Sunday, April 29, 2007

Maple Shade NJ, Turnpike Motel

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Saturday, April 28, 2007

Church rummage sale

Stopped by rummage sale at the Methodist Church, more interested in seeing the inside of the building than buying anything. Bought two paperbacks, one I later realized I've read. It was a big sale, & I'm not sure they did that well over two days, there was a lot of furniture & clothing left & they hadn't promoted it around the neighborhood. All the multipurpose rooms had plenty of goods, an hour left in the sale. I wondered, What will they do with all this stuff? Move it out? Keep it in the basement until next sale, like the Episcopal in downtown Rahway, where I'd visit the same junk twice-a-year? The rooms - including the big one with the stage- did not look like they got much regular use, sad to say. No indications of an active Sunday school or nursery. None even of the Brazilian mission that meets there as sort of a Methodist church within a church. Sometimes the missions take over their host Methodist churches. Only a couple of the ten or so people from the church were elderly, but none were young except for one lanky teenager, all wearing green teeshirts. The kitchen crew had closed up. All those volunteers are also keeping Epworth UMC in business. The sign out front says, "Join a growing church." I don't believe it.

About the only item that could grab me at a church rummage sale is an old radio at a cheap price. I Iisten to Mets games on a 60s white plastic Sears AM radio, no clock, cannot recall when or where I got it, not a collector's item, I love it.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Mstislav Rostropovich

Cellist, conductor, pianist, composer, human rights activist. His New York Times obituary is worth reading all the way through.

I'm in awe of this man. He was born in the first decade of the Revolution, grew up during the Stalin purges & Great War. He studied with two of Russia's greatest composers, Prokofiev & Shostakovich, the latter a close friend. Became one of the world's best cellists. Married a wonderful & beautiful singer, Galina Vishnevskaya, whom he would accompany on piano in concerts. They were superstars in the Soviet Union, with privileges & perks that could make Americans envious, & were reknowned everywhere they performed. Many of the finest composers of the 20th Century composed works for Rostropovich to premiere, which he played brilliantly. Then, in the late Sixties, he & his wife gave sanctuary to novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in their country dacha home, & their troubles began. But they never backed down, & eventually had to go into exile. He was lucky. In an earlier Soviet era he would have been killed for his advocacies, which went far beyond an enthusiasm for "decadent" modern music. By then, like many great artists, he was really a citizen of the world. He even became Music Director of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington DC. But no one was more Russian. He outlived the Soviet Union & its oppressive state cultural apparatus. Rostropovich died in Moscow, & his death was confirmed by The Russian Federal Agency for Culture and Cinematography.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Two venerable houses

Two wonderful houses occupied for decades by the Rinaldo & Rinaldo law firm in the Elmora section of Elizabeth close to where I live, & not used for much as business was handled at another local office. Recently, the firm "officially" moved to a building a few miles away, a truck carried off the remaining office equipment & files, & a chain link fence installed around three adjacent Westfield Ave. properties. I don't know how these buildings could be preserved - they aren't Victorians in Plainfield or Asbury Park, just venerable old houses. Perhaps there are already plans to raze them & build more of the standard design two & three family houses that sprout up wherever something in this neighborhood is torn down, with ground floor garages & postage stamp balconies. Or maybe "luxury" condos, as they now promote ordinary buildings that have no fitness center, pool, or scenic views of the Manhattan. A house somewhat ike the one on the left around the block from me was torn down last summer before I got a photo. It could have been rehabbed, at great cost, but it was huge. Now there's an overgrown lot with a frontloader parked on the property. My guess is that the builder is trying to get a variance for two or even three 2 families on the lot. Fortunately, most of smaller frame houses in the area are in pretty good shape, remarkable because so many are fixed up to look like they're supposed to look.


Tuesday, April 24, 2007

A Senator from South Dakota

From an L.A. Times op ed by former Senator George S. McGovern:
In attacking my positions in 1972 as representative of "that old party of the early 1970s," Cheney seems oblivious to the realities of that time. Does he remember that the Democratic Party, with me in the lead, reformed the presidential nomination process to ensure that women, young people and minorities would be represented fairly? The so-called McGovern reform rules are still in effect and, indeed, have been largely copied by the Republicans.

The Democrats' 1972 platform was also in the forefront in pushing for affordable healthcare, full employment with better wages, a stronger environmental and energy effort, support for education at every level and a foreign policy with less confrontation and belligerence and more cooperation and conciliation.

Cheney also still has his eyes closed to the folly of the Vietnam War, in which 58,000 young Americans and more than 2 million Vietnamese died. Vietnam was no threat to the United States.
Impugning the patriotism & personal character of United States combat vets is hardly a recent Republican tactic. Long before John Murtha, John Kerry, & Max Cleland there was McGovern, who captained a B-24 Liberator in WWII, & won The Distinguished Flying Cross (as did George H. W. Bush & John McCain). George McGovern received the first vote I ever cast for President of the United States, the quoted paragraphs sum up why.

Our All-American ugly truck company

April 24 (Bloomberg) -- Toyota Motor Corp. surpassed General Motors Corp. in first-quarter sales of cars and trucks, threatening GM's 76-year reign as the world's biggest automaker.

Toyota's first-quarter sales rose 9.2 percent to a record 2.35 million vehicles, the company said today. GM's sales gained 3 percent to 2.26 million vehicles, also a record, the Detroit- based automaker said last week. GM outsold Toyota 9.1 million to 8.8 million for all of last year.

Toyota overtakes GM 50 years after exporting its first passenger car to the U.S. The Toyota City-based automaker is relying on record imports and six North American plants to gain on GM in its home market. GM, after losing $12.4 billion in the past two years, is ceding lower-margin U.S. sales to rental-car companies and cutting incentives as it tries to return to profit.
In its 76 year run, GM was outsold in a quarter only twice, both times by Ford because of strikes shutting down plants. This moment surprises no one. GM pulling out of fleet sales made it happen a bit sooner. But in this part of Jersey, our loyalty to GM ended when it shut down the Linden NJ assembly plant, & the unionized workers driving late model GM SUVs & trucks could conveniently cross Route One & apply for new jobs at Walmart. GM's done that to a lot of cities.

Monday, April 23, 2007

candy bars, the wellness food

Alas, the party is over. Google's test run of a new basic search page tripled my "unique visitors" for nearly a month, slowly increasing the daily average of "returning vistors," the one statistic that really matters to me. Interesting to me how visitors were getting here. A single post about a stupid game show accounted for much of the upward leap, but Google was doing better at finding images here & at my other websites that link to this one, including a Jersey postcard collection. Google ended the trial, with a resulting steep fall off. Hoping for a net gain.
Hershey's is promoting candy bars as "wellness" food. A counter display next to the register at 7-11 - prime real estate - features three new bars plus a tear off info sheet. The only difference between these Hershey bars & standard Hershey bars is that they have a higher proportion of higher quality chocolate. So remember, an "all natural extra dark" Hershey Bar is as good as a cup of blueberries (a rather large serving), & much better than red wine & green tea.
Yesterday was a rare Sunday I wasn't pestered at an Elizabeth train station ticket machine by someone wanting to "help" me. These cleanly-dressed do-ya-a-favor-for-change panhandlers position themselves next to the ticket machines & put pressure on your personal space. Usually, I cut it pretty close to train time, & especially if I'm using a debit card I'm in no mood to have them looking over my shoulder, & I can be pretty abrupt, like, "BACK OFF." & they're shocked at my rudeness. But it's a game, they know their presence unnerves & rushes some people enough to get confused about what should be a clear series of prompts & steps. They also cause lines at the machines when the ticket office is closed, forcing some passengers to choose between missing the train or paying a $5 surcharge on board. I have a card that waives the fee, but I've advised people stuck without tickets to tell the conductor about the panhandler. If Elizabeth wants the train station to anchor more redevelopment, the city needs to keep it cleaner & send some cops up there on regular patrol, like Rahway does. Elizabeth has more elevator pissers than Rahway.

I'm more likely to give change to someone asking for it outside a liquor store, because they're honest alcoholics.

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Sunday, April 22, 2007

Palace of Depression, Vineland NJ

Filled in for Gaylord Fields from 5-7 pm today at WFMU, now archived for your 24/7 online listening pleasure.


Saturday, April 21, 2007

A Boiled Telephone

In Salvador Dali's "autobiography," he expresses disappointment that whenever he orders boiled lobster, he is never surprised with a serving of boiled telephone. Of course, had Dali been served boiled telephone, he wouldn't have been surprised. Still, I consider it a legitimate complaint.

I may not deliver that boiled telephone very often in my own writing, but I always hope for it in art. Boiled telephones come to us often in daily life. I've always advised others, especially young artists, to look for boiled telephones, knowing that they rarely got them from their parents, their teachers, or the paid arbiters of culture. Being aware of how infrequently contemporary poetry offers the dish, I believe the poet has an obligation to point to encounters with boiled telephones as a poetry of experience. & to regard seeing, hearing, curiosity, patience, & acceptance of whatever happens next* as learnable creative skills - which may paradoxically render unnecessary the actual making of poems, but will at the least instill a valuable skepticism toward art, the marketable artifact, & the people who sell it or worship it.

*hat tip to pianist/composer Neely Bruce, from his essay on 19th Century popular piano recital music.

(A revision of one of my first blog posts.)


Friday, April 20, 2007

Happy Anniversary

The Rix Mix passed its 4th birthday this week. It wasn't originally called The Rix Mix, but the blog itself didn't change direction. The blog was started in a what-the-heck spirit, without much forethought. Some qualities of the blog emerged fully formed: the standard template Creamsicle color banner that reminds me of Kohr's Frozen Custard stands on the boardwalk; the journal/scrapbook approach; minimizing copy & paste quotations & links; concentrating on original writing, even if a paragraph or two. It was only about 18 months ago when I realized The Rix Mix had a weekly rhythm, like a magazine in daily installments, & that's when Sunday postcards became a regular feature, delineating weeks. The Rix Mix wasn't designed to gain a large readership or compete with political & theme blogs. It was intended to push me into writing something almost everyday, using the incentive of knowing that after awhile a few people would become regular visitors. I used to drive long distances to give poetry readings for audiences of 15 to 25 people, most of whom were there to read their own poems in the open mic part. Doing a blog is more gratifying.


Thursday, April 19, 2007

a rabbit

I watched a jet black rabbit nibbling grass in a front yard late this afternoon. It was a small yard on a busy street. I was no more than 10 feet away but it paid no attention to me. There's a variety of four-legged wildlife around the neighborhood; mice, rats, squirrels, feral cats, skunks, possums, raccoons. Plus bats. Seen them all. Hate the still, humid nights when a skunk lets loose. But hadn't yet encountered a rabbit, & wouldn't have been surprised a few blocks over where the houses are larger & the lawns are much wider & greener. This particular rabbit looked a liitle too black, a little too plump & healthy, & a little too incautious for a naturally wild rabbit. I think someone's bunny escaped a backyard hutch.

The extended family across the street on the corner kept a rooster in their backyard. I could hear it around my side of the building, but it was terribly annoying to everyone with windows facing that house. They'd let the rooster loose around their yard during the day & some nights didn't bother chasing it back into the coop. Roosters are supposed to be good guard animals. At first, I suspected an unsavory intent, cock-fighting. But the rooster evidentally was a member of the family. Then, at some point last summer, I stopped hearing the ugly bird. Good riddance. Maybe they boiled it into broth.


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Nikki Giovanni

College creative writing classes can be peer pressure cookers, espcially with an inept or careless teacher. I know, I was in a few that broke down into cliques, & one in which the teacher incited terrible arguments between the male & female students while she sat cross-legged on the desk impassively munching trail mix. I dropped that course & filed a complaint with the Dept. Chair. Apparently I wasn't the only complainer, since her contract wasn't renewed. The good writers I studied with were good teachers, too, once I got used to their eccentricities. It was reported that Cho, an English major, had faced a concerned English teacher. The identity of that teacher was revealed as Nikki Giovanni, who had near pop star status in the late Sixties when poets could be celebs (She was billed as "The Princess of Black Poetry," a typically absurd conceit of the era - only "Godfather of Soul" went unchallenged), is so much shorter than me that I noticed, indomitable spirit, & managed in her younger years - not always convincingly - to negotiate a tricky path between the competing rhetorics of Black Power, feminism, & populist idealism, yet keep the "confessional" voice college kids liked in their poets. How many large schools have their famous poet teaching an undergrad Intro to Creative Writing? Just passing that course means you get to put it on your resume same as an MFA student. I heard Giovanni read a number of times when she was teaching at Rutgers, didn't care much for her early poems generally, enjoyed her views & attitude, have no idea what she's writing now, but that's neither here nor there. It's good - empowering even - to see a self-assured poet commanding a bard's role on behalf of her Virginia Tech community in a trying time; "witnessing" was the catch-word for it a few years back.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Peace to Blacksburg

If I were a resident college student, & two people were murdered on campus early in the morning, & the killer was loose, I'd want to be informed of that before I left the dorm. I'd want to know about it before I left my room. If it happened in my dorm, I'd want to know about it when the police arrived. Would it change my routine if there was no lockdown? I don't know. But it would definitely make me more aware of my surroundings, more cautious.

The networks treat the tragedy at Virginia Tech mainly as if the number of dead is what gives it the most significance; a perverse, record-setting "deadliest shooting rampage." So media flocks to Blacksburg. Stories of personal heroism & sacrifice are told, many true, some that will prove to be exaggerated as martyrs are sought to provide spiritual "meaning" to the senselessness. Survivors & prominent local citizens interviewed. The killer's insane motivations theorized. Campus & city police procedures placed under a spotlight. Gun laws scrutinized. For a brief while we will even know the victims, & mourn with families & friends. But it's Columbine all over, & the basic issues are the same: loner killers with grievances who signaled their inner rage well in advance; legal or convenient access to deadly firepower; a lack of security where it is possible to provide more; the illusion of safety.

One reporter last night compared it to having to report that 33 American soldiers had been killed in Iraq, that "the entire nation would grieve." I thought, as it is, we hardly know the names of our dead soldiers, because they die in ones & twos & their bodies sent home in silence & invisibility to families all around the country, a "Taps" here, a folded flag there. We understand now what happens to our wounded. Our grief is not deep enough to end the war. The fear thousands of American parents felt yesterday is what parents in Iraq feel whenever their children leave the house, & when they hear an explosion or gunshots in the distance or just up the street. For them & their dead, we grieve as a nation not at all. Peace to Blacksburg, Virginia Tech, & to everyone affected by the massacre.


Throw the religionists out

I hadn't voted in a school board election for maybe ten years. One doesn't pay much attention to local school issues if one doesn't own property, work in the system, or have school-age children. In one-party towns, it can be a good thing when a dissenting faction of the ruling party contends for control of the school board, gaining influence over the large budget, jobs, & direction of the school system. Elizabeth has a politicized school board. Enormous amounts of federal & state money flow into this urban school district, much of it discretionary, so naturally there's bitter competition over who decides how to spend it (& which friends & allies feed at the trough). I didn't much care until the past year, when the Board of Ed got my attention. The Board got it by making me believe it included, or was too influenced by, right wing Christians. There was evidence. That was enough to send me to the polls today. I cast votes for three candidates I'm pretty sure are not right wing Christians, definitely not aligned with them, & are unlikely to support the funneling of money to afterschool programs run by right wing Christians, based on evangelical church models for youth activities, reflecting those narrow "values" & lifestyle choices, & which are organized like recruitment campaigns for the sponsoring religious group. Also, lets not brand any more schools with the names of prominent local clergy. Or recent Republican presidents.

* My candidates lost in a close race, no surprise, really. 13 names competing for 3 seats.

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Monday, April 16, 2007

Spring Struggles

Spring struggles on my street. The Contrarian has flood photos from Rahway NJ.

Emergency vehicle sirens all around here yesterday. My immediate neighborhood had only minor street catch basin flooding. Other parts of the city fared badly. The Elizabeth River drops quickly after the rain ends. I almost made the mistake yesterday of going out during a lull in the rain without an umbrella. Came back inside to retrieve it, & the torrential downpour started up again before I reached the 7-11 two long blocks away. I hadn't realized how much rain had fallen. This used to be the "Cherry Hill" section of the city, there is a slight hill with a large apartment building at the top, & the street - Cherry Street - was a river on the other side of it, flowing down toward the convenience store. But most of that water was draining away & causing problems elsewhere.

Last year I got a flannel-lined sports coat that I figured would be perfect for April, an alternative to the baggy hooded gray sweat jacket. Too cold to wear it. I've worn it once, to a party on warm night in early January. A correspondent outside Johnstown PA has drifting snow today & a tree tilting precariously against the electric lines.

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Sunday, April 15, 2007

Traymore Hotel, Atlantic City NJ

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Saturday, April 14, 2007

Nuns on the beach

During my middle & high school years, I always spent Easter week with my grandmother in Atlantic City, taking the bus down Monday. It was an enjoyable if generally dull week of wandering the beach & boardwalk, playing pinball, watching Philadelphia TV stations, & eating Nana's cooking. A week to be spoiled. The boardwalk was just waking up from the winter season when the warm weather businesses & piers were shuttered & most of everything else was semi-comatose like a blue claw crab on ice. The boardwalk "Easter Parade" brought the first sizable crowd of the year into town for a day. Probably some fading Bandstand fav from Philly played a holiday show on the Steel Pier, a Bobby Rydell. The candy emporiums propped their doors open & let the fragrances drift out.

It was also the week Atlantic City hosted the annual Convocation of Northeast Catholic Educators, "Spring Break" for several thousand priests, brothers, & nuns. Back when the majority of teachers in Catholic schools were of religious orders. Those were the years of Vatican Two, nuns were still wearing traditional habits or the new, less confining modifications. So the boardwalk was a sea of black & brown with starched white edges. They spent money, too. Not as much as the Shriners or UAW, & I doubt if the illegal gambling rooms & ladies of the evening did very well ( certainly they did some business). Hotel restaurants & bars made out alright, it wasn't an expensive city. It was off-season & the boisterous summer surf 'n' turf customers weren't waiting in line. The Catholic Educators rode rolling chairs on the boardwalk & horses on the beach, sunned themselves on the patio in front of the Dennis Hotel, loitered in the somewhat seedy but still impressive lobby of the Traymore. Priests loading golf clubs into taxis was a common enough sight. Sisters sat together on benches comparing bags of freebies from the convention vendor displays. Although there were meetings, seminars & panel discussions, nobody looked like they were rushing from one to another of them.

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Friday, April 13, 2007

How long has this been going on?

Good at least to hear about a school scandal involving consenting adults. Small school, too. This story's only gonna get juicer when they figure out who was behind the exposé:
CHICAGO - A principal and a teacher at a suburban elementary school quit amid allegations they were caught on video having sex in the principal's office, authorities say.

In keeping with Cook County's reputation for bare-knuckle politics, the scandal broke after copies of the sex tape were mailed anonymously to parents this week, just days before a contested school board election.

The case has also created something of a mystery: Who planted the camera that recorded the action?

Leroy Coleman and Janet Lofton submitted their resignations after meeting with the district superintendent Thursday, said John Izzo, board attorney for the Sandridge Elementary School district, about 20 miles south of Chicago.

Izzo said that Coleman, the school's principal since 2005, wrote that he was quitting for health reasons. He said Lofton wrote that she was stepping down immediately "due to the illness of a family member."

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Victory over racism & bigotry

Now that Don Imus has been tossed off WFAN, let me know when it's safe to tune into WABC, where the mouths actually shill for the Repugs, theocrats, neofascists, homophobes & warmongers, & publish their spew in books that are on the shelves of my local library. Won't be as easy as shooting a half-dead fish in a barrel. I don't even want to think about what's on the AM radio dial west of the Delaware River.

One of my correspondents noted that the Imus controversy extended the media "sell date" of the Rutgers women's basketball team. Indeed, not only did it completely upstage Tennessee in the brief news cycle alotted to the women's NCAA championship game, it brought Rutgers out of the sports section on to the front pages & took the team all the way to Oprah's national stage. Sitting in a local Dunkin' Donuts that has a large flat screen TV tuned 24/7 to CNN, I watched clips of the Rutgers press conference immediately following updates on Anna Nicole Smith's baby. You can't buy that kind of publicity. Make no mistake, it was good publicity. & this team really is a team rather than the assortment of NBA-in-waiting egos you find in most top tier programs on the men's side.

Update: It's news that's creating news now, as NJ Governor Corzine was seriously injured in a crash on his way to a meeting between Imus & the Scarlet Knights. Bummer. Oddly, he's the third consecutive elected governor to break a leg while in office. Dick Codey gets to run things again.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut

Dead at age 84, from injuries suffered in a fall.
What can I possibly say about this wonderful author & soul, except to note that we share a birthday, November 11, his writing rarely baffled me, his pessimism was innate as well as earned, he had a beautiful wife, & he could be very funny.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Self-Heating Coffee

If Don Imus thought an apology in the presence of Al Sharpton was a tough sell, wait till he looks into the unsmiling face of C. Vivian Stringer, who is not only coach to the Rutgers women, but also their mentor, friend, & fiercely protective mother in loco parentis. & one of the most famous & respected black women in America.
Major communication breakthrough with the branch librarian today. When I returned a book, she looked up, briefly smiled, & said, "Hmmm." Probably because I wasn't checking anything out, which was unusual. After a year of steady business, I earned it.
Kind of ridiculous item I can't stand, but it was in the closeout bin at the supermarket for 2/3rd off its regular price: Hillside Coffee Mocha Latte in self-heating container. Turn upside down, pull a tab at the bottom, press a button, wait until the pink dot turns white, turn right side up, open & drink hot beverage. "A single step mixes calcium oxide (quicklime) and water. It heats the coffee to 145 degrees in six minutes — and stays hot for 30 minutes." I'll save it for next time I expect to be a long way from a bad cup of coffee, which isn't often.

Kurt Russell in "Gilligan Meets Jungle Boy."
I've liked Kurt since he shot up a TV as Elvis, then created the all-American Snake Plissken character 2 years later in Escape from New York. Saved Big Trouble In Little China with his constant griping & muttered asides. A sane celebrity & entertaining talk show guest. Doesn't make many movies, so I'm looking forward to Grindhouse.


Monday, April 09, 2007

Don Imus

I've always liked Don Imus. I still remember when he came to New York in the early 70s, there'd never been anything quite like him. He was truly an angry man, something he proved through his personal self-destructiveness. Imus was always an equal-opportunity bigot. Shock jocks have to fill up enormous amounts of air time & they have only so much prepared material, so they just jabber, relying on their sidekicks to poke & prod them into ever more outrageous statements. Politicians are his specialty, there's no dearth of targets, & for some you can't aim low enough. You can hardly miss by calling a Repug congressman, "a lying fat little skunk from Texas." Whatever possessed him to toss racist, sexist insults at the Rutger's women's basketball team is beyond me. It was shock jock jabber. It'll be a damned shame if Imus wrecks his career over this, given all the other ways he could do it, but who can defend him? I don't know what he can do to make amends, but he should not push for a meeting with Coach Stringer & the team. Imus' predicament isn't about them. He doesn't know who they are. To them, he's just some big-mouthed radio dirtbag. For us fans, the Scarlet Knights are great winners. But their loss to Tennessee was a bitter disappointment for the team, despite the national attention & admiration they were receiving. Imus spread ugliness over a week when we wanted the team to feel only love & respect.


Sunday, April 08, 2007


Our Lady Star of the Sea Roman Catholic Church.
My grandmother's parish in Atlantic City NJ.

Easter was the only Sunday of the year my entire family went to church together. That was the case with lots of families. We walked around the corner to Community Methodist Church. The sanctuary was always so crowded that folding doors were opened into a side chapel for extra seating, & the place looked terrific with all the flowers. Not being accustomed to attending church with my parents & siblings, it was a bit embarrassing, especially since so much schmoozing went on before & after the service. Mom of course wanted to play her role to the fullest; 4 children was a substantial number of kids for a Methodist family, though it was just average over at the Catholic Church, & she had us dressed up like dolls. My parents were active in the church, women's social circle, Boy Scouts, & the married couples club. But other weeks, Sunday was Dad's morning to sleep late. Mom got us off to Sunday School. Nana walked to mass at St. Joe's RC & usually visited with her pal, Mrs. Kelly, afterward. Much later, it occurred to me that about an hour on Sunday morning was for many years the only really private time my parents had.

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Saturday, April 07, 2007

Blogging Against Theocracy

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the lake. But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified, saying, "It is a ghost!" And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, "Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid."

Peter answered him, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me!" Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God." [Matthew 14:22-33, NRSV]
If you ask me if I believe this actually happened, I'll say that I've never personally seen anyone walk on water. According to Jesus, you don't have to be divine to do it. Other religions have water-walkers, too. Like other Biblical miracle stories, it's wonderful poetry with levels of meaning. It looks back to the Old Testament, to Moses' encounter with God on Mount Sinai. It's about faith & about anxiety; the metaphorical storm can sink more than a little boat. I'd like to believe it literally, did as a child, but it's not important now. I struggle to believe what it tells me, because I am a fearful & doubting human being. Christian fundamentalists say this isn't enough, that the passage is true absolutely because the Bible is factually inerrant. Even Augustine, so much nearer the events than us, didn't fall into that trap. I'm also quoting from what a wider variety of Christians consider a hopelessly bad translation, one that will lead me astray. If you're not a Christian, there's no reason you should have to know this lovely story at all. But an evangelical Christian will cite this passage as one proof of Jesus' divinity, if not the definitive example.

This blog is always against theocracy. It is against the theocratic drive in politics & in culture. I am against one-size-fits-all religion. In most American towns, that one size used to be whatever protestanism you found in the churches on Main Street. It excluded Catholics, Jews, & people with no religion. Now it is simply "Christian." But there are still tests. The main test is that you have to make a lot of noise about being Christian, the right kind of noise. It's alright to be a Jew or a Catholic as long you acknowledge in some way the primacy of the conservative protestant view as the most authentic n expression of American beliefs & values. I am against pressuring people to hold specific religious beliefs, or any religious beliefs at all, or to have to pretend belief to get along. I do not believe we solve the problems of America by making America more "Christian."

I blog against theocracy by writing about religion with affection, humor, & exasperation. Sure, I'm nostalgic sometimes about my Eisenhower era childhood, with its suburban stability, general consensus on community "standards" (exemplified in my mind by the popularity of the Boy Scouts), & the casual, unchallenged public celebrations of Christianity. But my perspective encompassed all of a one square mile town with exotic outposts at the Jersey shore. I know I can't go back. Nobody can. My sentiment is really for neighborliness & civility, not for religious conformity. That protestants, Catholics & Jews were living peacefully next to each other in suburbia in the Fifties was a pretty big deal. It wasn't utopia, but it was a great improvement on the sectarianism of earlier generations. My parents' middle class generation knew exactly what they were overcoming.

The protestant right understands the importance of popular, secular culture; they knew it when they were throwing Elvis records into bonfires 50 years ago. They overestimated their ability to infiltrate & influence it. They believed that gaining control of government would give them the power to speed up the process. They've had such mixed success that I don't hesitate to say they've failed badly so far. They did succeed at creating an alternative culture, strong, diverse, profitable, & self-contained, & not very interesting. Five Christian radio stations in a market doesn't equal one top-rated popular music station that has no religious programming. Boycotts of Disney enterprises fail because kids are the most emphatic consumers of Disneyworld & they, not the Southern Baptist patriarchs, have the last word on the matter. Nobody has found a way to stop Harry Potter, or Halloween, or Sponge Bob, or hip hop.

Because I'm undecided about Jesus walking on water, I'm disqualified from joining churches I'd never set foot in anyway for a bunch of other reasons. They can have that freedom.

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Friday, April 06, 2007

Good Friday

A practical aspect of Roman Catholicism I admire is its catholicism, or universality. Its essentials - the sacraments - are the same no matter you go, although the ritual trappings may be unfamiliar. Catholics who make an effort to attend mass weekly & on Holy Days simply find an RC church & go. I knew a punk Catholic girl who sampled various downtown Manhattan churches on Saturday evenings before heading over to the legendary CBGB's club on the east side. With frizzed up purple hair & multiple piercings, including about 20 thingies embedded & dangling around her ears. She said the regulars usually stared at her for a few minutes & then lost interest. On our annual overnights to see the Radio City Christmas Show, my grandmother brought me to St. Patrick's Cathedral on Sunday morning before we took the bus home. Her instructions to me were always, "Just do what I do, you don't have pretend to recite anything." Most of the people in our pews toward the rear of the huge, ornate space were also sight-seers. Binoculars would have helped. Many Roman Catholic churches on the Jersey shore would go broke without the summer vacationer trade. Diocsean Catholic Churches have parish communities with their unique characteristics, but inside the Eucharist Mass the personal identity of the priest, the building, & the locality, are irrelevant.

By contrast, a small or medium sized protestant church's congregation & pastor - the social & organizational unit - comprise most of the church's "personality," which may have familiar attributes to the outsider - a traditional "order of worship," the music, the sanctuary design, but is very localized. So when one walks into that church, one enters a gathering of strangers, however welcoming they are. In fact, the more welcoming they are, the more uncomfortable one might become. Anonymity is impossible. The pastor always greets congregants at the door following the service, & people tend to mill around outside. One might even be strongly encouraged to attend a "social hour." It's easier to be a shy Catholic.

I was staying with my best friend's grandparents in Pennsylvania, dairy farm country near Honesdale. They were all church folk up there & I figured them to drag us off to a dull service on Sunday. Instead, they deposited us in the Sunday School of a rural Methodist church, this was unheard of! It was one of the longest hours of my childhood, stuck with a bunch of hick kids & a strange teacher, expected to participate in the Bible lesson activities, when the real topic of the day was us, genuine curiosities on display. One time I wished I was Catholic.

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

Maundy Thursday

Will I go to church on Easter? Mulling it over. The Methodist up the street says on the sign,"Join a growing church." But the growing part is the Brazilian mission that meets Sunday afternoons. The Lutheran about a mile away is the only obviously liberal protestant church in town except for the gloomy Episcopalian in the main shopping district. I'm not into either of those denominations. That leaves 2nd Presbyterian in Rahway, a church I know has plenty of empty pews, always meant to try it out when I lived there, never got further then looking in on their Saturday lunch program & finding out they really didn't need volunteers, there didn't seem to be much else going on in the place. For an older mainstream church with a small congregation, Easter is probably a good day to go for the first time, I'll attract less attention as an outsider. Called for the service time, 10 am, the man on the phone was very pleased, "Are you a visitor? Live in town?" We'll see if I can get up, throw on presentable clothes, catch the train, & walk in with 5 minutes to spare. I'm not sure why. Maybe curiousity about who else is there. A lot of aging churches around here have almost no younger people left in them.

I always find churches I might like in places too far away. There's two in Point Pleasant Beach only blocks apart, a Presbyterian with an enlightened minister who posts his sermons online, & a small United Methodist downtown that has good supper events, a beach service, picnics, & an annual trip to a Blue Claws game. Shore churches are also accustomed to visitors.

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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The book I haven't written

For years, I've wanted to write a book about growing up in my family. What makes them so special that anyone else would want to read such a book? That's the challenge. Other writers succeed with families less interesting. Here's an example: One day my father came home with a World War I era ship deck cannon & installed it in the basement. It was from a freighter, but it looked like the kind you see on the bows of submarines in old movies. When you came down the basement steps & turned left, its muzzle pointed right at your head. I was renowned among friends & aquaintances for having this "toy" in the cellar. Friends would bring friends who had heard rumors. When Dad remarried, he moved the gun to a bluff overlooking Manasquan River behind his wife's shore house & fired a blank charge every Saturday at Noon.

That's anecdotal, & I didn't describe Dad. but my family was theatrical, still is. Later, I began understanding how we are all assigned parts to play, even before we are born. We play those parts all our lives, to our benefit or not.

I'm aware that there are three contending points-of-view to anything I write, all from older siblings. There are huge holes in the backstory, not only for events in the years immediately before I was born, but also the histories of my grandparents. When asked, Mom talked a bit about her childhood, which was privileged during the Great Depression. Dad had little he wanted to say about his - he didn't go hungry either, but his attitude generally prevailed. There was a web of family in Philadelphia that remains a mystery to me, & was, in fact, pretty much a mystery to Dad, too. Late in his life he began visiting an old aunt, a retired nun, who reputedly knew everything, including the scandalous stuff. Little of what he discovered got back to me. Dad was a preservationist of things, not of memories. Things do not have memories. "No ideas but in things," wrote poet William Carlos Williams.

My maternal grandmother, Nana, died when I was 20, an age when hardly anyone cares about their family, & about three years before I quit the stronger mind-altering substances & gave up my dream of being a rich rocker. Had she lived, I'm certain I would've visited her quite often in Atlantic City & asked many questions. Although I hadn't seen her much in the three years before she passed, she was pleased that I was seriously involved with an Irish-Catholic girl from Roselle Park. For her, that was cause for hope, & kept me on her good side. (& yes, for the right girl I would have raised children as Catholics, I didn't believe it had to permanently ruin them).

Subsequently, it's been bits & pieces of writing. Idealized stories, peculiar poems, all of which have told me this book would not be a straight non-fiction narrative. Facts are clay. For a long time I believed I didn't have enough of the facts. Now, looking at my journals, poems, files of fragmentary prose, this blog, a box of old floppy disks - heaven knows what's on those, it's probably more a task of assembling. But assemble into what form?

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Tennessee 59, Rutgers 46

The Rutgers women's basketball team was ranked 12th preseason & it was a gift. The incomparable Cappie Poindexter was gone.They had three freshman expected to play key roles, tough early opponents, & a Big East conference with UConn & at least six other good teams. They were 5-5 on Jan 1, including bad losses to Duke & Old Dominion., & had fallen out of the Top 25 altogether. I wasn't the only one thinking WNIT at that point. A rebuilding year. But it turns out Coach Vivian Springer was furious, angrier than she had ever been at one of her teams. The Scarlet Knights started to win. They lost only four more games, including the one tonight for the National Championship. Two of those losses were to UConn in the regular season. They beat UConn in the Big East Tournament, Duke & LSU in the NCAA. I was certain they could defeat North Carolina in a final. But I wanted them to win the title by beating Tennessee. They came up short. The Vols were better again. It was an unexpected, great season. Who figured? Thanks, ladies.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Dress for success

I would have walked downtown today for this circus had I known it was happening on the steps of Elizabeth City Hall, the same location I watched a Democratic mayor endorse Ronald Reagan in 1984. Count the women in the photo.

To say I don't relate to these people is a huge understatement. It is as if they are of some close but entirely separate species of humanoid, one that never developed the brain functions necessary for the creation of lovely things. A sad, barren landscape this is, stunted trees huddling together. Mute Athena. Aphrodite mocks the embrace. Where the courageous liberal spirit flees, bless whatever decent intentions it leaves behind.

Rutgers 59, LSU 35

"Guess we'll see all you guys here on Tuesday." Coach C. Vivian Stringer

Now Rutgers meets its true arch-nemesis, Tennessee, for the National Championship. This is always, to my mind, THE matchup. The Scarlet Knights got rid of Duke & the Lady Vols took out North Carolina to get to this game. So much for the big bad ACC. Let's have at it.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Palm Sunday

Seaside Heights NJ

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"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." Thomas Jefferson

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