grow up for each other. Once they did that, I knew they'd always be together.

Friday, March 06, 2009


About 2/3rd view of my favorite building in Elizabeth, on East Grand/1st Ave. Long & narrow, pre-WWII, continously occupied - currently by a pharma, well-maintained. Directly across from the branch library. Shoprite a short walk to the left. Down at the corner to the right are Dunkin' Donuts, Pathmark, Elmora retail district. Not a beautiful structure, blocking the windows changed its original appearance, but the location in a mixed residential/commercial area turns it into a startling, monolithic landmark.

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Wrong Number

I guess the mystery of the nurse I met at the supermarket Wednesday will remain unsolved. At the time, she asked how to get in touch, I fumbled in my wallet & gave her my card. All the cards have my e mail address & blog url, some have my phone number on them, some do not. That one did, because she left a message on my machine with a cell phone number, a wrong number, which wasn't deliberate because she didn't need to a leave message at all. I'm curious. I wanted to ask her to explain how she knew me. I was expecting she would have only a very vague recollection, & quickly cut to the likely real reason for the call, maybe inviting me to a local evangelical church. It's often enough that, when people are friendly to me.

I'm two persons. There's the solitary, mindin'-my-own-business person, a fairly familiar figure at the 7-11, & at the branch library & stores in downtown Elmora; & there's the internet person. It's very difficult to get the internet person into the picture. Even my art teacher never came here, although I told him many times that he'd find photos, poems, & my amateur attempts at graphic design. I was astonished when another student in the art class looked around my web pages. But she was by far the best artist in the class; the Chair of the Kean University arts dept was trying to get her to enroll there when she finished community college. The internet makes me complicated. In my physical world, I'm accustomed to not revealing much about myself. When I lived in Rahway, at least I could walk over to the art gallery, & the director & I, if he had some free time, might walk down to Mr. Apple Pie restaurant, drink coffee, chat about paintings & jazz, & not have to explain ourselves to each other, & if the Mayor happened to see us through the window, he'd at least think, "There's the artists from the Arts District."

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Thursday, March 05, 2009

WFMU Marathon

Annual WFMU Marathon, through March 15.

When one has been on the WFMU staff for a few years - around five years it kicks in - one grows a proprietary attitude toward the station, & an odd loyalty toward DJs whose programs one might not even like. This attitude isn't just an on-going concern for the station's financial solvency, but also a protective feeling for WFMU's identity, its collective personality, because one has become part of the personality. Anyway, it sometimes takes a couple of years before younger DJs unburden themselves of the musical baggage they brought from college radio, however expert, & fully realize they can do anything they want. At that point, they understand veteran DJs have been patiently waiting for them to start having fun. If they're good enough to get on the staff to begin with, they're in. They don't have to impress other DJs, & even when they do, they probably won't hear it. They wouldn't be around if they didn't belong. By about five years, the ones that never got comfortable are gone, & the ones that stick around may never leave.

I don't have to do a regular show to hear myself. I joined the station when its existence wasn't yet in danger through the demise of Upsala College, but its free form future then was far from a sure thing. My first few years there, I expected the college to come in at any time, throw all of us out, & use it to train Marv Albert clones & dimwit morning zoo hosts. I'm very proud of being part of a group of DJs that fully reestablished WFMU as a free form radio station. Many of those DJs from the 70s & 80s are still with the station, one is the general manager, & what we all had in common was that free form was the only kind of radio we wanted to do, & most of us would've walked away if we couldn't do it.

I was never a spotlight DJ. But for 18 years, I always had a show somewhere on the schedule when I wasn't taking a sabbatical. I'm a long thread in the station's fabric, if not a colorful one. I was shy, I stuttered, I could feel invisible & even a bit intimidated by others on the staff. But underneath I was an erudite artist, stubbornly creative, had a knotty ego, & I regarded my air time with the same sense of an open field as a blank piece of paper (or PC screen). There are always DJs like me at WFMU. Some of them don't know me - I can tell because they look at me quizzically in the music library when I walk in & make myself at home, as I've done for three decades. But I know them from their shows, & I root for them all the time, especially during the Marathon. Not that they raise a lot of money - they may or may not, & some other DJs will always raise much, much more. I want them to enjoy the two weeks, which are a great time at the station, & not be too anxious, then get on with their regular shows.


"Let's come back to the beautiful thing."

said Archbishop Tutu, on Craig Ferguson's show, returning to the subject of the election of Barack Obama.

That's right. Craig Ferguson. Craig gave his entire hour tonight to Desmond Tutu, & a wide-ranging discussion of good & evil, Nelson Mandela, forgiveness, hope.
Unforgettable television.

Tutu: "When you don't forgive....you feel it in your tum tum."
Ferguson: "It's like drinking poison & expecting someone else to die."

Ferguson's monologue was a loose, & amusing introduction to Tutu, South Africa, & the meaning of apartheid.

Find this show on You Tube or somewhere & watch it. It was late night talk TV on CBS, & I could hardly believe what I was seeing & hearing - one of the world's great souls sitting in a guest chair usually occupied by actors from TV shows you'll never watch, the wonderful hee hee giggle of a man who has seen first hand the worst of what the human race is capable of doing, & yet can say, "Evil is an aberration." He is not blind or in denial.

Craig Ferguson, for his fart jokes & silliness, really pulls off an amazing program every so often.

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Wednesday, March 04, 2009

At the supermarket

Odd encounter outside Shoprite, where I'd gone to pick up a few things after leaving the library. As I was about to enter, two women came out & one of them recognized me. She was convinced she knew who I was, remembered me, she said, from "the hospital." She was a nurse there. I didn't recognize her. I was confused. That would be five years ago, the "time out" ward, mostly ordinary depressives & bipolars in for a week or two, a few middle stage Alzheimer elderly waiting for space on the senior unit floors, no violent sociopaths or unpredictable schizophrenics - they were across the hall. It is possible to mistake me for someone else, I am a physical "type." She kindly offered me a ride home, but then I would've had to rush, & I was out & about because it was a nice evening to walk.

All the staffers at the hospital were pleasant & professional. There's emotional fragility in psych wards, in patients who look quite healthy. Takes a certain kind of personality to work well in one. I was a low-maintenance patient (clinics & social workers call us "clients"), mainly concerned with finding reading material & squirreling away cereal & fruit in my room for snacks, so I didn't interact closely with the staff; they had plenty else to do. It's unlikely I had revealed much personal information to the nurse at the supermarket. I wasn't able to sort out any of the problems that had put me in there until I was released, & I didn't discuss them. My assignment in the hospital was to eat, shower, shave, sleep on a routine schedule, I had a therapist waiting for me in the real world, but hardly anyone else knew where I was. I had no visitors. The staff didn't even make me do art therapy, & I was permitted to stay up past bedtime & watch Letterman in the darkened social room as long as I kept the volume down.

The details of my brief stay are fuzzy. I wasn't heavily medicated, just Zoloft & an Ambien if I asked for one. It was December, they tried clearing as many patients as they could by Christmas. I was trying not to make an impression on anyone, & I wanted it to be as unmemorable as possible for myself. Two weeks later I was back doing fill ins at WFMU, sent a few e mails about the stay to writer friends - they're never shocked to hear a fellow writer is depressed.

I did make impressions. One cantankerous woman, I think she had advanced M.S., refused to be transferred out to another hospital via gurney until I had kissed her goodbye. A few days earlier, she had knocked over the Christmas Tree with the handmade decorations, everyone had freaked, but I calmly said, "Why did you have to do that?" like a big brother. I stood the tree back up, asked her if she wanted to go her room, she nodded, & I rolled her home, & within minutes she was asleep in her wheelchair. Another patient remembered my name, found my address & sent me a Christmas card with the note, "I never forgot you & thank you for being a friend & making me laugh." I barely recall her, except that she was white & lived in one of Newark's oldest public housing projects. So maybe I am who the friendly nurse outside the supermarket thinks I am. But there's only so much she could possibly know.

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Tuesday, March 03, 2009

UConn 69, Rutgers 59

Only one other team, Notre Dame, kept it as close as ten points against the Huskies during the regular season. & that's a compliment to both the Scarlet Knights & the Irish. There isn't a team in the Women's Top 25 UConn can't beat, maybe few the Huskies can't beat easily. Unranked Rutgers lost by 19 to UConn in their previous meeting. They're one of only two teams all year to hold UConn under 70 points. Rutgers allowed 70 or more points only twice. How is Rutgers playing now? Good enough I think to have a chance against every Big East team except UConn. But they should have finished the regular season with 20 or more wins. The NCAA selection committee wants Rutgers in the tournament. Rutgers is a Big East marquee team. C. Vivian Stringer, along with UConn's Gino Auriemma & ND's Muffet McGraw is one of a handful of celebrity coaches in the women's game (compared to dozens in the men's college game), familiar characters who make for good sideline TV. Losing to UConn by ten points is no tragedy. But it will help their case mightily if they look good in the Big East Tournament. Also good that there aren't many unranked, non-major conference teams with gaudy records, & most of those will get automatic invites. It's hard to argue against inviting Rutgers given their #18 power ranking out of 340 Div. 1 schools.

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Jimmy Fallon

His prepared material wasn't funny & he mumbled too much while Bob DeNiro spoke clearly. Nerves. But he has a great house band, got an amusing segment out of Justin Timberlake, & finished up with Van Morrison slipping & sliding life into a number from Astral Weeks. Wait & see how he does when he settles in.

As versatile as The Roots are (also an accomplished backing group), I can't see them grinding out the laughs on cue & second banana schtick for very long. There's a reason TV show bands are comprised of freelance session musicians. The entire Max Weinberg 7 is relocating to L.A. with Conan. When Max hits the road with Springsteen - very profitable, the other cats stay put & keep working their regular late afternoon gig.

The overall late night talk show audience is shrinking, & gets smaller minute by minute anyway. Craig Ferguson probably has the best approach for the 12:30 hour, dispensing with nearly all the trappings of a variety show & treating the camera as a lone, prone viewer in need of an occasional "Hey, wake up" tap on the shoulder. For me, it's mostly background noise, & with You Tube one need not hang around for a good band.


Monday, March 02, 2009

Irene Marcuse

Irene Marcuse: Under the Manhattan Bridge, an Anita Servi Mystery (2004).

Grabbed this book around closing at the library because it was small & light & I was headed to the supermarket, & the dust jacket said it was set on the Lower East Side & in the Williamsburg Orthodox Jewish community, & the author had been a social worker. It's the 4th in the Anita Servi series.

About 1/3rd of the way through I was really falling for Anita Servi. The murder was interesting - a teenage Orthodox boy found suffocated in a vacuum press in Servi's husband's wood shop a few weeks after 9/11. Servi's view of New York is always close to street level; the neighborhood food, Turkish baths, artist lofts. She has to think about how she'll get from one place to another & how long it will take, walking, buses, subways. She sensitively interacts with elderly people, her attitude toward Brooklyn's insular Orthodox Jewish & Jehovah's Witness communities is unsentimental, & in the former, well aware of the place of women. Only then did I look up the author online & discover Irene Marcuse is the granddaughter of Marxist theorist & philosopher Herbert Marcuse, grew up in Berkeley CA, & had been a geriatric social worker. Those facts are mentioned on the dust jackets of her previous novels, but not this one.

Judging from Anita Servi, Irene Marcuse is not a Marcusean Marxist (nor am I, not even close). Herbert Marcuse was hard to read, an academic, his influence fading when I was reading treatises & the like in the late Sixties - except with the radical left, which always made more noise & trouble than its numbers & may have understood Marcuse no better than I. But he wrote a prophetic essay titled "Repressive Tolerance," which described a process we now usually call co-opting. It can probably be summed up this way: Liberation movements in the United States are channeled in such a way that they do not seriously challenge the economic inequities of American capitalism, or prevent repressive government, or (I will add) overthrow oppressive religious culture. So we have seen, in turn, labor unionism, the Civil Rights movement, feminism, & gay liberation defanged on their way to mainstream, middle class acceptance. Yet, there is resistance even when they pose small threat to the powers-that-be.

The white protestant right responded to school integration (which gave minorities access to better quality education) by forming all white "Christian Academies." When those were denied government aid, the Moral Majority came into being as a political force. Feminism was attacked through reproductive rights - sexual self-determination for women, & the Southern Baptist Convention went so far as to repudiate the ordination of women, the authorization to preach to & lead men. As businesses recognized that homosexuals had economic power & began acknowledging gay domestic arrangements (defacto marriages), the religious right pushed back with anti-gay legislation & attempts at boycotts. In the decades when blacks, women, & gays moved higher in corporate offices & government, the national government itself moved ever rightward & economic inequality increased, the rich got richer, middle class earnings stagnated, & being poor with dignity became almost impossible. American liberalism turned into Walter Mondale & Bill Clinton. Herbert Marcuse said this would happen because the system was fixed to make it happen. Two national leaders who began forming broad underclass political coalitions based upon mutual economic goals were murdered in 1968. The rich are free to exploit those beneath them, but any serious attempt to match the power of wealth with the power of people in common purpose is deemed divisive class warfare & must be stopped.

What about tolerance? If we happen to see a woman in a full, black, veiled burka crossing a broiling Walmart parking lot on a hot July afternoon, accompanied by a husband wearing sandals, shorts, & a tropical shirt, we must be "tolerant." We know her "choice" in the matter is a legal abstraction. We see a woman who needs to be liberated to enjoy the most basic individual liberties. But she exists under taboos. We know it is cultural misogyny, institutionalized by religion. It would not exist without repressive religion. Never mind the 21st or 20th Centuries; the America of both Susan B. Anthony & Walt Whitman has so far failed her. All the old religions practice, in their most reactionary elements, ancient taboos that absurdly claim to be pleasing in the sight of God. I don't need to catalogue them. The burka is just the most visible expression. We can do nothing but hope for the next generation.

Anita Servi made me think about this (or was it Irene's grandfather?). Servi is kind-hearted, a sucker for handing out spare change, tolerant, loves the diversity of New York. She's a feminist, to be sure. She's also nosy, impulsive, cranky, unsure of herself. She knows that parenthood, a good marriage, & responsibilities have made her more appreciative of routine, tradition, stability; maybe more than she'd like. You pretty much know who the bad guys are well before the end of the book. But all the crime fiction authors I like from Raymond Chandler on send their characters wandering across an interesting landscape in search of a "plot," a crime to solve. It's who they meet, how they relate to those people, & how they describe the scenery, that keep me turning the pages when I should put it aside & go to sleep. When Servi walks through a doorway, she enters an environment that touches all her senses.

I'm now reading the first Servi novel, Death of an Amiable Child. Marcuse hasn't published a 5th Anita Servi book, & I'm nosy enough to send her an e mail asking why.

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close call

Roads are clear in Elizabeth. We got lucky. I looked at weather radar before I went to bed. There was heavy snow over the state, some white bands a few miles wide - which indicate very intense snowfall. But the worst part of the storm was just off the coast, all white, all smacking into Long Island. The storm was moving north quickly at about 40 or 50 mph & the line of snow ended abruptly in south Jersey. Below it was about 150 miles of nothing, then more, less intense snow over Virginia. Overnight conditions were awful, almost blizzard when I went to sleep. But this morning people cleaned off their cars, plows did their work, a little more snow came, & that was that. Although I often complain about media weather hysteria, Sunday's alarm was warranted. This noreaster was a close call.
Rush Limbaugh at CPAC:
We believe that the preamble to the Constitution contains an inarguable truth that we are all endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights, among them life. [Applause] Liberty, Freedom. [Applause] And the pursuit of happiness.
That source citation ought to give pause to fans of Thomas Jefferson. CPAC is not the Republican Party, but if Americans choose to see Limbaugh as the ugly face of the Repulibans, that's fine with me. What more could we ask for than a blustering, soft-bellied, egomaniacal, drug addict, snake oil radio salesman as the Repug counterpart to President Obama? The guy's a totally uncool magnet for every halfwit bigot in America. Celebrity? He'd have to go into training for a year to compete on "Dancing with the Stars."


Sunday, March 01, 2009

Atlantic City NJ

Hackney's Famous Lobster Pool
In this pool our lobsters are kept alive and purified for 24 hours
in freshly pumped salt water right from the ocean.

Hackney's was a huge dockside restaurant on the Inlet.
If they soaked the doomed creatures in inlet water, the purity was doubtful.

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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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