Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The chemist who took a trip

Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann died. He was 102. Mr. Hofmann invented lysergic acid diethylamide in 1938 & took his first trip a few years later. There will be much written about him over the next few days.

L.S.D. became a common hallucinogenic street drug in the Sixties, which meant you didn't know what you were getting, how strong it was, or what would happen when you ingested it. I took LSD maybe five times. It would be a big stretch to say those experiences were pleasurable. Mine were nightmarish. It was chemical-induced psychosis. A trip lasted for at least 8 hours plus a decompression preiod, & one was trapped for the duration. It was frightening & dangerous to take in uncontrolled conditions, & control implies the potential for manipulation. Synthetic mescaline was more to my taste, a much softer & more reality-based hallucinogen which left you enough presence of mind to "get yourself together" as unforeseen circumstances might require, like encountering police in a county park, but it was difficult to obtain. If the Sixties make you think of young longhairs tossing Frisbees & laughing over nothing, activities I enjoyed, that's not LSD. It was just how we said, "Go fuck yourself" to adults. My like-minded neighbor Anne & I took occasional frisbee breaks well into our thirties without using drugs.

The people claiming to have gained great spiritual insight from LSD were generally egomaniacs who made those claims anyway, a Sixties counter culture elite with the same hubris you get from the types in every era. By the end of the Sixties, many of those cultural celebrities were disliked & distrusted, few made the cut for the next decade. The excesses of punk & disco finished them off. In his poems, Allen Ginsberg never disguised the terror he felt when he took LSD. He couldn't narrow his visions to peace, love, & wearing flowers in his hair. The supposed LSD "masterpiece" of the time, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, now sounds like British pothead whimsy. Recordings of Grateful Dead jams are as boring as they always were. Among the famous bands, Led Zep's "Whole Lotta Love" is one of the few enduring acid songs. Anyway, much of the music we think of as LSD-inspired was actually helped along with copious quantities of heroin & Johnnie Walker - they were musicians, not mystical visionaries.

To Dr. Hofmann's credit, he recognized that psychotropic drug experiences are treated as serious spiritual matters in non-western cultures, not as casual recreation. But we wanted instant enlightenment in America, spirituality without the committments of religion. Maybe that's what I learned from LSD; that if the fabric of this level of existence - the one we all assume we share - rips open like it did for Ezekiel, Teresa of Ávila, & Bahá'u'lláh, it will likely occur at an unexpected & inconvenient moment, & place extraordinary demands upon the person having the experience. I was only taking an illegal drug & going crazy on Saturday night.

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Wright stuff

Perhaps the Rev. Jeremiah Wright is doing the only thing he can to help Obama, which is to give him a reason to repudiate Wright. What else could Wright do? He couldn't repudiate himself or crawl under a rock somewhere. At the same time, he's demonstrating how large an issue race is in this campaign. This is a primary where black Democrats are voting overwhelmingly for the black candidate & the older white Democrats are voting overwhelmingly for the white candidate. I could imagine Obama losing the popular vote in November yet winning in the exit polls simply because so many white Democratic voters wouldn't admit to pollsters that they'd voted for McCain or why. It's uncool to admit one is racially prejudiced.

Back to Wright. I listened to most of his speech to the NAACP on Sunday. He's a great stylist. But as he got deeper into his speech, his assertions became more dubious, his truisms harder to ignore. Strangely, he lectured the audience, including me watching in Dunkin' Donuts, on the impossibility of notating certain kinds of music in conventional western (or any) notational system so that the music could be performed by musicians who had never heard the music. It's what he meant, not how he explained it. This applies not only to jazz, blues, etc., but to a whole range of musics. Some very refined non-western classical musics aren't notated at all or you're expected to have the knowledge & chops to construct it from a limited amount of written information. It's legendary that marijuana & an almost telepathic ensemble virtuosity, rather than written arrangements, were the not-so- secret ingredients in Count Basie's fabulous bands of the 1930's. These facts were practically the first things my professor said in Introduction to World Music in 1973. This is old stuff for Wright to be dusting off in 2008. They should not be presented as mutually exclusive approaches. Nobody with a brain thinks jazz is "deficient" rather than just "different." Public schools are not forcing Bach & Beethoven into black kids anymore to the exclusion of African-American music. But they have be available for the kid who becomes Kathleen Battle. Schools are lucky these days if they have strong arts programs. One public school music teacher I've known is primarily a guitarist who can play any style, & another carries an electric keyboard from classroom to classroom & couldn't play Chopin if you sat her at a Steinway Grand & stuck a candelabra on top of it. Yet another is a flautist with disciplined lips who performs very entertaining music on an empty beer bottle if she's consumed the contents of said bottle. These people know how to teach music in urban schools. They have to prove it annually at Spring Recital time.

Wright went off on 30 year old research into right/left brain learning, as if the problem is that we just haven't instituted the correct pedagogy for teaching black children. I couldn't help but think of Dr. Maria Montessori & "self-directed learning." She developed it in Italy in the late19th Century, not in Detroit in 1970. But Wright has three college degrees from conventional classrooms & was speaking to the elite of African-American leaders of business & education. We know that a minimal level of success with poor children from crappy homes is less dependent on teaching methods than on in loco parentis, the school taking the place of parents. Feed the children & accept that many of them have nightmarish home environments & little parental supervision. Educators can't agree on what children ought to be learning much less how they ought to be learning it. I just read somewhere that they want to add a required 1/2 year of Economics to the high school curriculum. I assume it isn't Home Economics, which would be more valuable. Maybe it takes 4 months now to learn the definition of recession.

Rev. Wright is old school. His message is, "Deal with the reality." It's the in your face style that doesn't work well in American politics. Politics isn't about that reality. Wright came of age in an era when many white politicians were openly, proudly, arrogantly racist, & his generation of young black leaders courageously gave it back. Some of them were killed for doing it. Now, instead of standing with baseball bats in the doorways of segregated white schools, politicians like George W. Bush have learned to stand in the ruins of New Orleans & smile as they tell us how much they love all the good folks that don't live there anymore. Tell lies often enough & loudly enough, people start believing them, as Joseph Goebbels so astutely advised Der Fuhrer.

If you think Rev. Wright is radical (I think he's eccentric), keep in mind that he's also a tremendously successful pastor. Trinity, from which he has retired, is a United Church of Christ - not a traditionally African-American denomination. Anyone is welcome there, including gays & lesbians. Wright built Trinity into the largest congregation in the UCC, & it serves the poor of Chicago & serves them extremely well. So you can go there & hear the angry prophetic message - dire warnings for an unjust nation, along with the Gospel of the Sermon On the Mount, or you can attend an antiseptic mega church out on the interstate that holds flag-waving patriotic pageants every Sunday morning inspired by the finales of World War Two movie musicals.

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Monday, April 28, 2008

She Created The Blob

Kate Phillips, who played mostly supporting roles on Broadway and in more than 50 films in the 1930s and ’40s and who later was a co-writer of the 1958 horror film “The Blob,” died on April 18 in Keene, N.H. She was 94.
In 1956, while working with Theodore Simonson on the script for a movie that was supposed to be called “The Molten Meteor,” Mrs. Phillips referred to the giant jellylike creature from another planet that had plopped into a field outside of a small town as “the blob.” Overhearing her, the producers changed the name of what became something of a cult classic.
In July 2003, Mrs. Phillips traveled to Phoenixville, Pa., to celebrate the town’s annual Blob Fest. As always, hundreds of B-movie fans raced out of the Colonial Theater, re-enacting the panic caused by a gelatinous creature in a scene filmed there almost five decades ago.
The Blob scared, thrilled, & traumatized me. The only place you were really safe from it was in a walk in freezer. The Blob didn't think. It just oozed you. If you were doomed to be oozed by The Blob, it was preferable to be oozed all at once. The simplicity of the concept - compare the amoebic Blob with complex creatures like energy beings from Cocoon, the voracious, stealthy Alien, or those apparently friendly critters from Close Encounters (I wasn't convinced they weren't planning to eat us) , which do you imagine would be more likely to evolve out there & reach here?

In the summer, you can see lumpy masses of bloblike algae floating in some lakes. Don't touch them, you never know for sure.


Sunday, April 27, 2008

I don't trust

the middle-aged man in the wet suit holding the surfboard who uses hair coloring & says, "Don't trust anyone over 90" as "Sunshine of Your Love" plays in the background. As a spokesperson for the boomers, that guy's more annoying than Dennis Hopper, & Dennis is older than John McCain.

Sandy Hook NJ

Upper part around 1976. At the time, it was possible to freely explore all the old Fort Hancock bunkers & gun emplacements, which were falling apart & clearly hazardous, & sneak into the abandoned Nike missile area. They've since been fenced in or razed. Seawalls & breakwaters have been rebuilt. One stormy day offseason, some friends & I were nearly trapped on the peninsula by huge surf & a rising tide, the small Park staff not having bothered to close the entry gates or patrol the roads & lots for any lingering sightseers. My favorite hangout, Plum Island, is off the photo on the lower left. Fortunately, this view is about the same today.

One of my regular artist customers at Pearl Arts Supply In Woodbridge NJ lived on the Coast Guard base at the tip of Sandy Hook. She was broken-hearted when her husband was transferred to Brooklyn.

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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Jimmy Giuffre

"Jimmy Giuffre, the adventurous clarinetist [& other reeds], composer and arranger whose 50-year journey through jazz led him from writing the Woody Herman anthem "Four Brothers" through minimalist, drummerless trios to striking experimental orchestral works, died on Thursday in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. He was 86."
Jimmy Giuffre I Only Have Eyes For You Rix's show Nov 25 2006 Hear song: RealAudio
Jimmy Giuffre The Train and the River This Is the Modern World with Trouble Jul 26 2007 Hear song: RealAudio
Jimmy Giuffre 3 Cry, Want Evan Muse Oct 22 2006 Hear song: RealAudio
Jimmy Giuffre 3 Emphasis Evan Muse Dec 10 2006 Hear song: RealAudio
Jimmy Giuffre 3 Off Center Rix's show Jun 8 2005 Hear song: RealAudio

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How does a guy survive a 500 foot fall into abandoned strip mine? Just a wild guess. Very drunk?

Note to Al Sharpton: A wrongful conviction is a greater danger to justice than a wrongful acquittal.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Sirens of Spring

With the lovely weather comes a flurry of gun violence in Newark & Irvington. Not unusual - same thing in Philly & Chicago. & covers all the categories: robbery, gang assassination, drive-by, collateral damage, mistaken identity, sociopaths on a lark, innocent college student in front of his own home, & one remarkable mano-a-mano gunfight between two gangbangers who killed each other. As these events are reported in The Star-Ledger Breaking News, the predictable comments show up beneath the stories. Those who believe every murder must have a motive. (Really, what's more tempting than possessing an illegal gun you haven't fired?) The police aren't doing their jobs. Citizens won't let the police do their jobs. It's the parents' fault. It's Mayor Booker's fault. It's not his fault. Irvington used to be such a great town in the 70's. (No, it wasn't. It's just worse now.) My favorite are the shrill cheerleaders who leave comments like, "C'mon PEOPLE , we have to get TOGETHER & take back OUR neighborhoods from the gangs." Those could be laptop missives from Newark's 24/7 security high rises with underground garages. Easier said than done. If you complain about the gangbangers on your block, & they find out you're complaining, you might as well nail your doors shut, board up the windows & never come outside again. The gang isn't in your neighborhood, you're in the gang's, & the only sane choices are to become part of the scenery or move out.

I like the mass arrests of 20 & 30 gangsters in one neighborhood, coordinated busts involving several law enforcement agencies with bench warrants. I don't know if the various charges stick, most probably not. But I figure it's disruptive of gang middle management. You can't get at the guys at the top easily, & some of them live out in expensive suburbia - you can tell where they live from the unimaginative one color living room walls & drapes, & cars in the driveway worth more than the houses. Busting the street dealers & soldiers does little except keep the county jail & public defenders in business. The vast majority of those bottom feeders are very young, semi-literate, stupid, poor, expendable, & not going far in the organization. They can't be trusted to manage money for the simple reason that they can't add & subtract. They couldn't make change working in Burger King even if the cash register announced, "Put the ten in the drawer with the other tens, give the customer one dollar, two dimes & three pennies." They can only handle easy whole dollar transactions while keeping track of the stash, playing with the walkie talkie, practicing a slow-mo walk in the street, self-consciously scratching their stomachs because their teeshirts are too long & they can't stick their hands in their pockets, & not tripping over the kid on the little bicycle. So a bagman comes by on the hour to pick up the loot before it gets miscounted, lost or stolen. Take out enough guys who can do basic arithmetic & also have somehow obtained a driver's license, & a gang is forced to promote hopeless teenage morons into jobs that require more brains than a willingness to kill anyone, anywhere, for any reason.

This strategy of targeting middle management worked very well on the Mafia - granted, a different, more diversified sort of enterprise. The higher the stupid, violent guys advanced in the Mafia due to frequent, unexpected job vacancies - business must continue - the easier it became to pick them off, turn them into rats. They were also more inclined to sloppily kill each other over career opportunities, compared to the smarter wiseguys who knew the value of stealth & invisibility.

It is really in the best long-term interests of gangs to support better urban schools & encourage their recruits to hang in there through 9th grade even if they've turned 18.

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Acappella Song

Feather fins, metal wings,
what do you think you are -

three birds or four birds
driving a car?

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Hillary does the mambo

All along my gut feeling about Barack Obama has been that there's no way they're gonna let this guy become president. "They" meaning Repugs, , the military-corporate establishment, the talking heads media, the religious right, & the Clintonistas. No reflection on Barack, who I think is terrific & the best hope we've got for decent & intelligent president. The noise from the kiddie brigades didn't sway me much. Never ever think that young voters will make the difference in a general election - you know this just by going to the polling place year in & year out & noticing who's there to vote. & I've voted in all kinds of places urban & suburban & semi-rural. Despite the War, despite the economy, despite the open contempt the 1% show for the 99%. Go ahead, kick us some more. Mary Matlin was just voted off "Dancing with the Stars" because, let's face it, it's very difficult to do the mambo when you can't hear the music. She's no quitter.

There was a period back in late February when if the nomination had been conceded to Obama, I thought he would have been almost unstoppable in November. But I believed he needed the Clintons on his side & needed them before summer. He needed their political experience, he needed their machine connections, & he needed their nastiness. He needed them to help absorb the racist hits & low blows we all knew were coming & to hit back on Obama's behalf while he stayed on that relentlessly positive message he was putting out. He needed a unified party that could turn immediately to the task of showing how John McCain is the worst thing that could happen to America. Because, after 2000 & 2004, I don't believe Democrats can win a close race in November. This election has to be a clear, unchallenged electoral victory that the Repugs have no hope of fixing or overturning.

Obama's worst enemy is Hillary Clinton. She's willing to hand 2008 to the Repugs in order to get another chance 1n 2012. It isn't that Obama can't win over those older white working class Democratic voters - it's obvious he can by the way he cuts down Hillary's poll numbers ; it's that Hillary has refused to let them go even after it was apparent that she could never regain the basic trust much less the enthusiastic support of the African-American Democratic base. Bill, in the most astonishing part of this entire endless campaign, back in South Carolina, inexplicably threw them away. 30 years of friendly bonding, the entire "First Black President" thing, gone almost overnight. What could Hillary do? It was a fatal mistake. She had no choice but to cobble together wins without the black vote. Which makes them all very dubious achievements. Black voters are the Democratic base. Hillary says she carries the "important" states. But a month ago I concluded she was unlikely to carry PA or Ohio or Florida or maybe even Jersey in November simply because she'd never win back the black vote in the numbers she'd need, & numbers ain't the same as percentages in elections. She could have run a primary campaign that conceded most black voters to Obama without alienating them. & in doing so she might well have held on to more black votes. What did she get out of PA - a ten delegate advantage? & that crap about how we "deserve a president who doesn't quit." Hey, George W. Bush isn't a quitter. & I notice Ron Paul's still officially in the race.

This campaign is heartbreaking to watch, & I watch very little of it now. The divisiveness. The outrageous sums of money spent - as if there's a bottomless trough of money - that should be reserved for use against John McCain. Who - absent some sea change in the masochistic American voting populace - will win in November. The blood''s in the water & the sharks are circling in to feed.
In response to Suzette:
One of my initial hopes for this year was that it would bring about the end of the Clinton era. It wasn't a consuming desire. I figured it would be a side-effect of someone else getting the nomination. I wanted John Edwards, the Southern white guy. If Hillary won it, so be it. But the South Carolina primary & a New York Times article on Bill's post-presidential business dealings changed my mind. It should have occurred to me that the Clintons might wage an apocalyptic battle. I certainly didn't expect Hillary to dynamite her bridges to core Democratic constituencies. There's no turning back for her now. She can't cut it in the Democratic Party without African-Americans no matter many Reagan Democrats, Jon Corzines & It's Our Turn middle-aged feminists she's got, & by 2012 nobody will make it without the netroots.

The Repugs were spared a bloodfest because the evangelicals couldn't find a candidate. & in a way, I think that was Giuliani's contribution. His early poll strength proved they didn't have anyone & the races degenerated into nonsense about Mormonism & evolution rather than their preferred topics of fetuses & anal sex between men.


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Earth Day

It's odd to recall that Earth Day was considered such a liberal, even somewhat radical, occasion when it was first observed in 1970. Even old-school Democrats associated environmentalism - an exotic word - with nasty leftists & "tree huggers." Progress equaled development of natural resources, which meant using them up, not renewing or sustaining them. Land was preserved by turning it into a park or golf course. They wanted to build a jetport in the Pine Barrens, & developers were still griping about the Great Swamp being off-limits. The Army Corps of Engineers had plans to dam up the Delaware River at Tocks Island & the government was buying up property for the purpose, evicting rural residents & tearing their houses down Tennessee Valley style. The "brown fields" of Jersey's industrialized wetlands were generally considered irreclaimable, good only for garbage dumps, nothing could possibly survive there. Black bears were uncommon. A bald eagle sighting would attract crowds. You were lucky to see a white egret along the wild Mullica River stretch of the Parkway.

Concepts of "environmentalism" in 1970 ranged from Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, to Lady Bird Johnson's wildflower campaign (a remarkable achievement, as it turned out), to a good deal of hippie "back to the country" bullshit.

The past 38 years have been a horror show of overdevelopment in New Jersey at the shore & in formerly rural sections. You can drive all the way to High Point State Park in Sussex County now without seeing a cow. Long Beach Island could make you weep if you had reason to visit there for anything but looking at a beautiful lighthouse.The Pine Barrens are a fraction of their original expanse, ripped & fraying. I''d read John McPhee's famous book on the Pine Barrens, & peered into them from paved roads. When, around 1980, I canoed through the middle of them in the company of a botanist, I was astonished at what was there, & stunned by the ecological frailty of the tiny things that are its greatest treasures.

But those same decades have been pretty good ones for Jersey's rivers & urban wetlands. When my sister moved up to Pottersville 25 years ago, I remember sitting by the beautiful Black River for the first time, a clear, rocky, gurgling miracle of a trout stream, & thinking, well, this place won't last. But it has. I marveled at the life in the tidal estuary section of Rahway River, which was a sewer when I was a kid. All summer long I'd see egrets & even an occasional Great Blue Heron, or a cormorant drying its wings on the bank.Upstream rain runoff still carries down a flood of oily garbage but that's not Rahway's fault. Nature lovers take guided tour boat trips through the vast Hackensack meadows to view wildlife where once they would only have seen rats - the rodent & the bodies of forcibly retired wiseguys. Mistakes are still made. Middlesex County wrecked the unique charm of Smith Creek in Sewaren by constructing an ugly & unnecessary county park just because they had the money to do it. It was the old mentality & it infuriated me.

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Five years of blogging

My blog's 5th birthday was on April 18th. Either Blogger didn't have post titles back then or I was refusing to use them. Blogger software was so ureliable I lost nearly the entire month of June '03. My blog had a different name.

I created the blog for the same reason as Tata; to keep from going crazy. I went crazy that year anyway, slowly, by increments I could feel & see, despite (or partly because of) the moderate daily dose of Zoloft I was taking at the time. The therapist I visited every other week was powerless to prevent it. I was occasionally hanging out & sleeping with a woman who listened to wingnut radio all day while she worked, a sure sign I was falling off the edge. I had a perverse fascination with the apathy she showed toward our relationship. It was the season of "Mission Accomplished." You couldn't dent the Executive Hubris with a sledge hammer. The president was more unhinged than I was.

I think about "upgrading" the blog & placing a banner graphic at the top. But I know it wouldn't increase the traffic. The blog template has so many small adjustments & tweeks that the entire structure could collapse. Why risk it when there's an empire of unprofessional webpages I have to maintain?

Yesterday, it occurred to me during a chat with a friend that I write better blog posts (in my judgment) while I'm reading better books. I tend to channel freshly implanted ideas & writing styles, which get run through the compound sentences I think of as "luncheonette counter talk" or "phone call paragraphs" or the more cryptic "radio segueways"- these categories are flexible. I challenge readers to find anything that reads like I've been drinking; "bar blab" has never been my thing. It's the responsibility of the editor to fix my writing, & I don't have one.

One reason I probably don't write much poetry is because prose disrupts my sense of poetic rhythm, which is very close to prose only slower. Syllables. I usually have to think about writing a poem exclusively for a least a a couple of days - go into training - before a poem discovers the synapses, & at that point I used to be able to write half-a-dozen keepers following the first attempt. This was one function of my old hard copy journals tapped out on a small Smith-Corona portable electric & then a Smith-Corona Data Disk word processor (I was loyal to the product, no Brother, IBM, or Royal on my desk). Those journals moved in & out of poetry. I even wrote poems in the middle of letters. Once the poems began coming, I could write them down on anything, anywhere. Sometimes it was like taking dictation.

Although I try to think of my blog as a journal or extended poem, I know it is neither. It lacks the emotionally naked obsessions of the former - a very private world, & the
let's take a little stroll
around the mental block

qualities of the latter.

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

At Yankee Stadium

He's been rehearsing since he loosened his tie & crooned "Ave Maria" at his First Communion party:
"Practicing? I'm playing for the Pope today."
New Orleans musician Harry Connick, Jr., asked if he was a "practicing Catholic."

Doctrinal close-but-no-cigar:
“It’s like Jesus Christ visiting America."
Clemens Semon, 50

Would be astonished if she learned the Pope would say the same about Rita:
“If I see him, to me, it’s just like seeing God on the face of the earth.”
Rita Witty, 68

Expecting the Céline Dion in Vegas experience:
"I'm hoping to feel something from (Benedict). Everyone who has seen him says they crumple, their knees buckle."
Suzanne Giordano

The Rogue Lutheran Pastor Who Converted & is Now more Catholic than the Pope Award goes to:
"an overweening and preening exercise in multicultural exhibitionism."
Father Richard John Neuhaus, ex-Lutheran, Bush advisor, professional supercatholic, commenting on the Papal Mass in Washington Nationals Stadium.

"Work never ends when you're the Pope."
Christine Johnson, co-anchor, Sunday news at 11 pm, Channel 2


Atlantic City NJ

You sent me a pigeon postcard last year.
You have to go all the way to Atlantic City just to feed pigeons?

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Saturday, April 19, 2008

The skateboarder

Whirrrr, rumble, bang! Whirrrr, rumble, bang! The sound of the boy, I guess he's about 14, skateboarding in the backyard of the corner house across the street. My window overlooks the yard. The kid sets up a little wooden ramp on the patio, rolls up the ramp, & attempts to land with some finesse on the back porch steps. He does this for hours. I tune it out pretty well. But this is the third warm season he's been out there, & he's no better than he was two years ago. He's a terrible skateboarder. The bang part tells me that. By now, he ought to be competent enough to test himself at the train station plaza with its interesting array of challenges; low walls, benches, slopes, steps, the pedestrian tunnel. I've watched the kids there & they aren't tough on newbies because they aren't all that great themselves. Another group of skateboarders negotiates various sidewalk obstacles & parking lot configurations in the small Elmora retail district. The beat cop there tells them to stop, they carry their boards a block in the opposite direction. I feel like walking across the street & saying, "You know, my friends & I helped to create this beautiful thing a long, long time ago* & you're worse than we were, so maybe you should find somebody to teach you the most basic of necessary skills by example or admit you're a klutz & go back to your video games. I can't show you because it's not like riding a bicycle & I'll break my ass."

* The Walnut Street Hill crowd: Jimmy B, Danny, Tommy, Rix, Doc, Janine, Leslie, Joanne (The Beatles Girls), a few others who didn't ride but hung out.

Record Store Day

Today is Record Store Day. So patronize your local indie music store. Buy a used CD or record, a tee shirt, a bottle of disc cleaner, a poster, or just a pack of Zig Zag rolling papers. My favorite store, no surprise, is the renowned Princeton Record Exchange, there's lots of cheap classical stuff, about a ten minute pleasant walk from the dinky campus train station, & I'm overdue for a visit. I know people who risked defaulting on college loans because of Vintage Vinyl.

An actual cheap used record I found in an indie store.


Friday, April 18, 2008

The Top Priest

Pope Benedict XVI is in New York City talking Pope talk & doing Pope stuff. His visit is, of course, "historic."

The basic problem I have with Mr. Ratzinger isn't that he's a conservative pope - liberal popes are rare, or his Colonel Klink accent - unsettling though it is, but that he's a priest. I don't believe in a special class called "priests". I don't believe a priest is what the Roman Catholic Church says he is, or what a priest believes he is. A priest is by definition part-fraud. It's something I've been tempted to blurt out whenever I've met a priest, but I remind myself they're just trained, professional clerics one respects unless they give cause not to.

There's no instructions in the New Testament for the creation of intermediary priests among followers of Jesus or that provide a theological foundation for imbuing subsequent generations of elite initiates with supernatural powers. Even if there were, there's none requiring them to be unmarried & celibate (only a practical suggestion from author Paul) & scant rationale for excluding women.

The subject still makes me a bit testy because I lived for many years with a woman who was in awe of priests when she was no longer a practicing Catholic. It takes more than not going to Mass to unravel it all.

The Office of Pope is something of a metaphysical & historical bamboozle, too. So are a lot of things that aren't worth arguing over anymore. In fact, I'm eligible to be pope. A candidate for pope doesm't have to be a priest much less a cardinal. He can come from anywhere. We have stricter rules for being president. But after election one has to accept priestly ordination & consecration as Bishop of Rome. It just confuses matters to assign the pope additional symbolic duties like serving as antichrist for screwball American protestant preachers. Benedict XVI is a head-of-state, which is how he is received by our government. Benedict's election as pope is comparable to Dick Cheney choosing himself to become President of the United States (like he chose himself to be Vice President) & taking the name Herbert Hoover II. But since Cheney had no hope of running for the office, John McCain was preselected as our next president (George Bush III) & the secret arrangements for succession are currently being finalized. Check for puffs of white smoke from a White House chimney seconds after polls close in Hawaii.

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Boy breaks into Metuchen home, causes flood and flees in girl's jeans

A 15-year-old boy broke into a Metuchen home and got drunk, then took a shower and left the water running before fleeing, flooding the bathroom, kitchen and basement, police said today.

The juvenile entered the Lake Avenue house about 11 a.m. Monday and fled wearing a pair of blue jeans belonging to a teenage girl who lives at the house, Officer David Liantonio said.

"He may not have known he left the water running," Liantonio said.

Nevertheless, the water was still seeping through the bathroom and kitchen floors when the residents returned home about 3 p.m.

The boy left his own pants at the house, and investigators used them to track him down, police said. Police arrested him Tuesday.

He is charged with criminal mischief, burglary, theft and was released to his parents, pending a hearing in family court.
Dumb kid. You break into a house, take a shower, turn off the water, dress in a girl's clothes, then you get drunk.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Danny Federici

Dandy Federici, dead at age 58. An original member of the E Street Band, goes back to earlier bands with Springsteen. A wonderful musician.

"Your organ and accordion playing brought the boardwalks of Central and South Jersey alive in my music."

Bruce Springsteen, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction speech

Danny was always the one guy in E Street I thought must have been continually astonished at his success, a musician who could imagine himself as a high school music teacher but for hooking up with Springsteen's star for what turned out to be the best regular gig in rock history. All Danny could be sure of back in the days of the "E Street Shuffle" was that he was good enough to be in a great band with a great frontman & working steady. But what a ride he had! & he got to play his accordion, too.

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He's guilty. Sharpe James was mayor of Newark for 20 years, which is 8 years too long for any big city mayor. He did a lot of good for Newark. His first two terms in office were better than good, when he had something to prove about Sharpe James. From the start he flaunted the kind of lifestyle that holds a mesmerizing, vicarious appeal for people who will never drive luxury cars, take sumptuous Caribbean vacations, & party at the homes of pop music stars & professional athletes, & which angers powerful people who prefer to hide behind false modesty.

During his 5th run for mayor in 2002 against a surprisingly strong Cory Booker (elected mayor in 2006), I took to calling Sharpe James "Mayor 99%" after he accused Booker of "not being black enough." Insulting to every resident of Newark. By then, James presented an image of a Newark that was 99% black, at least after regular business hours. This perception may have seemed like a necessary corrective when Kenneth Gibson took over city hall in 1970 from the corrupt Addonizio regime, but it turned out to be a lousy long term strategy. Newark is actually a little over 50% African-American now with a growing Hispanic population, & is badly in need of more middle class property owners of any race or ethnic group. I thought James practically invited white folks to enjoy Newark's new & improved downtown attractions & then leave. He did this not out of pride in Newark as a great center of African-American Culture, but to maintain his personal power, perks & privileges a little longer. Meanwhile, gangs far more violent than the old organized crime had taken over large swaths of the city, shooting children, terrorizing neighborhoods, making a mockery of the police & of common decency. The gangs imitate video games the way the mob used to imitate movies. James' own core constituency - the thousands of people earning decent wages on the city payroll, Newark's faithful middle class - finally abandoned him.

Yet, based on the evidence making it into the newspapers, I 'm not convinced the government case against Sharpe James & his ex-girlfriend Tamika Riley was all that strong. It had more than a hint of the conspiratorial "they" being out to humiliate James. If it sends a cautionary message to other politicians, I suppose it was worth it. But we're supposed to think, "Well. this fraud must be just the tip of the iceberg, so throw them in jail." Problem is, they didn't show us the rest of the iceberg. So if two more black people from Newark go to prison, what's so unusual about that?

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Ram Obama Ding Dong

Bruce Springsteen endorses Obama for president: "He speaks to the America I've envisioned in my music for the past 35 years..."

Surely, Bruce Springsteen must know - especially when he plays gigs in Jersey, at Giant Stadium or IzodContinental or those super-expensive charity small shows - that his middle-aged fans include Republicans. Lots of them. I would say at least half, probably more in Jersey. How could he not know? It's the undeniable demographics of Jersey's suburban bourgeoise. Europe gives him a skewed view - those crowds are largely leftist. So are the critics who praise his albums & causes. But here in Jersey Bruce's enduring popularity has to do with him being from us, occasionally singing about us, & is awash with the nostalgia he's incorporated into his songs from the beginning. As we age, the eras of "Born To Run" - a song that expressed something already a few years in Bruce's past - & "Born In the USA" become more distant. We're not living in a Jersey where Route 9 is a two lane dragstrip passing through cornfields in Monmouth County. Bruce's present Jersey is Rumson & Red Bank & driving to Asbury for rehearsals at the Paramount, where he knows better than to park his classic 'vette on Ocean Ave.

Bruce's lyrics often are a bitter medicine. It's a good thing that he resists the insularity of boundless wealth & observes the landscapes he travels through, even though the connections he makes to those landscapes & the people inhabiting them are as hypothetical as a presidential candidate's. Jerseyans appreciate his sincerity, his work ethic, his local loyalties, his encores. He's always had a good deal of folkie singer in him, & a considerable portion of his audience loses interest when he picks up his acoustic guitar. But in Jersey, he can sell out shows at any ticket price; big venues for E Street, smaller venues for the Guthrie -Dylan stuff.

Few progressive bloggers include Springsteen when they write about the music they're really into. But I wouldn't be surprised if many of Jersey's conservative bloggers - writers whose blogs make me feel like I've stepped in dog crap - spend hundreds of dollars on Springsteen tickets, mainly to hear "Rosalita" & "Thunder Road," & because they can. Afterward, at a brew pub, they can brag about their great seats & bitch about Bruce's politics.

We know what Springsteen's endorsement of John Kerry accomplished in 2004. & he made that one before the election & went on the road to back it up.

Now he endorses Barack Obama over two months after the New Jersey primary. Barack still had an aura of nonpartisanship back on February 5th when the endorsement might have swung a few votes his way.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008


There are three Roman Catholic Archdioceses & at least a dozen Catholic colleges & universities in the New York media market. But for commentary on the Pope's visit to America, WCBS news radio turns to Father Richard John Neuhaus, a formerly Lutheran Catholic convert, ultraorthodox, neocon George W. Bush advisor connected with the far right wing Institute on Religion and Democracy. Besides tacitly supporting Christian imperialism in the Middle East, the IRD specializes in infiltrating & destabilizing mainstream American churches it deems too "progressive." Which could mean a Church expressing a position on the environment slightly to the left of Mobil Oil.
A beautiful spring day. Kind of day reminds me how unconnected I feel to this city. In my former community, I felt like a failure. I became so humiliated I couldn't bring myself to visit friends three blocks away. Here, I'm just a nobody. It's the anonymity I sought.

So I went over to vote in the school elections. I wouldn't have bothered if the Board of Ed hadn't caught my attention awhile back by mixing religion into the school system in a way that alarmed me. Then I realized the political machine controling the Board intended to take over city hall ward-by-ward. They're not reformers, only a competing machine. I even have suspicions they're closet Republicans, which would be irrational for a Board so utterly dependent on the generosity of liberal Democrats.

There's another election in June , a Democratic primary for senator.

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Monday, April 14, 2008

Brendan Behan

Last night, I tuned - briefly - to "The Compassion Forum." There was Hillary Clinton earnestly speaking about "God's Grace" & "The Holy Spirit." I could tell she'd thought about it quite a bit, a girl who took seriously her Sunday School lessons.

I'm not uninterested in the theological concepts of grace & spirit. I'm currenty rereading Perspectives on 19th and 20th Century Protestant Theology by Paul Tillich. Many paragraphs I have to read four or five times to reach minimal comprehension, & I probably retain some through a form of osmosis. I doubt I'll finish the book before I return it to the library. Theology is an occasional mind-exercise challenge for me. Some people do puzzles or read up on astrophysics.

I really don't care what Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama say about "God's Grace" as long as it results in a progressive political agenda They could arrive at the same place without religion. Many do. Anyway I didn't want to miss John Adams on HBO. I love Laura Linney's Abigail. David Morse's dollar bill George Washington has left the narrative at this point,

According to a recent Harris Poll:
America's Top 10 Favorite Books

1. The Bible
2. Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
3. Lord of the Rings (series), by J.R.R. Tolkien
4. Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling
5. The Stand, by Stephen King
6. The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown
7. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
8. Angels and Demons, by Dan Brown
9. Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand
10. Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
I read 7, 9, & 10 back in high school. To be halfway cool with high school literati in my era, you had to be seen carrying Salinger's Franny and Zooey, too. Read most of number 1, I suppose, but "studied" it only during my freshman year in college as required courses in a school that received financial support from the Methodist Church. 1 through 7, I've seen the movies or TV shows. A dismaying list overall.

The 10 Best 20th Century Novels
selected in 1998 by board members at Modern Library:
1. Ulysses by James Joyce
2. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
3. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
4. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
5. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
6. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
7. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
8. Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler
9. Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence
10. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Arguable, as it must be with 10 white men on it. My favorite novel - I make no defense other than that I dearly love it & have read it many times with no apparent improvement to my own writing - is Borstal Boy by Brendan Behan.

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

Atlantic City NJ

You may ask, "Where are the nasty seagulls?" The answer is that the Herring Gull, though always common, was not always the ubiquitous pest it is now.

You may also ask, "Is that Spanky from The Little Rascals kneeling in the pigeon poop?" Probably not.

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Thaaaa Yankees win

Construction workers at the new Yankee Stadium jackhammered for five hours to unearth a Red Sox jersey that had been buried in a gravel-filled pit by a Boston-loving hardhat, according to a report in the New York Post.

The construction worker, Gino Castignoli, told the paper last week he buried a Red Sox slugger David Ortiz jersey at the site last summer while working at the stadium.
That's baseball for you. In New Jersey, we wouldn't feel superstitious unless David Ortiz himself was in the gravel pit. Even so, when it was rumored Jimmy Hoffa was entombed beneath an end zone at Giant Stadium, we thought that was pretty cool & maybe even good luck.

Demolishing the old Yankee Stadium might turn out to be the biggest jinx in baseball history. How many World Series have the Yanks won since Giuliani & Steinbrenner made the original deal in 2001? The Red Sox have won two.

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Saturday, April 12, 2008

Angels wanna wear his red shoes

Disrespectful? True, the zucchetto should be white, not red. The head of Pope John XXIII - who sorta looked like a bobblehead anyway - would be more fun than Pope Benedict XVI. But where's the red Pradas?
Benedict XVI Ready to Meet America: Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican secretary of state, notes that "religion is deeply rooted in American life despite the separation of church and state."
Interesting, given that Christianity is dying out in Western Europe, where they made a regular routine out of killing each other over it, & dispatched lawless hordes to the Holy Land when life at home got too peaceful.
In recently receiving the new U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, Harvard law professor Mary Ann Glendon, Benedict welcomed what he called the American people's "historic" appreciation of the role of religion in shaping public policy.
Such as bringing about a right wing protestant vision of Armageddon through insane wars in the Middle East.
President Bush: Welcome to The United States, Yer Holymanness.
Pope Benedict XVI: Yeah, cool, Your Lame Duckness. You do know Benedict XV wasn't my dad, right? What's this End Times bullshit you into here? Maybe you heard I'm conservative, too, but listen up, tell your dumbass fundie pals I speak five languages including a dead one better than you speak English, I ain't the Horned Beast, I'm the freakin' Pope, & I'm asking you again to stop the freakin' war.

Communion for 57, 000 at Yankee Stadium. Bring your Derek Jeter bobblehead for a Papal Blessing of his upper left quadriceps.
Family of nine among Central Texans scoring tickets to see Pope in U.S.
The Northwest Austin couple has already cleared multiple security checks by New York City and federal security officials to gain entrance to the Yankee Stadium papal Mass on April 20. They made hotel reservations and booked a flight using Robert's frequent-flier miles. They've set aside suits and dresses for their children, who range in age from one to 13, to wear.

And on Thursday, Kelly, 40, and Robert, 42, will pile onto a plane bound for New York with their seven children: Alex, Grant, Jacqueline, George, Max, Bernadette and Mary Angelica.
Won't they be amazed to discover condoms are sold legally in New York, & not even from behind the counter but displayed openly in store aisles just like guns in Texas.

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Friday, April 11, 2008



The crash scene at South 12th Street and Ninth Avenue this morning.

Two suspected car thieves led Orange police on a chase this morning into Newark, where they crashed a stolen car into an electricity pole, law enforcement officials said.

The two suspects were very seriously hurt, the officials said.

The chase began at about 9:30 a.m. in Orange, where police noticed the suspects breaking into cars, law enforcement officials said. The suspects rammed an Orange police cruiser before heading into Newark, where they crashed at the intersection of South 12th Street and Ninth Avenue, police said.

No one else was injured, police said.
A remarkable slice of a Newark neighborhood photographed by Matt Rainey for the Star-Ledger. The wreck itself. Crime scene tape. The crazy excitement is over. A lone cop waits for the flatbed wrecker truck to arrive & scrape up the mess. Gray day. Run down houses retaining some working class dignity. Unkept backyards. For rent sign. Street in need of repaving. Gang graffitti sprayed on the driveway. Dead grass. Cracked sidewalk. & down on the corner, the bored remnants of what was no doubt a large, agitated crowd of unemployed young males. A picture of a 'hood.

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Last Night at the Lobster

Last Night at the Lobster, By Stewart O'Nan, Viking-Penguin, 2007, $19.95.

Anyone who has worked a season or a year or more at a diner, a franchise restaurant, or a medium-sized retail store can relate to this gentle, brief (140 pages) story of one day - the final day - in the life of a failed Red Lobster in Connecticut.

Nothing much happens. A snowstorm. An unexpected party of 14. A child pukes. A few people quit. There's a brief power failure. Dom the bartender is exposed as a top row bottle thief. It's a slow day. I like art where nothing much happens, if it's economical. This is. Characterizations are thin, we never learn much about the restaurant staff. They don't even reminisce for us until the final pages. It was a pleasant bedtime read, two nights' worth.

Yet, the novel pissed me off. Why?
Because I'm convinced I could write a better one along the same lines, from personal experience, with more vividly drawn human beings with stories of their own to tell.
Because - let me look at the sidebar - there are at least five writers in my blogroll who could write a better novel from similar personal experiences.
& we wouldn't need to thank a list of people at the back of the book for explaining the mundane daily routines of the retail or restaurant businesses, or to tell us that most co-workers come & go, they're evil or stupid or wonderful, memorable & forgettable, & some employees are there on your first day & remain there long after you leave, maybe forever. & there are days you never, ever forget, but most days you can't recall a week later.
That's why.

So why haven't we written our novels?
Because we aren't Stewart fucking O'Nan.
Because in a decade of All-You-Can-Eat Shrimp nights we'd never find a literary agent who would read it & then sell it to Viking-Penguin.
Because over the years we've browsed through innumerable modest novels of finer quality than Lobster stacked on the remainder tables at Barnes & Noble & Borders with $1.99 stickers & black marker slashes across the top pages.
That's why.
Of course, I'm envious.


Wednesday, April 09, 2008

I saw you as an old lady

Dear ____;

I saw you as an old lady in the supermarket today. You had to be 80.

Although you had an attractive thirtyish woman hovering near you, you pushed your own shopping cart into the checkout line. She placed the items on the conveyor, & put the filled plastic bags in the cart.

You were gray-haired & slightly hunched. On your head was a black beret, tilted a little. Your plain black coat, on closer examination, was a cool weather, snap up windbreaker with a double-thick collar of the type sold by Land's End. You wore a pair of funky but quality sneakers, well past original white. They looked several years old & comfortable.

You bought Quaker maple flavor single serve envelope instant oatmeal; several cans of Progresso soup; a loaf of Pepperidge Farm whole grain bread; & a few other things I couldn't see. Not much.

You also bought food for what I guessed were two cats. A small bag of Friskies, over a dozen assorted cans, all name brands. You know what they'll eat & what they won't.

As the cashier rang this stuff up, you dug around in your messy black leather handbag, muttering to yourself, & I thought, Cripes, here it comes, the wad of coupons. But you were only looking for your credit card, which for some reason was floating around loose in there. You handed it to the cashier, signed the receipt, & slowly pushed the shopping cart out the electric door followed by your young friend (who told me she was your next-door neighbor).


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The Bracket

Tennessee 64, Stanford 48. I had just about everything wrong in my women's NCAA brackets except for Stanford in the Final Four (they lose to UConn), & Tennessee as National Champs. But in me heart I really believe if Rutgers had played the Vols last night, it would have been a one-basket ending, not the 40 minute brushoff UT gave Stanford. My gals with the poetic names - Epiphanny, Kia, Essence, Matee - would have zero'd in on Candace Parker's throbbing shoulder like lions on a wounded gazelle. It would not have been a poetic contest but it would have been a close one.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Until the beginning of this month, Americans seemed to have nothing to say about their ongoing economic ruin except, "Hit me! Please, hit me again!" You can take my house, but let me mow the lawn for you one more time before you repossess. Take my job and I'll just slink off somewhere out of sight. Oh, and take my health insurance too; I can always fall back on Advil.

Then, on April 1, in a wave of defiance, truck drivers began taking the strongest form of action they can take - inaction. Faced with $4/gallon diesel fuel, they slowed down, shut down and started honking. On the New Jersey Turnpike, a convoy of trucks stretching "as far as the eye can see," according to a turnpike spokesman, drove at a glacial 20 mph. Outside of Chicago, they slowed and drove three abreast, blocking traffic and taking arrests. They jammed into Harrisburg PA; they slowed down the Port of Tampa where 50 rigs sat idle in protest. Near Buffalo, one driver told the press he was taking the week off "to pray for the economy."
Truckers Protest, the Resistance Begins By Barbara Ehrenreich
What this accomplishes I don't know, other than slowing down & annoying thousands of drivers cocooned in their Kamakiris while blabbing on cell phones & fiddling with their cockpit technology. But we do know that the current price-per-gallon isn't driven by scarcity at the wellhead or demand at gas station pumps.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Choose Three from Column A

School board of ed & budget elections are next week. In Jersey, these elections are nonpartisan. In many smaller communities they actually are nonpartisan. Never in the cities & larger towns. You just have to figure out who'splaying on which team.

Along with my sample ballot, I always receive two glossy print brochures. One is from the Board of Ed telling us how great the school system is. Everything is new & beautiful. The other is from the Union County Democratic Organization ("20th Legislative District Committee") reminding us who brings home the bacon to this school district & how the Board of Ed misspends the money. It's a tough sell for the Party folks, because they also have to remind us of all the good stuff the money buys.

So far as I can tell, there's no difference in education "philosophy" between the Board of Ed & the Democratic legislators.

80% of the Elizabeth school budget is funded by money coming from outside the city.

There's an orgy of new school construction & renovation here. Plus the regular budget expeditures. It's clearly a matter of the politicians who vote up the money wanting more control over where it gets spent, who gets paid. Just look at all the contractor & subcontractor trailers & trucks at a school construction site. & all the materials used in construction. Hopefully, there's union wages being paid on the site, because good Democrats like good pay, & no public money project should be underpaying the blue collars. The land deals are something else, a whole other level of inside shenanigans. No matter how you deal with school boards, if you got something to sell a school district, it helps mightily to have friends & influence to go along with the bid.

As for the school system itself, Elizabeth does the only thing urban school districts can do over the short haul while they hassle out improbable long term goals mandated by law & detached from a broader agenda for economic justice: They find ways of separating out the good kids from the many sociopaths, & the higher achieving good kids from the lower achieving good kids. They do this by breaking a large school system down into multiple. smaller specialty schools & "academies." It has to be done. Otherwise, 2/3ths of the students live in constant terror of the other 1/3rd, & no learning occurs at all.

Mister Whatsisname

I thought about my 7th grade History / English teacher today. Beats me why. I recall his appearance but not anything I learned in his classes. He taught both subjects to 7th graders & they were all he taught. I was stuck with him two periods every day. He was an awful teacher. The classroom had blackboards (I think they were green) covering two walls of the room. Many days, for one subject or the other, more often history, he would the fill the boards with notes written in a cramped if readable cursive, probably from a daily plan he'd been recycling for years. The teaching consisted of him reading what he had written while we copied it into our notebooks. Of course, all his classes that day got the same crap. Having arrived in middle school from the one-teacher, one-classroom routine of K-6, this was a horrendous introduction to the remaining years of public school edjikation.

In 8th grade, I had a pair of memorable teachers for those two subjects. Mr. Gelfond, the History teacher, was a fine storyteller - a necessary talent, although when exasperated he felt forced to halt discussion & make the class read the previous night's assigned text again. The English teacher, Miss Heathwood (yes, old with jiggly fat on her upper arms) was very strict, demanded that boys button the top button on our shirts & called us "Bowery bums." She made us memorize a bad poem, "Opportunity" by Edward Rowland Still. I liked rhyming poetry & I didn't stutter when I recited it to Miss Heathwood - we all recited it to her, individually & quietly, standing in front of her desk. The lesson was about memorizing, not poetry. For years afterward, I misremembered the poem as being by Tennyson, because we also read Tennyson in Miss Heathwood's class, selections from Idylls of the King. I loved Tennyson. I can't imagine any kid encountering AlfredTennyson in school nowadays. Maybe that's a good thing. Not such a good thing if kids aren't meeting Emily Dickinson & Walt Whitman. Poetry is a leisurely area of literature prior to college, & only a portion of teachers even like poetry enough to enjoy teaching it. I had exactly three, in 4th, 8th, & 12th grades. Maybe poets get left behind so no child is at test time.

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Sunday, April 06, 2008

West Milford NJ

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My favorite Charlton Heston story comes from Ben Hur director William Wyler. Wyler thought the intense hatred between Hur & his Roman boyhood friend, Messala, needed some backstory motivation, so he suggested to British actor Stephen Boyd that they had been involved in a more intimate relationship as teenagers. But he didn't tell it to Heston because he "knew Chuck couldn't handle it."

Essential Heston Filmography according to Rix (& why you should watch them):

Ruby Gentry for Jennifer Jones
The Naked Jungle for the ants
A Touch of Evil for Orson Welles
The Big Country for Burl Ives & the music score
Ben Hur for the chariot race, Hugh Griffith, & the music score
55 Days at Peking for Ava Gardner, David Niven, & Flora Robson
Major Dundee for proof it's not Sam Peckinpah's "lost masterpiece"
The Warlord for the medieval time period & a few yuks
Planet of the Apes for the apes & the Statue of Liberty
Will Penny for Joan Hackett & Bruce Dern
Beneath the Planet of the Apes for the apes
The Omega Man for the mutants
Soylent Green for the last 10 minutes
The Three Musketeers for Michael York & Faye Dunaway
Airport 1975 for Karen Black, Myrna Loy, & Helen Reddy playing a nun
Earthquake for Geneviève Bujold & Richard "Shaft" Roundtree
Wayne's World 2 for Aerosmith & Christopher Walken
Bowling for Columbine for Charlton Heston

Saturday, April 05, 2008

What you grave?

What's with the White Castle tv commercial where a kid orders a sack of ten & a shrouded death spectre with a sickle standing in line behind him places a gnarled, boney hand on the kid's shoulder & says, "Excellent choice."


400 people went to Trenton yesterday & demonstrated against closing Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center in Plainfield NJ. Good for them. I hope they keep at it & that the protests grow in size & noise.

Shutting down Muhlenberg is short-sighted. We're going to need that hospital. Indeed, Solaris Health System, which owns it, may need it.

Someday, not far off, there will be universal health care in this state, perhaps in the United States. Hundreds of thousands of Jerseyans will join the rolls of the medically-insured. Primary care doctors will be overwhelmed, as they are in Massachusetts (where one can wait up to a year for an initial physical with an internist), as they nearly are here already. There will be increased demand for testing, specialists, & particularly for preventive health programs. Even more people will go to local emergency rooms for primary care health problems - the flus, sprains, five stitch accidents, waving their insurance cards.

I can almost see, in a few years, a company like Solaris trying to figure how to open a major medical unit of some sort in Plainfield; perhaps not a full service hospital, but something requiring as much space & as many health professional staffers. & wanting educational facilities there, too. It's like abandoning a stretch of railroad track when you know it probably won't be long before you'll need to run a train over it again.

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Friday, April 04, 2008

Forty Years

I was raised in a casually racist family, no better or worse I suppose than the typical family in Roselle Park NJ. Which is to say it wasn't the consuming matter it was where Jim Crow laws existed & were being challenged. Roselle Park stayed white because the handful of real estate agencies handling property sales in the town didn't sell to black people, & only occasionally would an apartment owner rent to blacks. So a kid in Roselle Park could grow up without personally knowing any African-Americans if we didn't want to know any. Black parents weren't interested in integrating Roselle Park schools. Public education in Roselle Park at the time was no better than in Rahway, Roselle, Linden & Union, which were integrated. Roselle Park was not a wealthy town. It was just white. I didn't even think about this until I was teenager. Then, although I understood nothing about "logic," de facto segregation began to look very illogical.

Although the process started earlier, the watershed for me was the televised 1965 Selma marches, particularly "Bloody Sunday." That's when I really understood, in a graphically local way, what was required to enforce segregation. If civil rights demonstrators wanted to march from Roselle town Hall to Roselle Park town hall, a distance of about four blocks, would we use tear gas, bull whips, fire hoses, billy clubs, & vicious dogs to keep them out? Was my family willing to stand on the side of the street shouting racist insults at the marchers? Of course not. We used more subtle "Yankee" methods. We had conspiratorial real estate agents, creepy police patrols, a convenient railroad track, & the practice of shunning to maintain the separation. We bent a little to give an illusion of flexibility. We didn't have to fight. We were more cowardly than violent southern rednecks.

& then there were Cassius Clay, Willie Mays, Motown, Bill Cosby, the Rolling Stones playing R & B, the jazz records on a shelf in my oldest brother's room. Tony Bennett, a favorite in my home, went to Alabama to lend support. It didn't make sense to love the culture & hate the people who created the culture. It didn't make sense. I mulled this over quietly, sometimes with friends, rarely with family. Among my friends, the times were a'changin'. We generally agreed. & we weren't Peter, Paul & Mary folkie fans. We had no interest in Bob Dylan until he plugged in his guitar. We were just teenagers.

Within a year after Selma, I'd crossed over. I still didn't know any black people. But I ventured to write a pro civil rights editorial for the school newspaper. It was the tightest, most deliberate piece of writing I'd ever done, & I even let the journalism teacher correct my grammar. I knew I was almost riding the caboose on the train. Almost. To my amazement, the editorial won First Prize in the Jersey Scholastic Press Association competition, a very big deal when you beat out rich kids from the private schools who fantasized winning Pulitzers after they graduated Ivy League. I suspect my editorial (which I may not have anymore) packed some metaphoric insight into few words. Overnight, I became a minor celeb in my high school. I was rewarded just for saying the right thing. But that right thing hadn't been said much around Roselle Park. I was not crowned with a laurel wreath by my parents for saying it - they were distracted by their own problems anyway. However, a very attractive, hip girl began stalking me - so unexpected that it took awhile for me to notice her lurking around.

My route to a change-of-heart would have pleased Dr. King. It was, I think, the cumulative effect he intended to have on sheltered white kids like me. He would have appreciated that it helped get me the pretty girl, too.

This isn't a "Glory Days" tale. I've had plenty of greater thrills since high school, & the prize editorial was uncharacteristic of my future writing. I know I wasn't really a "liberal." But the processes that led up to it were apparent to me even when I wrote it. It wasn't a "political" consciousness-raising. Politics are the caboose on the train. If you get a "new" idea from a politician, you are very late indeed. Politicians themselves are laggards because they pay so little attention to culture. It matters that Obama cares what's on his iPod.

Political culture - & by that I mean not only politicians but also CNN, MSNBC, Fox, talking head opinionators - often borders on imbecilic. We know what they're going to say before they even say it. Keith Olbermann is no source of revelatory thought; he's a sportscaster with a brain. Liberal bloggers post his videos because he expresses what they already think & saves them the effort of writing it.

Obama's magic appeal to many of his followers is that he comes across as an apotheosis of the Sixties, as if he completely internalized that era; indeed, as if he had been born of it. Which he was. & moved on as he grew up through the Seventies, Eighties, Nineties. What Dr. King spoke of as "dreams" are embodied in Obama's physical & intellectual makeup. Those long ago dreams are no longer even debatable matters. The moral aspects are settled. They are simply overdue as practical economic justice & rights - the place Dr. King arrived at before he was killed, & in my opinion was why he was killed. This alone makes Obama preferable to Hillary Clinton, whose psyche is a divisive Sixties battleground. That she found her way from Goldwater Girl to positions of some liberality makes her journey a common one for her - my - generation, & it was a tougher road to travel for the average white southerner than for privileged northerners. Forget about John McCain - he's pre-rock & roll, hardly imaginable in a contemporary presidential candidate. Every time McCain speaks he reminds us that he's clueless. He spent 5 nightmare years in a North Vietnamese cage, but he's been culturally imprisoned by choice his entire life, by the conservatism of military culture & the isolation of Washington politics.

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Thursday, April 03, 2008


Ron Liebman: Death By Rodrigo (2007)
Enjoyed this tale of a pair of bottom-feeding lawyers (ex-cops Junne Salerno & Mickie Mezzonatti) in rotten Camden NJ who get manipulated into defending a very powerful, very deadly El Salvadorean drug lord. The colorful, slightly exaggerated Jersey dialect is as unaffected as possible. Gives some real thought to the plot, too. Favorite scene: Our counselors bring two pricey whores (gifts from a pimp client) as dates to a bar association banquet in Atlantic City, bribe a waiter to seat them at a head table with a Jersey Supreme Court Justice, who happens to be a regular customer of one of the professional ladies. In Jersey, perhaps this is not an utterly fantastic scenario. Later on, the Judge wanders back into the story. Justice does get served in its skewed way. The novel is a successful attorney's appreciation of all the hustling esquires with night school law degrees who do so much of the grunt work in the criminal justice system. Hope I meet these likable guys again at the Camden County Courthouse. But I don't plan on going there in person anytime soon.

Bill Bryson: Shakespeare; The World as Stage (2007)
Everything we really know about Shakespeare's life, which is almost nothing, including his physical appearance. So the book is mostly everything we think we know that actually can't be verified or is an outright invention. With many amusing digressions into Elizabethan culture. Bryson is John McPhee without The New Yorker polish. This book was tucked away on a high shelf of the branch library's minuscule large print nonfiction section & I'm probably the only patron who will ever check it out.

Gary Wills: What Paul Meant (2006)
The first book by Gary Wills I ever read! First, Wills tosses out six of Paul's epistles as inauthentic. Then establishes that Paul is closer to the the early Jesus communities than any other Biblical texts, so we have to trust what he has to say about those communities & what they already believe. But I was most impressed with his prosaic translations from Greek. Wills also writes as a Catholic, although he knows what he writes subverts many Catholic as well as protestant practices & beliefs. But ultimately, he's a fairly orthodox Christian, which makes this a good alternative to some of the other popular revisionist Pauline books on the market now.

After this I read his Pulitzer book, Lincoln at Gettysburg. About 2/3rds of the way through, & about the 30th time I had to read the text of the speech, I went into scan mode through the finish. Now I'm reading What Jesus Meant. Good. But the novelty is gone.

Randy Wayne White: Shark River (2002)
Reliable entertainment. I don't read any mystery or detective character series in sequence. Sometimes this makes backstory references confusing. "Doc" Ford is a marine biologist running his own small business out of a run down Florida marina. His lifestyle is modest, his needs are few. His best friend is an aging bohemian, Tomlinson. The marina has become his home & family. But Ford used to be the most secret of secret agents (Tomlinson was once one of his targets for assassination), he's drawn into complex situations he didn't seek out, & every novel no matter how quietly it runs its course ends in an explosion of the kind of terrible violence Ford has worked to leave in his shadowy past. Always great scenery thanks to White's own experience as a fishing guide. All these long-running character series are now divided into before & after everyone carries cell phones. For private eyes, the Internet radically changed the routines of basic investigation. So I like Sue Grafton's sleuth, Kinsey Millhone, who was created in the 1980's & has stayed there for 20 books.

April is National Poetry Month & I promised myself I'd look through Vol. 1 - 1909-1939, of William Carlos Williams Collected Poems. Williams thought his most experimental poems were his later ones in Vol 2, & the collage work, Paterson. Up to now I've disagreed with Dr Bill. I want to see those older poems again, particularly the rare ones from the 1920's. Might amuse my muse, too. She's only shown up in dreams lately, not via a real human in a long time. I have to call it over from the Main Library downtown.


Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Three great teams

Connecticut 66, Rutgers 56
The game much closer than the score indicates, & was decided by a single, late 2nd period defensive lapse. Rutgers successfully set the pace for most of the game, as the low scores show. It's been a terrific season. During the regular season, the Women Scarlet Knights beat UConn & LSU, lost to Stanford by two points on a questionable last second call, & by one point to Tennessee on broken game clock - there's your Final Four. They also beat Maryland, California, & Notre Dame. They are the best basketball team Rutgers has put on the court since the 1976 Men's Final Four club. Last season they played as slight underdogs who had to prove they belonged with the elites. They did. This year they began the season with the highest expectations, from the polls, from their coach, from themselves. They slipped only once, at West Virginia, & it cost them a tie for the Big East season title. The late season losses to UConn & in the Big East Tournament to Louisville were by a group of tired, hurting players. I love this team. It has stars but no superstars. Their defense gave fits to bigger, faster, higher scoring teams. They rarely reached 70 points & broke 80 only once, against overmatched Robert Morris in Round One. Back on Dec. 3, Maryland expected to win by methodically running Rutgers into the hardwood; instead the Terrapins had their lowest scoring game of the season & learned something about the noise level in the RAC. That might have been my favorite game of the season.

The Kean University Cougars made it to the Elite Eight of the Women's Div. III tournament for the second straight year, falling to Oglethorpe University & finishing the season at 28-4.

Brookdale Community College in Monmouth County placed 5th in the Women's National Junior College Div. III Tournament, finishing at, I think, 24-4. Shamefully, the Brookdale website takes no pride this team's accomplishments.

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All Spitzer did was pay too much & leave his socks on

LONDON (Reuters) - Max Mosley faced calls for his resignation on Tuesday after weekend newspaper allegations that the head of Formula One's governing body took part in a Nazi-style orgy with prostitutes.

The Times newspaper said in a leader column that Mosley must stand down while Ferrari's 1979 world champion Jody Scheckter called for a concerted media campaign to force the Briton's hand.

"There is absolutely no question in my mind that Mosley should resign," South African Scheckter told The Guardian newspaper.

"From a purely motor racing point of view, you can't have somebody like this running the sport or any other sport come to that."

The Times said Mosley was as entitled as anyone to his fantasies but the question of whether he could continue at the helm of the International Automobile Federation (FIA) had become a moral question and not a legal one.
The most interesting thing isn't the Nazi sex party angle. There will be plenty of those in hotel rooms during the Republican National Convention in September. It's that Max Mosley is the son of Sir Oswald Mosley & Diana Mitford, England's most notorious fascists & Nazi sympathizers in the 1930's, who were married in Joseph Goebbels's house with Hitler as a guest. Mitford remained an unrepentent Third Reich boot-licker until her death in 2003. But Maxie is typical of the Brit upper crust obsession with S &M. They take their cues from the Royals. Thank you, Monty Python.


Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Happy Birthday Joseph Haydn

That's my April Fool joke. Haydn's birthday was yesterday.
Today is Sergei Rachmaninoff's birthday. He was kind of an April Fool's prank on 20th Century classical music.
The Weird New Jersey calendar notes that WFMU DJ Glen Jones moved to Asbury Park on this day in 2007.

Two practical jokes I played as a kid:
I peeled a very small opening in a sealed fresh jar of Skippy's chunky peanut butter, slipped in one whole shell peanut, & resealed it with a dab of library paste. It might have been a week before jar was taken off the kitchen shelf. I wasn't around for the reaction. I recommend the concept of the practical joke with no self-gratifying "payoff" as a minor step of spiritual advancement for brats.

My older brother Jim used to watch reruns of the Andy Griffith Show on summer weekday mornings when he was home from college. While I had no dogmatic objections to the show, I hated, absolutely hated it being the first thing I heard when I woke up & stumbled downstairs. One day I noticed the TV antenna wire running down from the roof was spliced just before it entered the house through a hole by the back porch. The window there gave me a clear view through the dining room of the TV in the living room but not of the couch where Jim sat eating his Cheerios, a cereal that smells like urine. The TV went haywire with diagonal bands when I shorted out the splice. So I did the old "water fountain" gag of messing with the TV reception, watching Jim enter my field-of-view to adjust the TV, & restoring the picture just as he reached for the dial. I must have done this half-a-dozen times before he became suspicious, about the same time I became bored with annoying him & gave up to have my Wheaties in the backyard. I mentioned this to him years later & he recalled the incident.

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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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