Friday, May 31, 2013


Applied for, received & sent back a mail ballot. It was a big deal for me. I enjoyed the ritual of voting in person, the right was taken very seriously in my family. It is not a "privilege" as Linden poll workers learned one evening when they misplaced my registration page & I went nuts & said I'd have a Star-Ledger reporter & lawyer there before the place closed. The primary is the key election in Elizabeth & I can't stand the organization masquerading as "reform" Democrats. The County Democrats here do need some reform, but not from candidates backed by the right wing Elizabeth Board of Ed. I didn't feel like going to the Magie Ave. School on a hot June day.

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Thursday, May 30, 2013

I bought some milk & cup of coffee at 7-11. As I was walking away outside, I heard a guy shouting, "Sir, sir." I looked around & he was following me across the street. I figured he was the kind of really aggressive, possibly  sociopathic panhandler one occasionally encounters around here or in any city. You just walk faster, pull out your cellphone & try to get under a streetlight. Turned out to be the young store clerk chasing me with my coffee, which I had forgotten.


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

St. Cecelia Fair

The annual St. Cecelia Church Fair, more commonly remembered  & promoted as the Iselin Fair, was held  in July on a large lot in Woodbridge NJ.  It was very popular. An incredible number of attractions were packed  into the space.  In addition to the carnival rides there was a midway with games of chance,  two  crowded beer tents (one favored by Harley bikers), a simplified roulette wheel where you could gamble & win real money.  Food was the centerpiece,  a line of open tents arranged down the middle of the fairground with the usual burgers & hot dogs, ribs, deep-fried pizza,     seafood, & other stuff I don't remember. Live entertainment. In the 90's  I stopped by on my way home from working at the Pearl Arts Supply store on Saturday night, bought some 50/50 chances (the pot was huge), & stayed until the grand drawing closing the fair.

Enrollment at St. Cecelia's School declined, probably along with the number of parishioners   available & willing  to organize & staff  the fair. The demographics of the area became so heavily Indian that it's now famous for Indian restaurants, bakeries, sari shops, & an India Day Parade. The school was finally closed, ending  a local tradition that had existed for  seven  decades.

There are still good fairs in Jersey - some large county fairs, numerous smaller fairs  sponsored by churches & volunteer fire depts., a big state fair up in Sussex County  with livestock displays, pig races,  pie contests & massive traffic jams on two lane roads leading to it. St. Cecelia was the best one in my part of the state.

Video from Gary Perry.

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Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day

Gold Star Mother, to you
the honor of a white Cadillac
at the front of the parade.

Your slow steps
escorting the wreath
up the gray slate path
to the war monument
by the public library.

Each clang of the fire engine bell
is the face of someone's son.

Four old soldiers aim
rifles at the blue sky,
a nervous boy plays "Taps."

They rest there for weeks,
your ribbons & fading flowers.


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Sunday, May 26, 2013

Fort Dix NJ

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Saturday, May 25, 2013

Interesting choice of  Turner Classic for Memorial Day weekend: Friendly Persuasion, William Wyler's warm tale of Christian pacifism facing violence during the Civil War. The pacifism doesn't fair all that well, but Wiki is inaccurate in stating "The father of the family is gradually converted to supporting the war." He wavers in his commitment to nonviolence when he believes his son has been injured or killed &  searches for him.  His wife loses her temper when Confederate raiders, to whom she has offered all her food & even fed at her table, attempt to take the family's pet goose. Because it is set in southern Indiana, the family doesn't face the same  harsh conditions  as similar families in the Shenandoah Valley,  There is not in this film any of the right wing Christian nationalism that so poisons religious & political discourse in America today.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Richard Wagner Birthday Bicentennial 1813 - 2013

Wagner is often enough a young person's classical  music obsession, which is outgrown. I didn't develop  an appreciation for Wagner - to the extent I do appreciate him -  until I was past fifty years old & force-feeding myself opera. I began to enjoy his opera   as background music. I enjoy the instrumental sections, like the Prelude to "Das Rheingold", often cited as examples of early "minimalism."

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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Ray Manzarek 1939-2013.

It's an uncomplicated story. Takes bit of telling. In fall of 1966 I bought a cheap portable organ & got myself into a garage rock band. Garage rock bands needed organs. I hardly knew what I was doing, but I didn't need to know much. The band had two guitars, bass, drums, organ, & a jerk lead singer. "96 Tears" was my featured spot. We were really awful.

The Doors released their first LP in January 1967. I probably had heard of the band- they had made some noise in L.A. that got their name into magazines,   but I can't recall hearing anything from them until "Light My Fire" was released as a single. It was an extraordinarily distinctive record in its full version. They sounded like a garage band, but not my band or any other local band I had  heard. & what was with that long organ solo? The organist clearly was not a virtuoso, but it was an interesting long solo. I bought the  LP & loved it, except for the silly, long  song conveniently  placed last on side 2.

I still don't think we learned "Light My Fire."  We changed jerk  lead singers.   The rhythm guitarist left - band was interfering with his night job pumping gas, & his car was expensively high maintenance.   We were still really awful.

That summer, The Doors were hastily booked into Convention Hall in Asbury Park, one show, not widely promoted, supplanting one of two Lou Rawls shows there. My girlfriend & I went to see them.  We were impressed. She, of course, loved Jim Morrison in his leather suit. He was one sexy guy.  What I noticed was the leanness of the band, that although Jimbo was the  "star" of the show,  the four band members  were working as   equals. There was no bass player - the organist played simple figures on a keyboard bass (something is lost without a bassist, as both they & The Rascals knew), The Doors were a true collective creative enterprise, & they sounded it. Jim Morrison was not the "leader" of the band.  As each member had  their musical moment in the spotlight, Jim got out of the way (usually. He rubbed up against Ray Manzarek during the "LMF" solo).

Below me (I was in the front row of the balcony, the venue about 1/3rd empty seats), were members of Lou Rawls' ace touring band looking on uncomprehendingly;   "We were  bumped for this?"

Asbury Park Convention Hall was probably the largest type of venue in which The Doors could be really effective as the kind of band they were,. a "chamber rock band" (a rock critic term) designed for the rock clubs that nurtured them. There had always been rock bands like this, back to rockabilly trios, or The Velvet Underground in NYC, of which I had only a passing awareness because I knew they  were "hip" in the city.

Ray Manzarek was inviting garage band organists like me to step up & play with intelligence even if we were largely self-taught, on the instruments we had. I felt liberated from the examples of Booker T & The Young Rascals' Felix Cavaliere (an almost god-like presence in Jersey rock), with their Hammond B3s, & from Matthew Fisher of Procol Harum, who would become a favorite as "A Whiter Shade of Pale" climbed up the charts that summer.

I determined at the Doors concert that my band had to change to better accommodate me. I must have done a pretty good selling job, as no one in the band was particularly creative or ambitious (the remaining guitarist began showing a good musical intelligence). We learned "Light My Fire." "Soul Kitchen" (the essence of their sound),  Twentieth Century Fox." "I Looked At You," "Take It as It Comes."  I upgraded to a Vox Continental (later added a Leslie speaker, I never did abandon a love of thick, Hammond textures).  The bass player was pushed out. He was my best friend, but he was worse than really awful. My weak left hand was better than him. I bought a Rheem key bass. We picked up four songs from the second LP, including the complete "When the Music's Over." We struggled on into 1968, a very bad year in America & in my own life.  The drummer eventually moved on.  He had graduated high school & his real love was accounting.  We somehow found a replacement,. & a new lead singer  was right in front of us, a guy we hung  out with, rather bookish-looking but who sang well & was completely transformed at the front of a band. Girls loved him.

We milked one good year out of this band, which didn't sound like The Doors or The Rascals; we didn't try. We raised our level from really awful to just awful (Joe Walsh considers this the natural transition, that the important part was getting out of the garage & before an audience).  Some of our music & arrangements were relatively adventurous.  We jammed too much & too tediously, but that was characteristic  of  most garage bands.

Ray, by some accounts, was not always a nice guy (a friend has direct experience of it).  In '67 he was somewhat older than the average rock musician with a first hit. This was to his advantage. He had a college degree (economics), was in film school.  He hadn't scuffled up through bar bands. Either consciously or intuitively (I haven't read his autobiography)  he had a vision of a band as a complete conceptual package, like the art school-influenced  bands of New York, London, & later New Wave. They covered a Kurt Weill / Bertolt Brecht song on their first LP (it wasn't "Mack the Knife").  This was very attractive to an 18 year-old garage band organist who read poetry. Jimbo wasn't a great poet but he certainly understood it as a concept.

One night in 1968 several of us from the band went to midtown New York just to hang out, a common pastime for bored Jersey kids.  We were walking on a side street by the Americana Hotel when a couple came around the corner ahead of us & walked toward us, an attractive woman & a familiar man. As they came closer, the man looked more & more like Ray Manzarek. "Are The Doors in town?" I asked my friends. One said he thought so. It was Ray Manzarek. As they passed (she was a very attractive woman) I said, "How yah doin', Ray"  He said, "Good" & they walked on.

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Monday, May 20, 2013

Given where I grew up, & that all my life I have been fascinated by colloquial American  language, it astonishes me when  certain white people think they can make their racism so coded   it can fool me.  Maybe they believe I had some sort of deluded drug-inspired epiphany that turned me into a "liberal" rather than the longer, twisting path it actually was, & at each step I had to make corresponding changes in  my use of language. I also became good at mimicry.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Rahway NJ

Rahway Tourist Court

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Friday, May 17, 2013

Aunt Bella & the crabs

Every time I tell this story it's a little different, although it leads to the same revelation. 
 For many years I had a strange, not especially pleasant memory of being in my Aunt Bella's kitchen in Somers Point NJ, watching her dump a basket of fresh live crabs into a cauldron of steaming water, slamming on the lid, & the lid bouncing as the poor crabs tried to escape. Now, Aunt Bella could be a fearsome person. She was one of my grandmother's younger sisters, & I hardly understood there were matriarchal tensions in that generation of Irish-American women, often angry ones, but these tensions did not preclude their strong sisterly bonds, which were nobody else's damned business. I was a grand-nephew. Yes, I was under her protection when in her home, she would have died for me, but she was under no obligation to show it openly, as my grandmother was.  
 I occasionally mulled over this memory, picturing it, panning it like a camera. Then one day it came to me: Aunt Bella must have barely cracked 5'. I was well below the stovetop looking up at her through a cloud of steam. I was three feet tall. The water was boiling, the crabs died instantly, & the roiling water made the lid rattle.
I recall trying to explain to one of my siblings that I don't write "history," I don't  even write "autobiography." What I do is simply a combination of the personal anecdote composer John Cage wrote for his books & used in some of his compositions, & the sort of conversations poets have in diners following readings. Writers from families with   strong ties & regular social occasions like holidays have a far greater number of childhood stories, more detailed, than I have.  One of these writers, who grew up in a tight Irish-Catholic family in Pittsburgh, abandoned her blog because the memories  poured out into long, funny tales, every post became a major writing project.  You can't do a regular blog that way.

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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

City haters

A high school student in Newark NJ requested that he be permitted to leave school early, in the afternoon. For some reason permission was granted. He was shot & killed a block away in a targeted execution.  Police say they have "determined a motive."   Councilman Ras Baraka called it "crazy." Indeed. Crazy has become the norm in Newark.

But I'm  not writing about this particular murder.  Rather, I'm writing about the white people from the suburbs who always have plenty to say in the comments below the story. These people inevitably decry the lawlessness, the poverty, with barely-concealed racism. The only reasons they care at all are: 1. They correctly perceive that urban crime & poverty affect their taxes. 2. They fear the crime will suddenly overtake them. But statistics  do not bear this out. The crime stays where it is.  The menace of crime to these people is symbolic. What they really fear are the ideas that come from cities. They don't give a damn about the humanity. It would be refreshingly honest  if they  admitted it.

Of course, many suburbanites love cities. They commute to them, go to concerts, museums, the events & places & culture  not available in the suburbs.  They appreciate the physical safety of the suburbs. It's not purchased cheaply. But other people find nothing useful at all in or about  cities. They hate cities.  They choose to reside in the suburbs because they believe it will isolate them not only from the crime & poverty - which it generally does (altough there are increasing numbers of poor folks in suburbia struggling to maintain), but also from everything else that cities provide, mainly, a liberal spirit. Not only  political liberalism. In that sense, a political  conservative  residing in most American cities is like a liberal residing in the Bible Belt*; you're in the permanent minority, so get used to it. But urban culture & ideas have ways  of making themselves felt, & gaining acceptance, outside cities. An easy current example is marriage equality, which spread remarkably fast.

If indirectly paying the cost of crime in Newark makes you believe you're a victim in the safety of your suburban shelter, you're entitled to believe it & vent online.  But don't forget that the real victims of urban crime & poverty are the people directly affected by them.    What you really fear is something else.

* Christianity began as a dangerous idea from the cities. 

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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Goodbye roller coaster

The Jetstar coaster in Seaside Heights was demolished today. Some people had grown far too fond of the iconic image  the coaster presented symbolizing the Jersey shore in ruins.  Some even suggested it be left there. Ridiculous. To what purpose?  An "attraction"?  Boardwalk businesses are always looking to ways to make more money. But boardwalks aren't about ruins. They are about summers returning.  They burn down, get washed away, are rebuilt. The boardwalk always changes from year-to-year. You pick up on these changes when you return year after year. The prizes at the game booths change. The rides change. The  games in the arcadrs change. Same but different. The memories collect. The boardwalk becomes an experience of  both the present & the past.  Occasionally there is radical change, the result of a fire or storm.  My Atlantic City boardwalk no longer exists, & neither fire nor storm effected the change. We will always have this image:

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Monday, May 13, 2013

My brother Jim has been popping up on Facebook recently.  He has nothing to say, but I'm  glad to see him there. My particular part of FB is on the wacky side;  odd music, photos of cholesterol  loaded  sandwiches, deviant cheap paperback covers of the Fifties, theological discussions, quotes from the old gothic soap Dark Shadows. SSD depressives & our allies. Even a few professional hockey fans. Annette's passing was taken hard, so was George Jones', we loved them both.   Jim can be a screwball, but he's also a Methodist pastor, naturally it inhibits him on social media.

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Sunday, May 12, 2013

Oceanview NJ

Pine Haven Campground. Still in business but a lot less rugged.

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Thursday, May 09, 2013

La Dolce Vita

A simple easy listening arrangement of "La Dolce Vita." Always opened my WFMU radio shows with Nino Rota. (Rare exceptions were short pieces by Prokofiev or Shostakovich). Not always Rota's Fellini musc. Also sections of piano concertos & ballets. A wealth of Rota's concert hall music became available over the past few decades. Conservative in style, Rota chose to compose the way he did. He had a long friendship with Stravinsky. Never heard Kurt Weill & Rota mentioned together, but "La Dolce Vita" has a strong resemblance to "Mack the Knife."

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Wednesday, May 08, 2013

The Balancing Bean


Waiting for you at the park
I tried the balancing beam
on the exercise course

Expert level was once walking forward
& once backward with hands at sides

At no point was the beam
more than a foot above the ground
I could not do it

When you arrived
you could not do it

We met an old man
who had gone to Rocky Graziano’s funeral
he could not do it

Who but a circus performer
can balance walking backward blind
on a four inch rail
& do it every time

We strolled around the park
holding hands & talking
we are trying to balance our lives
& find a balance with each other
We are not experts

Although the ground is close beneath
we feel as if we are walking
a hundred feet up without a net

We never become experts
no matter how often we try
to find a balance
There is always the possibility
of an unexpected breeze
or someone laughing at us
or a fear of falling
that makes our knees wobble

You said you could it
after we were done with our walk
but you did not try

We had dinner instead
thought about having sex
decided against it
because we could not balance
the time with our other obligations

The need for balance
the work that must be done
& cannot be avoided

We are not experts
yet we keep walking
blind and backward
trying not to fall

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Tuesday, May 07, 2013

The afternoon was proceeding ahead of schedule until the cab failed to show at the doctor's office. Dispatcher screwup. By the time I got a cab the schools had let out with the hundreds of buses, the hospital shift was changing, early shift county DPW workers were headed home, rush hour, & the wait for prescription at CVS had gone from mid afternoon 15 minutes to the late afternoon hour, forcing me to occupy time by going to the library near closing time mainly to use the men's, room, then wander around Dollar General trying not to spend money, then back to CVS, then walk home as sprinkles fell from the lovely cummulus clouds that had been billowing up all afternoon. By then my feet were hurting - I"m waiting for new sneakers. But as I passed the Greek Church the bells began ringing. I think they just celebrated Easter.

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Monday, May 06, 2013

Pink Girl

Pink Girl

Leaning against a wall
outside the movie theater,
she stares up, clouds
like a thousand beauty parlor visits,
too many old ladies, what a drag.

She’ll never smile again.

Cars slowly drive by, boys,
jerks with stiff dicks, monsters,
big fucking deal, motionless,
pressing her thighs together,
at an endless red traffic light.

[small revision of an old poem]


Sunday, May 05, 2013

Ocean City NJ

Marlyn Coffee Shop
One my favorite bridges going back to early childhood.  Replaced last year by a fixed span. 

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Saturday, May 04, 2013

I could never have been incited to the kind of violence that brought the National Guard to the Kent State campus in May 1970.  I have never been a revolutionary leftist, & I believed then as I do now that one-third to one-half of the loud, ideological leftists on campuses in 1970 were either FBI informants or actual agents placed there by agencies of the government to incite violence when & if the opportunity arose. It doesn't take much to get certain types of college students burning things. There was a near riot in New Brunswick a few weeks ago when police tried to break up a large block party after some drunken mooks had dragged a sofa into the street & set fire to it.  I was at folk concert in New Brunswick when the Cambodia invansion was announced  - attending a folk concert was itself a rarity for me, as I did not  like folk music.  A large impromptu march through downtown resulted, which began deteriorating  into something messier. I recognized what was happening,  "Agitators"  were stirring it past the limits of a peaceful antiwar demonstration. I went home. By then I believed only the war-weariness of the American people,  if they became sickened enough by the death  &  destruction, could end the war. Vietnam was a lost cause.  The President  knew it, the CIA knew it, the Pentagon knew it.  We were sacrificing thousands only to save face.,  because we had "never been defeated."  I was looking out for my own skin.

The young National Guardsmen at Kent State thought they were there to maintain order. They were poorly commanded, confused. They were not trained for the work. Two of the students killed were not participants in the demonstrations, & one of them was in ROTC. All but two of the students killed or wounded were over 200 feet away from the Guardsmen. Only one Guardsman required medical attention  & he had been wounded before the shootings.

Richard Nixon, whose concept of "good" students  consisted of  his own two daughters & David Eisenhower, established a Presidential Commission on Campus Unrest.  The Commission concluded:
Even if the guardsmen faced danger, it was not a danger that called for lethal force. The 61 shots by 28 guardsmen certainly cannot be justified. Apparently, no order to fire was given, and there was inadequate fire control discipline on Blanket Hill. The Kent State tragedy must mark the last time that, as a matter of course, loaded rifles are issued to guardsmen confronting student demonstrators.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Jersey's pedophile enabler

Newark archbishop allows priest who admitted groping boy to continue working with children  

 He [Fugee] has attended weekend youth retreats in Marlboro and on the shores of Lake Hopatcong in Mount Arlington, parishioners say. Fugee also has traveled with members of the St. Mary’s youth group on an annual pilgrimage to Canada. At all three locations, he has heard confessions from minors behind closed doors. 
What’s more, he has done so with the approval of New Jersey’s highest-ranking Catholic official, Newark Archbishop John J. Myers.
My attitude toward American RC Bishops ranges from indifference to contempt. Sometimes one of my Catholic friends mentions an  o.k. one.  Myers is not o.k.   Aloof, isolated, autocratic, inclined to speak to the hoi polloi through his cathedral office mouthpieces, this is not his first pedophile cover-up scandal. But it is showing some endurance in local media, & is slowly going national  The Star-Ledger called for his resignation in an editorial,  an unusual  act for a newspaper (although I'm sure it's happened elsewhere).  Parishioners at the church where Fugee was assigned are outraged, as are  the vast majority  of Jersey Catholics polled on this. Catholic politicians are calling for Myers to step down. Except our Governor, who says it's political "grandstanding." He will soon perceive the error of that statement.

I think Myers can be pushed or removed from office this time, if media stays on the story,  if pressure from New Jersey Catholics is relentless (following through on  threats of withholding tithes), & some of his fellow Bishops in Jersey continue refusing to support him. There's a new Pope. Eventually he'll hear about it, if he hasn't already.  Pope Francis can make an   example of Myers if he truly wants to  set himself apart from his two predecessors:  Esto termina ahora. This ends now.

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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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