Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Eve

Times Square on New Year's Eve has never attracted me. Of the stuff you do when you're young just because, that had zilch appeal, & it was only a short train ride away.

New Year's Eve isn't a significant night for me. It was when I wasn't old enough to stay up until midnight or go out - then it had an allure. I took myself off the road on New Year's Eve so long ago I don't remember when, but I was coming home from South Brunswick on Route 1 in light traffic & then encountered all the chain restaurants at closing - Bennigan's, TGIF, Chi Chi's. You can't drink if you're driving, which takes away most of the point of partying, but you have to figure everyone else on the highway is in the bag. So if I couldn't walk or take a train, I didn't go. A couple of Eve's all I had to do to get to a party was go down a flight of steps, turn right, & go up some steps. That was ideal.

I remember as a high school junior, my friend Tom had gotten the phone number of a girl in Union, the next town, we called her on New Year's Eve, she had two friends over, her parents were out, & there were three of us including Danny, so we leaned on my older brother, who had nothing much to do, to drive us over there. It was about two miles away & he agreed, with the warning that he might not be available to pick us up since he planned on drinking a six pack & digging his new jazz record. We decided girls were worth the risk. Had a good time, innocent chips & soda, records & playing with dripping candles stuff, our hostess' parents weren't upset when they came home. I suspected the little party was prearranged between the girls & Tom, although nobody ever copped to it. My brother did pick us up very late, amused. I sort of dated one of those girls for a few months, sweet, Catholic of course. We had to end it because it was an impossible long-distance relationship; 5 miles to her house & we went to different high schools. Had fun making out when we were together. I've had a couple of those kinds of things since then.

Extraordinary political year. Many big images, but an odd small one, too. The first night of the Repug convention, a delegate, man with a "funny" hat, a doll of (now President-elect) Obama gripped in the jaws of an alligator, obvious reference to an old racist joke. Unselfconscious, uncomprehending, not even angry or arrogant. The hat was who he was, what he was, & what he would always be. Had he been asked about the hat, he would've claimed (or feigned) cluelessness. Even at that late date, after the amazing Democratic primary campaign, the spectacles of Obama's crowds & speeches, the unity of the Democrats, Obama's popularity with independent voters, he probably believed completely that it was impossible for a black man named Barack Hussein Obama to be elected President of the United States, much less be elected by a huge national majority, no matter what the polls were indicating. I wasn't so sure myself because of people like him. But that man's candidates lost. He did vote with the majority of white people. But he was on the losing side all the same. I suppose he kept his racist hat, maybe shows it to his pals & has a laugh, & says, "Hey, I was on TV."

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Dark Roast

Pleasant late evening walk to the supermarket, weather next two days will not be so pleasant & I had enough coffee only for tomorrow. I prefer Chock Full O Nuts New York Blend but I'm not really picky, just has to be a dark roast.

The apt building up the street I thought was vacant isn't. I guess it was a serious electrical problem that knocked out the heat & pushed most of the tenants elsewhere for a few days. Odd, walking along a quiet street, many of the houses decorated with lights, & hearing a Christmas song faintly playing from one of the displays, the cheesy sound, "Deck the Hall, fa la la." Empty toy boxes on the curb with the trash.

I'll be around the corner with Gina's cats at midnight tomorrow. She has six now, one over her limit, because she had to bring a kitten back from her frame shop, it had ignited allergies in one of her valued employees. She deals with all these cats by not obsessing over them. They get a buffet of canned & dry food. Just open the cans, dump the stuff out on the saucers, leave the kitchen & let the cats deal with it. The litter boxes are in the basement & cleaned regularly, & she has a $500 vacuum that'd suck the hair off the cats if they got in the way of it. I'm not responsible for anything but food & a roll call. I can hang out as long as I want, watch satellite TV.

Last weekend I was amused for awhile by a host on a jewelry channel who didn't know the merchandise. You could tell she was reading the descriptions for the first time & then trying to sound enthusiastic enough so viewers would spend $300 for the earrings before the next bargain item came up for sale. I land on those channels by accident. The sleazy guys with the deep southern drawls selling useless collectors knives; the counter top oven that looks like a flying saucer, cooks a frozen pork roast in 30 minutes, removes a quart of oil from the meat & yet magically leaves the roast juicy & flavorful, & I'm muttering, "Gravy, you forgot about the gravy."

Watching the last 5 minutes of The Kennedy Center Honors TV show I think:
1. The only reason I care about Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg becoming senator from New York is that the state will have two senators with really annoying voices.
2. With due respect to Pete & Roger, can't the Kennedy Center stick to American honorees? Brits are eligible for all sorts of titles & fancy decorations in their own country, & we already shower them with Emmys, Oscars, & Grammys.

Nobody knows what to do

The Arab world understands that the United States (government & people) really are pro-Israel; it isn't just that we're spun in that direction by a pro-Israel press & lobby. Still, it's difficult to get one's mind around a military tactic of killing 500 Palestinians for every 5 Israelis killed by Hamas rockets. The charge of Hamas hiding rocket launchers in civilian areas is no doubt true. But the U.S. has many military bases - perhaps most of them - larger than Gaza, without 4000 people per sq mile on them. We think Jersey is crowded at about 1000 per sq mile.

Imagine a section of the Jersey shore from Highlands to Point Pleasant, six miles wide, arid, sealed off from the rest of Jersey, with 1.5 million people in it, 1 million of them undocumented by any census. It has a de facto government of thuggish, bitter end radicals, such law as there is enforced at gunpoint. All Jersey demands is that these people stay sealed up AND not be pissed off about it. But we don't recognize their government, no one really speaks for them. & then this government's ragged armed forces (financed & supplied from outside) lobs missiles into the Jersey suburbs, not caring where they land. They do this because it's what they do. So, with our overwhelming military resources (mostly financed & supplied from outside Jersey), we fire artillery & missiles back at military targets, except the place is so damned small that it's difficult to hit a military target without "collateral damage." In fact, there are few strictly military targets, they have rocket launchers in backyards, & they keep moving them around, because it'd be militarily stupid to put then out in the open where we could destroy them all in a few minutes. So the difference in casualties is about 100 of them to 1 of us.

If they stop firing missiles, we'll stop shooting back. Nothing else will change. Their predicament will remain. If they all join together & shout, "We lovc you New Jersey, & we want to give you a big collective hug," we'll think about selling them food & other necessities, & maybe letting some of them out to do menial jobs for us. We still won't like or trust them because we know they hate us, it's just the way it is.

Ignorant comparison. But we lose a sense of proportionality with Gaza, that so small a place is one of the most intractable obstacles to peace in the Middle East, & creates tsunamis of violence that radiate throughout the world. Nobody knows what to do about Gaza. Nobody knows what to do about Palestinians & Israelis.

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Madonna Litta

Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio after Leonardo da Vinci, circa 1490

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Monday, December 29, 2008

Bring on the bride & bride

When I began regularly visiting Ocean Grove NJ in the 1970's, strolling down there from Asbury Park, two things about it were obvious:
1. Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association was a theocratic quasi-government that routinely (& arrogantly) overstepped the boundaries between church & state just because it always had.
2. Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association didn't give a damn what happened off-season in Ocean Grove when the tents weren't pitched & there were no paying customers at the Great Auditorium.

It was promoted as "God's Square Mile at the Jersey Shore," but Ocean Grove is a part of Neptune Township, & the OGCMA ran a religious-themed amusement park that shut down at summer's end just like the rides on Casino Pier at Seaside Heights.

As next-door neighbor Asbury Park fell apart, Ocean Grove's summer business declined. The old hotels & guest houses always had vacancy signs. Off-season, the Grove was known for its cheap rooms & apartments, & quaint but shabby cottages. The small downtown had few attractions. It was a charming but sickly little place.

Then, oddly, as Asbury Park literally collapsed altogether, Ocean Grove began coming back to life, year-round. Lovely shops & restaurants opened. Cottages were bought & renovated. You didn't have to be sophisticated to see that gays & lesbians had fallen in love with Ocean Grove. Their enthusiasm had helped pull Cape May City out of the doldrums. Ocean Grove was a relative bargain. Home buyers don't purchase the property under the cottages - the Camp Association holds that, but they do possess the houses. The OGCMA ban on Sunday driving had been overturned in court - it didn't own the streets or the beach, & the religion police no longer hassled residents for weeding their gardens on Sundays.

To this day the OGCMA pretends there are no homosexuals on its small slice of the Jersey shore. Just a bunch of friendly, antique-collecting bachelors & spinsters moved in, & out of the goodness of their hearts fixed up the neighborhood, became permanent residents, hung flowerpots on their porches, raised the value of every structure, detached Ocean Grove from the misery on the other side of Wesley Lake, turning the place into popular destination for eating & shopping.

OGCMA made the mistake of accepting Green Acres funds to improve some of its public access property, such as a small open-sided structure in the middle of the boardwalk called The Pavilion. Then it rented this pavilion to anyone for weddings, gospel sings, whatever. Until a local lesbian couple tried to reserve it - off-season - for a civil union ceremony.
NJ rules against church group in gay rights case

The New Jersey Division on Civil Rights said its investigation found that the refusal of the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association to rent the oceanfront spot to the couple for their same-sex union in March 2007 violated the public accommodation provisions of the state's Law Against Discrimination.
This doesn't settle the matter; an administrative judge has to decide on a "remedy."

No one is disputing that the OGCMA has full control over the Great Auditorium & the various small indoor chapels, & the "tent city." But it has to surrender its proprietary moral attitude toward the boardwalk just as it had to open up the roads & beaches. OGCMA made a mistake it can't take back, treating The Pavilion as a public landmark while renting it to anyone & any organization. Then a pair of lesbians tried to put a deposit on it, & not even for when they might have offended the straight-laced Methodists who somehow never notice that their beloved Ocean Grove has become a sort of gay old town & is better for it.

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Like A Weed

In the morning the crumbs were gone,
a dozen birds chirping in the tree
by the parking lot, a woman
yelling at her child to get ready
for school, truck after another
rattling as it hit the pothole
on the bridge, a beach towel
crumpled on the fire escape -
it had been there all winter.

A daffodil leaning in a plastic cup
on the kitchen table, plucked from
a patch of dirt by a fire hydrant
the night before.

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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Keansburg NJ

This old postcard from a funky Raritan Bay town caught my eye because one finds similar scenes in unlikely places around Jersey, provided one frames the photo to make it so.

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Fog & holiday lights made an interesting visual tonight. Spooky inflated Santas.

Up the street, an apartment building is mysteriously vacant. It's an ordinary building, built in the 60's or 70's, one nearly identical next to it, had ordinary tenants so far as I could tell, never attracted my attention with loud parties or thugs hanging out in front. Completely dark except for the lights that go on when electric goes off. No cars in the parking lot. Something seemed odd about the place in daylight the other day. Tonight I realized it was empty. But when was it vacated & why? I pass it almost every day, never saw any moving vans. There's no notice on the door, no sign of a fire. A fire leaving the tenants of thirty apartments homeless would have been big enough news for local TV.

Even in my building I don't always notice people moving in & out. I didn't see a friendly couple from upstairs for so long I thought they'd gone, & was sad, they were good neighbors. I ran into them by the mailboxes last week & mentioned it. Black woman, white man, around 40 maybe, she likes classic rock, Beatles, Steely Dan, still has a record player, told me the day she saw me moving in my records & spotted a few things she recognized, & I said if I hadn't just sold off 80% of them so I wouldn't have to move them, I would've let her have her pick of that stuff, except the Rolling Stones 3-D album jacket.


Friday, December 26, 2008

Twenty Buck Day

Four more greeting cards in mailbox today, three from online acquaintances out west, the other included a check for $20 (thanks, Edie). The card exchange list I'm on went out late this year, you can send to anyone & as many or few as you want. My cutoff was last Saturday's 10 am corner mailbox pickup. Every mailbox around here has a 10 am pickup.

I like my new winter parka jacket, it's pretty light weight, light charcoal, warm enough. The first day I wore it I dripped a little bit of coffee on it. Trying to clean it with a brand new sponge left a pale water stain, & I thought, this won't do, the jacket will be a mess in no time, maybe that's why it was 1/2 price. It had a new jacket smell & was wrinkled from being folded tightly in the small mailing bag. The jacket is not waterproof. Wednesday I got caught out in a rain shower, the jacket got wet, & when it dried the water stain, a lot of the wrinkles, & new jacket smell were gone. Just needed a washing to break it in.

Mulling over inaugural ceremony poet Elizabeth Alexander's advice to "write the poem and worry about who reads it later, to bring forth that which calls from within and separate that act from the matter of a poem’s public life." Don't write to publish. Which leaves unanswered the matter of a poem's "public life." I have held back a number of poems from publication, even though anyone likely to be offended wouldn't have read them in obscure little literary 'zines. I have read them to audiences. There are experiences of which I wish to write, & post or publish, but haven't because I wondered if there was a consensus view or memory of them. I'm not a historian. Nobody else involved in those experiences is interested in discovering a common narrative, or we would've been writing one together for the past two decades. But there is madness in it, & I suppose only novelists are really attracted to that theme. Poets, of course, are mad, & we know it, so we focus on hypothetical sanities. I've never been obliged to censor myself.

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Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas for sale

A lot of wives, husbands, teenage sons & daughters looked out the window this morning at a big red bow on top of a brand new Lexus. or maybe only a Honda. It happens, or else the auto companies wouldn't suggest it in their holiday ads. How else do prep school kids get those nice wheels? The most expensive gifts I've seen handed out on Christmas were diamond thingies & promises of Caribbean cruises, although those had been hinted at & were not total surprises.

Of course, I enjoy receiving a gift that I didn't expect or even ask for, but is so suited to me that it raises my opinion of the giver. But how easy are they to find for anyone? In my experience they've usually been recordings & books, someone realizing I liked what I said I liked, & I remember some of those. Giving me records was difficult when I had thousands. I was surprised a few years ago when UPS delivered a down comforter, it was a perfect present, I never would have thought of it, & was a risk for the giver. She picked up something I said on the phone about sleeping & comfort. I've gotten tiny ceramic lighthouses, a carousel, windchimes, all treasures I see right now from where I'm sitting. I've received clothing with no resemblance or connection to anything I've ever been seen wearing, & wondered if I was supposed to rewrap it & pass it on next Christmas. Better completely practical, obvious presents that fill an immediate need. Some people avoid giving those, I don't know why. I'm always pleased to receive an ordinary flannel shirt & few pairs of socks.

The most reliable presents are the ones we buy for ourselves. A few modest items guarantee you receive stuff you want. This year I gave myself warm fleecy sweatpants, a retro/old guy style summer shirt called a "Sure Shot" (I've always been a little bit retro/old guy; this year I couldn't locate a guayabera I liked at the right price), & Elmer Bernstein's Concerto for Guitar & Orchestra. He was a great movie composer & it's his only recorded concert piece not adapted from a film acore. The sum total of these three items is under $20. Add to those a Border gift card from the Cat Woman that more than covers the cost of a new book of essays I won't receive as a review copy, although nobody's reviewing it & I will, positively, & the editor will then regret not sending me a free one. Also 20 snail mail cards, an excellent Jacqui Lawson flash e card (always great music, never cheesy), & an apology for not sending a card - which is as good as a card, & it's been alright.

So holiday purhases of higher end electronics are down 28% this year, three times the overall decline in other kinds of goods. Should we be surprised? I spread out & compared all the Sunday newspaper inserts & my reaction was, "Who are they kidding?" Meaning the manufacturers mostly, who tightly control what stores can charge at retail. Apparently the makers of digital cameras. HD TVs, laptops, cell phones, & so on wanted to finish the year with warehouses full of unsold merchandise rather than face the same reality as anxious consumers, lower their wholesale prices, & give the retailers permission to go to war with each other. So consumers waited for the price war, & waited, & then gave up went where the bargains were: clothes. Spring is just around the corner in the clothing depts.


Mele Kalikimaka

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Cigar

Dunkin' Donuts closes midafternoon to 10 pm Christmas, a real kindness from employer to employees, that's business lost in this neighborhood. The bagel shop across the street from it will open in the morning. Pathmark closed at six & is closed all day Christmas, cars were still pulling into the lot when the doors were locked, but up the street Shoprite is open until 11, & there was a line of cars all headed up there from Pathmark. Not everyone does Christmas early on Christmas Eve. A former girlfriend's family sat down to their big, official Christmas dinner around 4 on Christmas Eve day, which was not only peculiar to me, but unsettling, & I never got used to it. In my family, Christmas Eve was mostly preparation for Christmas Day. Later, as a teenager, when I dated a Catholic Girl, I encountered a Midnight Mass routine. At one AM her immediate family - enough kids to have repopulated Ireland after the potato famine - was dipping into boxes of Russell Stover chocolates, & the mom was frying bacon & eggs for anyone who wanted breakfast, & then they went to bed & got up at 6 am to open presents, & in the afternoon sat down to eat a giant ham. Her dad declined every chance to get off the swing shift & work days.

I pissed off my dad when i was about 19 & worked in record store. Christmas Eve afternoon was fairly busy, but I was the low man on the list at that store, so it was me, a cashier, & an assistant manager scheduled until 8 as a few late customers wandered in. With some begging, I managed to talk the boss back to 7, expecting to drive directly to dad's & joining a dinner in progress with the food still abundant & warm. Just before I left, dad called the store hopping angry that I was late for dinner. So when I arrived I had to face a bug-eyed father & a house full of annoyed people from two families who had been delaying their dinner for me. Perhaps it was my fault for not being clear about my hours, but for heaven's sake they all knew I was in retail. That sort of thing was quite typical of my family. I named it the Doctrine of Mary's Assumption: That since Jesus is God he always knows what the family expects without being told.

My mom expected all four of her grown kids to show up on Christmas afternoon for years after she was incapable of cooking & hosting toast & coffee for herself, & when all the marriages & divorces & remarriages - not in my generation but in her's - made it impossible to schedule everything in one 24 hour period, what with all the in-laws & step-in-laws competing for one of only two "official" Christmas possibilities, & being insulted if requested to have their events the preceding or following weekend. When my sister's kids were little she got so frazzled by it that she announced she was going nowhere, holding one big open house event on a date decided by her, & she'd gladly cook institutional quantities of food to make it happen, & everyone was free to come or not come as they pleased, & if the various ex's couldn't get along that was their problem. My reaction at the time was, "Thank God, someone is sane." I was dealing with my girlfriend's family's Christmas Eve afternoon thing, & beyond that I just wanted a strong Irish coffee & a chance to enjoy an alleged Cuban cigar a friend gave me annually from a bunch that he bought from someone he knew in, ah, diverse organized alternative business enterprises. It was always a pretty good cigar, wherever it was from.

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Paradise Park

They have a long way to go, but residents of the Paradise Mobile Home Park in Highlands NJ have won the right to challenge the new owner in court over any proposed redevelopment plans. As with most trailer parks, the homes are not mobile, & although they own them, they pay rent on the land underneath. They're on Sandy Hook Bay with wonderful waterfront views.

The Jersey bayshore from South Amboy to Highlands was the bargain waterfront property well into the 1990's. With improvements to NJ Transit shore rail line, new ferryboat service to Manhattan, & the demands of changing demographics, a bunch of rundown little towns began gentrifying. I watched the process in Keyport, a favorite hangout of mine for a few years, as the downtown revitalized, apartments renovated, & old houses near the bay bought & fixed. That didn't bother me too much because Keyport was obviously a tarnished gem. It hurt when the quaint McCrory's closed, which happens when people like me walk around saying, "Wow, it looks like an old-fashioned 5 & 10," without buying anything.

But prices also skyrocketed for very modest homes in Aberdeen by Cliffwood Beach, where homeowners of modest means have small boats parked in their driveways & nautical decor in their front yards. Expensive condo developments & conversions sprung up everywhere. So I've been cheering for the stubborn residents of Paradise Park, & wondering about their legal fees. I know a guy who lived there until he moved down to a section of Maryland that he describes as being like parts of the Jersey shore must have looked 40 years ago.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Songs

Including only songs everyone would recognize.

Winter Wonderland (My favorite version is one of the earliest, by Ted Weems & His Orchestra, but it's a hard song to ruin. & it's "Parson Brown" not "circus clown".)
Let It Snow
Good King Wenceslas (you can sing this with just Ho Ho Ho's)
Silver Bells
What Child is This? (Greensleeves with lyrics)
Go Tell It on the Mountain
Blue Christmas (Elvis version of course)
Children Go Where I Send Thee (Nobody better on this than Blind Boys of Alabama.)
In the Bleak Midwinter (odd little Christina Rossetti poem set to Gustav Holst music.)
Rise Up Shepherd & Follow
Po La'i E (Silent Night in Hawaiian)
Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) (Darlene Love still sings this great)
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (Both Judy Garland & Sinatra pushed the songwriter to make the lyrics less depressing.)
Merry Christmas, Darling (Nobody wants to challenge Karen Carpenter's perfect longing. )
I'll Be Home for Christmas
Little Saint Nick (The Beach Boys) (It's surprising that Brian Wilson composed only one Christmas classic.)
Mele Kalikimaka (the Hawaiian Christmas Song)
White Christmas (especially sung by Bing in the movie "Holiday Inn." I think it's tragic that this song is now associated with the silly movie "White Christmas.")

Any Christmas song sung by Tony Bennett. No matter how sad the song, Tony sounds like he's smiling. (all votes for Dean Martin acknowledged).
Any Christmas song performed by The Ventures. They do them all as short, snappy instrumentals.

Christmas songs I don't like:

Little Drummer Boy (the worst, never heard a good version)
Carol of the Bells (Please stop with the dong ding dongs. Did hear a good surf guitar arrangement called "Carol of the Swells.")
Oh Holy Night (You'd think an opera diva could save this one. Nope. Still feels like 15 minutes.)
We Three Kings (something about drawing out the Oh before Star of Wonder.)
Do You Hear What I Hear? (yes, but I wish I didn't)
Christmas Time Is Here (The Peanuts song. A melancholy tune. Jazz singers pick up on it. But isn't Peanuts always kind of a bummer?)
It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year (Still makes me want to throw iceballs at Andy Williams & his whole damned family.)

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Nodding at Christmas

I don't do Christmas. I guess I quit trying over a decade ago. Except for a couple of memorable Christmases in the 90's, I don't think I've embraced the holiday as an adult. I'm not a humbug. I nod in its direction, hang up a string of lights by the window & in the blog, put a small decoration on the door, snail mail a few cards - mostly to people living alone, send some e cards, gladly echo Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays salutations. Christmas music is fine. But I leave Christmas to those with children & grandchildren, with their family traditions, large ritualized dinners. I feel sorry for those who have lost the most & so suffer really depressing contrasts with years past.

Mostly I borrowed other families' Christmases, always as a more-or-less fringe character: the protestant guy cohabiting with the daughter of devoutly Catholic parents (one is never fully "family" in that situation. My own dad, hardly liberal, was wise enough not to care.); the old friend with nothing to do; the boyfriend at the huge, extended family gathering who loved the stuffing, watched the football game, & didn't talk much (guest-friendly events because they're noisy, informal, a dozen kids running around, & there are always other newbies present) ; & the familiar but peculiar relative. This was alright, even enjoyable, although I was never fully comfortable in those roles when they were all I had.

Yes, there are a few people who would always like to see me at Christmas, several of those visits requiring three changes of clothing, two pairs of footwear, books, music, Ambien, & which have induced in me a deep sense of isolation in the midst of a crowd, & made me feel the loss of what I've never had, only occasionally sought, & am otherwise not inclined to miss. Which is probably how I put it to my former therapist, a non-observant Jew from Russia. She associated Soviet-era Christmas with drunkenness & an absurd evasion of religious significance.

Suggestions from the young folks that I chill, sneak outside with them, smoke a joint, & laugh at the desserts wouldn't do. It's a reasonable idea, but I would only have spoken cryptic lines from Neil Young songs & William Carlos Williams poems, & gotten puzzled "What did he just say?" looks. I get those looks anyway.

The years I worked in a retail store, Christmas Day itself was an anticlimax & a relief. Retail Christmas was busy & interesting, & I never got stomped by customers in an arts supply store book dept, but by closing time on the 24th I'd had quite enough. I taught piano through six or seven holiday seasons, which meant putting aside most other music around Halloween & spending the next two months coaching children in elementary arrangements of Christmas songs so they could entertain relatives & justify the cost of lessons. Once I had made a fun arrangement of "Winter Wonderland" for myself, there wasn't much else in the holiday repertoire I wanted to play.

I was obliged to turn down any opportunity to do a Christmas Eve radio show when WFMU was still understaffed & pleading for fill-ins. Other DJs got to play a Hawaiian slack key guitar version of "Silent Night."

Some years in the 70s & 80s were a nightmare of obligatory personal appearances & gifts with few positive emotional payoffs. I struggled not to hate Christmas. That's when a group of friends discovered we were in the same boat & began having small, informal gatherings late on Christmas Eve. Nobody had kids then. Most of the presents handed out were records, books, & handmade items. Those parties were a loose, happy tradition for a decade.

I recall very fondly the couple of years I had a girlfriend just as nuts as me, & we tuned into the same holiday spirit. We had a real tree, from Val's Lot by the K Mart. We decorated it with snazzy lights & traditional ornaments, topped by an angel, of course. Then we added on whatever we fancied; seashells, boardwalk souvenirs, Mardi Gras beads, doo dads from the vending machines at the supermarket, Halloween nic nacs, & my small collection of surreal musical themed ornaments of instruments playing themselves, a truly expressive tree that looked fairly ordinary from across the room but guests examined in detail. We weren't mocking Christmas; we discovered our own.

What matters most are childhood Christmases. I remember mine as a blur of color, anticipation, & excitement. The theatricality my parents brought to the season made Christmases in my early childhood their finest moments together as a married couple in a relationship that always had serious fault lines. In this much they agreed upon what to do, & they did it with teamwork & enthusiasm; an exquisite, intuitive mix of Nativity Creche & good old American paganism, & minimal religious observance. They understood it was all about their four kids, & I've described their timing as magical to the point of "shamanism" (although they wouldn't have comprehended my meaning). We all lose that childhood Christmas, & when there are children around, we want to recreate it for them.

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Monday, December 22, 2008

A cautionary tale

Fort Dix five guilty of stupidity & violent trash talk
Five Muslim immigrants from South Jersey were convicted today of plotting to kill American soldiers, a crime that prosecutors said demonstrated how Al Qaeda was using the Internet to recruit, train and incite supporters for attacks in the United States and around the world.

Jurors at federal district court in Camden deliberated into a sixth day before declaring the men guilty of conspiracy. The jurors, however, acquitted the men of an additional charge of attempted murder. Four of the five men were also convicted of related weapons counts.
The Fort Dix five include brothers Eljvir, Dritan and Shain Duka, ethnic Albanians who worked at a family roofing business; Mohamad Shnewer, a Jordanian who drove a cab and worked at his family's market in Pennsauken, and Serdar Tatar, a native of Turkey who was an assistant manager at a Philadelphia 7-Eleven.

Each faces up to life in prison on the conspiracy charge. Under terrorism laws, prosecutors may seek an enhanced sentence of life without parole.
The evidence indicated that the men gathered weekly at a Palmyra mosque and regularly watched and discussed Al Qaeda videos extolling jihads and depicting deadly attacks against U.S. forces. In January 2006 and February 2007, they rented a house in the Pocono Mountains, where investigators said they trained for an attack by riding horses, shooting weapons at a rifle range and playing war games with paintball.
Read the whole crazy news article.

The conviction of these fellows oughtn't be taken as a serious warning to or about potential Islamic terrorists. It's a hell of a cautionary tale for loud-mouthed, bigoted white men bonding around their guns, Budweiser , & right wing fantasies. America has plenty of those nasties. Because in nearly every way except their names, religion, & choice of targets, the Fort Dix Five reminded me of stupid, angry white guys immersing themselves in the kind of insane neofascist rhetoric & culture you find simmering just below the surface all across America, bending elbows & ears in roadhouses, running around paintball battlefields, & making incautious remarks about the president-elect.

On one hand, I think the five guys were set up & entrapped by the FBI. On the other hand, it's undeniable that they were imagining & discussing some terrible ideas, & some of them are ingrates & not the least bit thankful to be living & working in America rather than stuck in godforsaken villages where they might have nothing to do but bitch about shameless American sluts as they drool over scantily clad women in dubbed reruns of CSI: Miami.

Their indiscreet talk centered on Fort Dix, the staging point this past summer for our National Guard units beginning the long journey to Iraq via some hot, difficult training in the West Texas desert. You can tell the jurors that has nothing to do with the charges, but you can't make them not think it.

I imagined these guys being spotted early by MPs & chased through the Jersey Pine Barrens for hours, our jihadists tossing their armaments & shouting, "Aiyee, aiyee," wading across mucky creeks, smacking at mosquitoes & scratching their poison ivy rashes, & surrendering to a couple of startled state troopers sipping Wawa coffee by a patrol car on a rural road outside the base. I'd film it as a dark comedy. In truth, I couldn't imagine them pullng together any kind of serious plot & acting on it. The most earnest conspirator was the FBI informant, a bad, bad man. Without his participation, it's possible the defendants would've morphed into a bowling team named "Jihad Pizza."

Really, I try to think the best of the clerks in the 7-11, & cab drivers, & the illegal immigrants nailing roof shingles on brutally hot afternoons.

No doubt The Fort Dix Five will appeal the verdict, & if they're granted one have a strong chance of reversing the conspiracy conviction. The gun charges could stick. But the Duka brothers would be glad to go home to Albania. Unlike any other members of their family they've exposed to deportation.

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Winter Solstice

Winter solstice was this morning, & it is winter. Very much so. Some years it isn't winter weather. I think of the winter solstice as the real New Year. Nights will not become longer, although we won't take much notice of them becoming shorter until the end of January. Nearly all the traditions we now associate with Christmas are about the solstice. The sun appears to stop for a few days at its lowest, southernmost position, which must have been quite alarming to ancient people. What if it decides to stay there? So they had to perform all the rituals to bring back the sun they did last year, & the year before, etc., because those ceremonies always worked.

Check out Wendell Jamieson's appreciation of It's A Wonderful Life, It’s a Pitiful, Dreadful Life..
Not only is Pottersville cooler and more fun than Bedford Falls, it also would have had a much, much stronger future. Think about it: In one scene George helps bring manufacturing to Bedford Falls. But since the era of “It’s a Wonderful Life” manufacturing in upstate New York has suffered terribly.

On the other hand, Pottersville, with its nightclubs and gambling halls, would almost certainly be in much better financial shape today. It might well be thriving.
Jamieson thinks that the alternate timeline characters are authentic personalities repressed by the culture of Bedford Falls. Were they bound to come out eventually? Is there really a violent, undisciplined cop lurking inside Bert. If so, as an aging provincial police chief he probably flew into a rage & killed some insolent but harmless hippies hitchiking home from Woodstock.

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Paramus NJ

Garden State Mall Santa
Call Ghostbusters if he so much as twitches.

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Dock Ellis

Have to mention the death of pitcher Dock Ellis, one of the great personalities in baseball during the 70's, an era packed with personality. Dock is remembered in New York for coming to the Yanks in a 1976 trade that included Willie Randolph, winning 17 games, a year the Yanks at last returned to the World Series.

Among his notable moments: While in the minor leagues in 1964, he went into the stands & swung a bat at a racist heckler. He gave up a home run to Reggie Jackson in the '71 All Star Game & later beaned Reggie in the face. A bad vibe incident for which we must forgive Dock. In 1974 he tried to hit every player in the Cincinnati lineup, nailing Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, & Dan Driessen & throwing at Tony Perez & Johnny Bench before he was pulled with nobody out in the first inning. Only Reds fans took offense. He hooked up with future U.S. Poet Laureate Donald Hall on a biography, Dock Ellis in the Country of Baseball. There's always been a Bardic Cult of Baseball among American poets, & Dock was one of the few major league players to even know it exists. (Marianne Moore was the original priestess. I studied with a devoted cultist but am not myself an initiate.)

Dock's most notorious moment occurred on June 12, 1970 when he pitched a no-hitter for Pittsburgh against the San Diego Padres while still high on LSD. The story is too bizarre to be fiction. He wasn't even aware he was scheduled to pitch until game day, & had to fly from L.A. to San Diego. It was a sloppy no hitter as those things go, but that doesn't matter, the gem always glistens. Ellis broke one of baseball's most strict taboos by acknowledging it in the dugout during the game. He claimed he couldn't feel the ball or see the batter or catcher clearly, & aimed at reflective tape on the catcher's glove. He later said he was high on coke or booze whenever he pitched, & Dock's career stats are no advertisement for chemical enhancement.

Yet, Ellis was a considered a "stand up guy," charitable, outspoken against racism at a time when white America wanted blacks to pretend it wasn't a problem anymore (it's always that way, isn't it?). So some in the old school sportswriter fraternity made him the Bad Negro, along with Dick Allen & Curt Flood, Ellis later devoted himself to counseling ballplayers against alcohol & drug abuse.

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Friday, December 19, 2008

Felt like I was wearing ankle weights

Felt like I was wearing ankle weights, walking up the street to the mailbox & store. Because in effect I was. For snow, extreme cold, or today's slushy mix, I reach under the bed & pull out a box containing a pair of heavy, thick-soled black leather lace up shoes. They're not work shoes, but they're definitely inspired by work shoes; you'd recognize them as a style from several years ago, when some men's shoes were rounded very wide in front to the extent of looking awkward. There's never a market shortage of clunky men's casual shoes, at any price; been that way since college kids discovered Doc Martens 'cause they too cool to shop at Sears. I bought the shoes at off a close-out table, they're well-made & I saw right away they'd be useful for days when I couldn't wear sneakers or my one pair of ordinary brown shoes. But when you're accustomed to sneakers, they sure are draggy. In matters of men's shoes, if you haven't paid at least $300 for your tassle loafers, nobody cares if they're Payless or Dr. Scholl's or Rockport or Alfani or Kenneth Cole.
Every morning I have very simple smoothie made of some 1 or 2% milk, banana, & a small scoop of vanilla ice cream. I peel & freeze bananas & briefly nuke them for the drink. I was thinking of adding peanut butter to the smoothie; since I'm not a regular consumer of peanut butter I got some Friendly's peanut butter cup ice cream to test the taste. Mistake. Friendly's adds large, rock hard chocolate chips - don't find those in Reese's - my poor little Hamilton Beach one speed smoothie blender was still trying to process them long after the other ingredients were headed toward nuclear fusion. The instructions warn you it's not a grinder. I'll just invest in a small jar of creamy peanut butter.

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Carnac the Magnificent

A set of womens workout clothes, top and bottom.

A beret.

A plastic Air France pill container filled with flight aids and medicine with Russian labels.

A portfolio of what appear to be legal documents in Russian with a Russian business card.

The question is: What did WFMU Station Manager Ken Freedman find in the studio parking lot last night?

(He gave the items to the police.)


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Winter Storm Watch

Now we have December weather. A springlike day followed by a stinging cold rain, & today a "Winter Storm Watch" for tomorrow with a "shifting rain line" - the weather forecaster's way of not telling Central NJ how much snowfall we'll receive - 3 inches or 10 - until we actually get it, or what proportions of snow to sleet, ice, & rain - a matter of no small concern to those who must be outside driving or walking in it & removing it from sidewalks. In hilly North Jersey they figure on snow, hope for it, the snow blowers are dusted off & ready to roll. A lot of Central Jerseyans are weather gamblers, haven't tested their machines or don't even have one. In coastal South Jersey they assume any snow will melt away within 6 hours & are always surprised when it doesn't; the high ozone level makes them optimistic. Once in awhile we get weird weather systems where it's actually colder & snowier down that way.

Meanwhile, I await fast delivery of my new jammies, which are extra warm sweatpants & shirt I then get to call "loungers," & are only jammies one puts on a few hours before one goes to bed. These are necessities for single men of my physique. Too long ago to worry about, while I still shared a bed with a woman nearly every night, I realized there were four or five months of the year when my legs were always cold, & this caused a nightly battle for control of the blankets, which weren't always sufficient even when I won. Truth is, I was commanded to wear pajamas, & I realized that if I refused there would be two sets of blankets on the bed & a two by four down the middle of it. If I was lucky.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Prop 8 Inauguration

This is absolutely shameful:
CNN) — President-elect Barack Obama's swearing-in ceremony will feature big names like minister Rick Warren and legendary singer Aretha Franklin, the Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies announced Wednesday.

Warren, the prominent evangelical and founder of the Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, will deliver the ceremony's invocation. The minister hosted a presidential forum at his church last summer that challenged both Obama and Arizona Sen. John McCain on a host of faith-related issues. Warren did not endorse either presidential candidate.

His public support for California's Proposition 8 — the measure that successfully passed and called for outlawing gay marriage in the state — sparked the ire of many gay rights proponents, who seized on a comment in an October newsletter to his congregation: "This is not a political issue — it is a moral issue that God has spoken clearly about."
Of course I didn't expect Obama to invite a lesbian Unitarian pastor. But why would he go out of his way to insult every supporter of LGBT rights? Who, I'll add, had to put aside some doubts about Barack's commitment to even the most basic issues like civil unions. Hillary was the more supportive candidate in the primaries. & why choose a flaky huckster of shallow, commercialized religion - Warren is an industry, not a pastor. Evangelicals don't trust him, either. An awful decision, & I don't care how personal it was or what comfort level Obama has with this creep. It's disgraceful. George W. Bush has better ministers as friends than this "purpose-driven" brand masquerading as a deep thinker. The most disturbing, disillusioning aspect is that Obama seems to have no clue as to why this pick contradicts the over-riding message of his campaign. I had thought that Obama was a spiritual seeker. Now I suspect he's actually a sucker for flim-flam preachers.

We've watched Barack Obama stock his adminstration with Clintonistas, & choose for his economic team advisors who had a hand in creating our current predicament, & let it ride with cliches like, "Oh well, he has to hit the ground running on day one." Us Obama supporters have been very big on symbolism, & were encouraged throughout the campaign to accept symbols in lieu of specifics. This symbolic selection broke the "feel good" hypnotic spell, & one specific result will be supporters of LGBT rights demanding real change, upfront, at the federal level, from day one, by presidential directive. That may be a good thing.

The most effective way to get the majority of people to accept the extension of civil rights is to extend those rights & then step back let those rights accomplish what they're supposed to accomplish, which includes acceptance. So the only "symbolic" purpose I'm willing to read into Warren's presence at the inaugural is that he won a battle but has lost the war.

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You can call him Al

Pianist Brendel to take final bow

Alfred Brendel, one of the world's greatest pianists, is giving his final public performances this week.

Brendel, 77, will take his final bow at the famous Golden Auditorium of Musikverein, in Vienna, Austria, after 60 years on the concert stage.

He will perform Mozart's ninth piano concerto, K.271 in E-flat major - the Jenamy - with the Vienna Philharmonic later and on Thursday.

I don't know why he's retiring altogether. He's received wonderful reviews over the past year on his farewell tour.

My modest cd collection of Beethoven solo piano music is built around the recordings a young Brendel made for the bargain Vox label in the Fifties & Sixties, most of them still available. Initially considered rather dry & cerebral by some critics, they were highly regarded by the time I came to them. By then, Brendel had switched to the major Phillips label & made beautiful recordings of Schubert, not as common a thing as one might imagine, & which became a specialty for him. My generation was inclined to disdain the old superstar pianists like Horowitz & Arthur Rubenstein (though we're more appreciative now). My first Brendel record - I was about 18 - was of two finger-twisting virtuoso Russian compositions, "Pictures At An Exhibition" & "Islamey - An Oriental Fantasy" in gawdawful "Reprocessed Stereo," how record companies used to recycle & ruin monophonic recordings. That wasn't the musical direction Brendel took once he got himself established. He continued rethinking & refining his Beethoven as he matured. His intellectual approach to Middle-European piano repertoire became influential on subsequent generations of pianists. "At his best," one critic wrote, "he loses himself in the music." This is quite different than the music being lost in the performer.

Brendel's cycle for Vox is so complete that it includes a Three CD set of "Variations & Vignettes for Piano," an indispensable assortment of mostly dispensable, very minor Beethoven works like "5 Variations on 'Rule Britannia' in D Major," which Brendel performs with technical aplomb & a slight smile, as Beethoven would have. The guy has a sense of humor. He's always presented himself as a fine musician going about his business of making fine music, knowing full well that he was great musician performing great music. Although he's retiring from live performance, I haven't read that he's quitting the recording studio, so perhaps he'll be enticed into staying with us awhile longer in that that capacity.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Road To The White House Runs Right Through Me

2008's Top Ten most memorable quotations, compiled by Fred R. Shapiro, editor of the Yale Book of Quotations

1."I can see Russia from my house!"
Comedian Tina Fey, impersonating Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live, broadcast Sept. 13

2. "All of them, any of them that have been in front of me over all these years."
Palin, responding to a request by CBS anchor Katie Couric to name the newspapers or magazines she reads, broadcast Oct. 1

3. "We have sort of become a nation of whiners."
Former Sen. Phil Gramm, an economic adviser to Sen. John McCain, quoted in The Washington Times, July 10

4. "It's not based on any particular data point, we just wanted to choose a really large number."
Treasury Department spokeswoman explaining how the $700 billion number was chosen for the initial bailout, quoted on Sept. 23

5. "The fundamentals of America's economy are strong."
John McCain, in an interview with Bloomberg TV, April 17

6. "Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency."
The Treasury Department's proposed Emergency Economic Stabilization Act, September 2008

7. "Maybe 100."
John McCain, discussing in a town hall meeting in Derry, N.H., how many years U.S. troops could remain in Iraq, Jan. 3

8. "I'll see you at the debates, bitches."
Paris Hilton in a video responding to a McCain television ad, August 2008

9. "Barack, he's talking down to black people, telling niggas how to behave, I want to cut his nuts off."
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, overheard over a live microphone before a Fox News interview, July 6

10. (tie) "Cash for trash."
Paul Krugman discussing the financial bailout, New York Times, Sept. 22.

10. (tie) "There are no atheists in foxholes and there are no libertarians in financial crises."
Krugman, in an interview with Bill Maher on HBO's Real Time, broadcast Sept. 19

10. (tie) "Anyone who says we're in a recession, or heading into one — especially the worst one since the Great Depression — is making up his own private definition of 'recession.'"
Commentator Donald Luskin, the day before Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy, The Washington Post, Sept. 14

My favorite quote:
"The road to The White House runs right through me."
Late Show host David Letterman, when Sen. John McCain canceled an appearance saying he had to rush back to Washington to fix the economy, but instead stopped by to see Katie Couric, which Letterman watched live on the CBS News raw feed as he taped his own program. A truism, true for him, Leno, & entertainment talk shows generally. Signaled the point-of-no-hope in McCain's campaign.

Fender Bender

on the corner got me out of bed. Stuck my head out window, man walking around with cell phone, I couldn't see both cars clearly but they were able to move them. Police arrived faster than usual for non EMS accident. This intersection needs a blinking stop sign. Two way side street crossing a one way through street, the cars on the side street misjudge the speed of cars on the through street, the cars on through street don't look for cars coming out the side street, they're looking ahead to the traffic light next block up. Somebody has to be reminded to think & look .Parked cars. A couple minutes after the accident a guy moved his car out of the illegal yellow zone across the street, must have heard the accident & worried a cop would notice & write ticket.


Monday, December 15, 2008

Castle in Camden

This was frontpaged in the Star-Ledger today:
By Dunstan McNichol
Star-Ledger Staff

For almost a century, the facade of Camden High School has towered over the Parkside neighborhood just southeast of the city's downtown, offering inspiration to generations of residents as the community's "Castle on the Hill."

But it is a fading castle.

Emergency scaffolding protects students entering and leaving the school from pieces of plaster and masonry falling off the decaying high school. A new chain-link fence keeps pedestrians clear of other portions of the wall, and broken windows dot the three-story facade.

Now, officials at the state agency in charge of school repair and replacement in Camden are wondering whether the building is worth the $120 million experts have projected it will cost to modernize it.

"There's some concern about the proper uses of limited resources," said Preston Pinkett, a Prudential Financial Services executive who serves on the state Schools Development Authority board. "We should build in a way that makes sense, as opposed to throwing good money after bad."

Pinkett suggested the $120 million the state plans to spend refurbishing the 92-year-old high school building might better be used to build an entirely new school.

Camden officials, however, are adamant the venerable structure should remain, even as the school is upgraded to meet modern educational needs.

"This building is a symbol for the community; it's an icon for the community," said Camden schools spokesman Bart Leff, whose family has deep roots in the Parkside neighborhood. "This community is committed to the symbol of this building and the castle on the hill."
Perhaps I'm mistaken, but outside the Camden city limits this is a no-brainer: Get rid of it. Don't ask the old-timers, the graduates from decades ago, & the honorable neighborhood holdouts. Ask the parents, the students, the teachers.

Hate to remind the folks who consider this school an "icon" but for your fellow Jerseyans the main symbol of Camden is an illegal handgun, recently fired, not a "Castle on the Hill." Taxpayers outside of Camden are footing the bill for whatever you do &, as a wild guess, their opinion probably runs 50% for a new school & 50% for declaring that Camden shall henceforth be part of Philadelphia, & then towing Battleship New Jersey, one of your few attractions, to Bayonne.

Look, a thing doesn't have to exist to be iconic. There's no Diving Horse on the Steel Pier in Atlantic City anymore, they're both gone. The Camden HS website doesn't show a photo of the building on the main page, & the school alma mater, "Purple and Gold," makes no mention of a castle. To be honest, it isn't an architectural work of art. My hometown had a high school with lots of "tradition" & clanky radiators, but my classmates & I were thrilled to attend a brand new one with a much less distinctive exterior. Take the money, construct yourself a nice new castle of learning for the children now in grammar school, include a swimming pool if you can get away with it, & put a picture of the Ye Olde Castle on the school stationary.

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Modern conveniences

I considered the self-service photo print kiosk accepting flash media cards a neat invention (some have scanners). Even printed an 8 X 10 for an art show out of a store machine. But the ones around here are indifferently maintained, Drug Fair hosts a particularly infuriating kiosk, nobody there knows enough about it to hang an out of order sign on it when it breaks, which is often. CVS was recommended to me , so I went online to see what they charged (Drug Fair is 29 cents for a 4 x 6). Discovered that I could upload photo files & pick up the prints at the local CVS down the street the next day at 19 cents per for a minimum $5 order. I needed a bunch of 4 x 6 prints from old postcards I found on websites. I cropped them best I could, uploaded yesterday, picked them up today, paid at the cashier. Pretty amazing when you think that the inexpensive digital camera became the standard point & shoot only in this decade. This week, a local supermarket advertised a Fuji J10, a very good basic pocket digital, for $40, & probably sold out by noon Sunday. I was plenty impressed ten years ago when for a few extra bucks Kodak put low res files of a roll of film on a floppy disk.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Blessing for Edie Eustice

you fell asleep in the afternoon

when you woke that evening
you thought it was tomorrow

I read a list of lonely people
in the newspaper

when I slid off the edge of the page
I could not stop falling

we got together to remind ourselves
it's never our fault
but of course it always is

so we read some great passage
from a poem or a play
& we knew we were listening
to people who did not know us
but who remembered us anyway

when I left your house it was tomorrow
or maybe the day after tomorrow for you
& there was the moon

also a funny bird sitting
on a telephone pole
singing a piece of every song
it had ever heard

a tree had covered my car
with white blossoms

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East Orange NJ

Otis Men's Shop, East Orange NJ
This store's clientele were not advertisements
for sneakers & professional sports teams.
Click on postcard & check out the hip attire.

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Friday, December 12, 2008

Bruce Springsteen Special Collection

Today I was surprised, then alarmed, to discover that Asbury Park Public Library holds an archival collection of over 10,000 Bruce Springsteen related items, mostly printed materials, all of it donated.

I learned from a newspaper article that the Friends of the Bruce Springsteen Special Collection had to return 1000 items they had removed for microfilming, for which they had received a grant. The FBSSC (founded by Backstreet Magazine editors) was instrumental in establishing the collection, & claimed they owned this particular material. Apparently, they do not. But they posted this on the FBSSC website:
Over many recent months, The Friends of the Bruce Springsteen Special Collection have grown increasingly concerned over conditions at the Asbury Park Public Library, where the Collection is currently housed. We've attempted to resolve these concerns, and while doing so, felt it was in the best interests of the Collection for us to retain possession of over a thousand documents taken from the Library for microfilming, rather than return them to what may be an unsuitable environment
I'm not really interested in Bruce Springsteen archival material, but historical preservation does concern me. What I don't understand is why any serious collector thought, in 2001, that Asbury Park Public Library was a suitable repository for a Bruce Springsteen Special Collection. APPL is an understaffed, underfunded municipal library in a city that struggles to provide basic library services to its own residents. The library is not even involved in any major way in preserving the broader history of Asbury Park. Independent historical societies & private investment do most of that work. Asbury Park has no museum dedicated to its history. The elected government of Asbury Park has a shameful record of preserving evidence of the city's true "glory days" from the late 19th Century through the 1920's, & can take small credit for any economic resurgence. You have to go to Ocean Grove to get a sense of what Asbury looked like 50 or 100 years ago.

I'm not blaming Asbury Park Public Library, but that city institution & its trustees are stuck with a job suited to the library at Monmouth University or even Brookdale Community College. APPL can record the fact of the archived material into their computer catalogue system, but they are not equipped to store, manage & preserve a growing archive collection, or digitally scan the material, or deal with donations from around the world, or adequately service people wishing to access the material, in person & off site, for purposes of research. Mere sentiment or civic pride about Bruce Springsteen & Asbury Park are unacceptable rationales. The collection has little real monetary value unless the library broke it up & sold it off, provided there were buyers. It is a burden to the library. The Bruce Springsteen Special Collection needs a better permanent home.

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Bettie Page

April 22 1923 - December 11 2008
Despite having worked with but a single competent photographer, despite having thousands of her photographs destroyed on purpose following the congressional hearings, and despite so many extant photos surviving only as inferior copies of the originals, the transcendent beauty and playful yet dangerous personality of Bettie Page trumps all else and continues to inspire documentary films, designers’ fashions, artists’ fetishes, and fans’ fantasies.

Her story is an impossible incursion of near misses, bad luck, contradictions and lost opportunities. Page was strong-willed, and fiercely independent. She battled long and hard against both physical and mental illnesses. From the 1950s and beyond, when strangers would recognize her, she would deny her identity. “Bettie Page?” she would respond, “Who is that?” And yet to friends, she always told the truth, and would candidly (and sometimes endlessly!) discuss any aspect of her long life, including any conceivable question one might pose with respect to sexual activity. And under the spell of those sparkling blue-gray Bettie Page eyes (at any age), sometimes one was too distracted to even process what she was saying.

from Obituary at Official Bettie Page website.
Bettie deserved all the fame, respect, & adoration she belatedly received after her "rediscovery" in the 1980's. There was a rare cultural justice in Bettie prevailing over the va-va-voom blondes of the centerfolds & the emaciated waifs of the fashion world; she had a name.

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Suzy Snowflake

Now I am sharing something very personal, & very beautiful with you, dear reader. It's old, & only 2 1/2 minutes long, & once you see it you never forget it.

This magical stop action short is from 1951 & was shown on TV during the holiday season throughout the 1950's. I first saw it as an impressionable child. "Suzy Snowflake" is a collaboration between four American pop artists from early in their careers: film artist & designer Wah Ming Chang; songwriters Sid Tepper & Roy C. Bennett; & choral conductor Norman Luboff. It might still be a popular little film had it been made in color.

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Quite a year for delusional governors. First there was Eliot Spitzer of New York & his addiction to high-priced whores. Then Sarah Palin of Alaska, who probably believed she had been divinely chosen to prevent Barack Hussein Obama from being elected president. Now there's Rod "expletive"Blagojevich of Illinois, the most delusional of the three. Spitzer stupidly used a credit card instead of paying cash. Palin would be unknown & merely peculiar if she hadn't run on a national ticket. But Blagojevich, fully aware he was under investigation by the Feds, & knowing why, kept on dreaming the grandest dreams of power & wealth. New Jersey had Gov. Jim McGreevey, whose personal political ambitions, by some accounts, included running for VP or becoming Secretary of something, until he was forced out of the closet in 2004. Jersey has also had its share of incredibly foul-mouthed politicians, one wonders how they're able to turn the language on & off.

Obama shows that a basically honest & nimble politician can build a career out of an urban base by using the local machine without becoming part of the machine. It isn't easy. It helped that he was an outsider. But Blagojevich married into the Chicago machine, which is why his wife figures so prominently in the insane phone conversations. She brought him her Chicago Alderman father's connections & her lifelong experience in that world. Like McGreevey, Blagojevich was probably doomed from the day he entered electoral politics, but for different reasons. McGreevey wanted to do good, self-enrichment wasn't high on his agenda, although he lacked a spirit of reform. Had he been more clear-headed, he wouldn't have remarried, & would've been elected governor with most Jerseyans thinking of him as an eligible divorcee or a very discreet man. Blagojevich also wasn't what he said he was.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008


Annoyances. Couldn't get the photo kiosk at Cost Cutters to print out 4x6 from an SD card, I've always had problems there & that chain sucks anyway. Then a 2-for-1 item didn't scan on sale at the supermarket, & since I'd doublechecked the shelf tag I was compelled to go the service desk for justice. While a clerk went to find out if I was telling the truth, a young couple wired $2080 to Mexico. The fellow handed over twenty crisp hundreds & four clean twenties, & I noted that he & his diminutive wife were not even attired up to the good rummage store standards that are possible in this town. She was wearing a beat up black shirt with a Playboy bunny logo & what looked like baggy pink pajama bottoms. Maybe this is sexy gear in rural Mexico, I don't know. My refund was for $2.89, which was merely a correction, not justice, since they were at fault. Under the old supermarket policy I would've received $5.78 & gotten the items for free.

On the positive side, the branch library had the book I'd ordered sent over from the main library, a book I hadn't expected the library to have at all. (But I still think Elizabeth Public Library is a second rate system, & that it's mostly a problem of people with index card mentalities in key positions). My 1/2 price winter jacket was delivered to a friend's house up the street, I can pick it up tomorrow; I never have anything mailed here too large to fit in the locked box. The bipolar drunk guy on the first floor who mistreated his runty cat & nearly started a serious electrical fire last year moved out & was replaced by a woman who wrapped her door in silver foil & covered it with Christmas decorations. This is, for the moment, a quiet, peaceful building.



Eventually they wear out, seems like all at once.
About 8 years ago I was on a local business bocce team in a league that played on courts behind the library. It was fun because the only good team was from the Italian American Club. Most everyone else just pretended they could play the game. If I was still on the team, I'd suggest that we all buy Zip-Front Sunshine Shirts with "Real Authentic Embroidery" for our uniform, now on sale for $7.99. Our female player would look great in it. Sometimes she & I would tell the boss/capt that we'd meet him at the library, go to her sister's apt around the corner & smoke a number, then pick up a couple of Snapples & a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos. Bocce the way it oughta be, for us.

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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Moral Outlaws

I don't know when I really began to feel like a radical leftist. Probably during the Clinton presidency, when I was astonished at what passed for "liberal" with both parties. I'm always behind the curve on any progressive programs not at least suggested during Roosevelt's New Deal era. FDR didn't do half of what Eleanor wanted.

I didn't begin unequivocally supporting full marriage equality until about three years ago. I began to understand why it was insulting to call the relationship between dying Ocean County Police Lt. Laurel Hester & Stacie Andree a "domestic partnership" when the Law of Love clearly defined it as nothing less than a marriage in the spiritual sense. Yet, there they were, battling a collection of incredibly insensitive male Republican freeholders over Hester's pension death benefits. They were fighting for civil rights. not for the blessing of a priest. It was one of the most shameful things I had ever seen in Jersey politics, which is saying a lot. The blame for this "culture war" belonged on the religious right & that's where I placed it & that's where it's stayed.

I also had a genuine empathy for people with religious objections to abortion. That changed as I realized abortion was the "wedge" issue but religious right was actively trying to roll back reproductive rights in general: the right to have sex without fear of pregnancy; the right of access to birth control; the means to combat HIV & other STDs other than counseling celibacy. & the right to intelligent information.

Then there's the absurd "War on Christmas" in which American Christians are cast as victims of a great conspiracy by an oppressive secular minority. Bulldoodle. I was saddened by court rulings that restrained religious expression in public institutions & spaces; these were things of my childhood being changed. But I understood why the change was inevitable & necessary, that the demographics of religious belief were changing. It borders on hypocrisy for Christians to endorse the retail marketing monster Christmas has become, to demand that we all call it "Christmas" when it is something else, distinctly American & secular in its excesses. Inside this gargantuan, clerk-stomping festival is a touching, happy, & modest Christian holiday. It's not happening at Wal-Mart. Let it be "Happy Holidays.'

This from Battling for the Soul of the Democratic Party by Sarah Posner:
By rejecting the so-called “culture wars,” the “broader agenda” evangelicals and their Democratic allies imply that there is something inherently unseemly about advocating for reproductive or LGBT rights. The American Prospect’s Ann Friedman has rejected the use of the term “culture war” as a descriptor for the quest for LGBT equality because “the very act of invoking the term ‘culture war’ signals that we think something is controversial, when in fact, equal rights should be the furthest thing from it.” This is a secular viewpoint that is mirrored in progressive religious thinking. “Anytime someone calls them [abortion and gay marriage] hot button or wedge issues my back goes up,” says the Rev. Debra Haffner, director of the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing. “It sounds like, oh, yeah, we don’t need to worry about women and gay people.”
It pains me when "liberal" Democratic presidential candidates attend a so-called "Compassion Forum" at Messiah College & genuflect to Rick "Purpose Driven" Warren at Saddleback Church, venues that are so unwelcoming of sane, enlightened attitudes that anyone merely expressing them in those places is made to feel like a moral outlaw.

The Christian right wing is comprised of various types of scriptural literalists, & yet they esteem the Bible most for its legalistic content. I value the Bible most for its accounts of miraculous events, & the truths I find in those events, & in he poetry & parables. I have a much more generous view of the miraculous than the conservatives.

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Rivers of Babylon

Thank you Craig Ferguson for sharing your late mother's favorite song with us, a terrible faux reggae number by Boney M. &a huge hit record everywhere but in America, & produced, you noted, by the same guy who gave the world Milli Vanilli.

Craig's mom, Janet, died Dec. 1, tonight was his first show back after the funeral in Glasgow Scotland. As when his father died a few years ago he gave over the show to a modest tribute. But this was different. The show for his dad had a dutiful, ritual quality. He invited on his friend, celebrity therapist Dr. Drew Pinsky, to discuss father-son relationships, & ended the show by joining with a Scottish drumming group in a traditional tribute. That fine episode was nominated for an Emmy.

Craig choked up a bit at the end of his monologue. He had a more intimate, affectionate, relaxed relationship with his mom (much as David Letterman does with his mother). She was guest & willing comic foil on one of his early Late Late programs, he showed a few clips. He just seemed heartbroken, & there wasn't much he could do except say in so many words that he loved her, & was grieving, & get through the hour. Honest reality television. I appreciated it.

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Monday, December 08, 2008

Boston Legal

I am gonna miss Boston Legal. (I missed the first hour of the series finale, forgot it was two hours.) The show wrapped in the most astounding celebration of love & friendship, surreal if you can imagine Justice Scalia performing a double wedding, including a same sex, on the dock of an exclusive fishing lodge obviously located on a Hollywood sound stage.

Boston Legal was one of my favorite all-timeTV series. Producer David E. Kelley shuffled a supporting cast in & out, kept a stable of entertaining judges, including Henry Gibson, & ran notable guest stars through multi-show plot arcs. Candice Bergen arrived & settled in (who figured she would fit so well?), followed by John Larroquette. The cast was pared down for the short final season. But all through the run it was anchored by the enduring, intimate, complex friendship of Alan Shore & Denny Crane; James Spader & William Shatner. The best role Shatner ever played, by drawing upon every role he ever played including William Shatner.

If a cross-dressing black lawyer & a high priced whore lawyer weren't odd enough, one of most extraordinary characters ever to appear regularly on a TV show slipped into the cast from a recurring role: Jerry Espenson, a brilliant legal mind but a social misfit afflicted with Asperger's Syndrome. Christian Clemenson took a character with extremely peculiar ticks & small promise as a starring series regular & evolved him into a deeply sympathetic & admirable whole human being, Clemenson was able to turn Jerry on a dime from drama to slapstick to pathos & back to drama again. His use of a fake cigarette to bring out a tough guy alter ego was brilliant, as a running joke & an insight into his character's shyness & vulnerability. Even he finds love through friendship.

No TV "drama' depicted more people over the age of fifty with more affection, or took on current events & issues so bluntly yet with humor (& often a fair presentation of the opposing side's views). Boston Legal endorsed Barack Obama for President. Even arch-conservative Denny Crane said he was voting Obama. That's different than "don't you wish he was real" fictional Democratic President Josiah Bartlet in The West Wing. Of course, that show endorsed its own main character.

I'll miss Crane, Poole & Schmidt.


Sunday, December 07, 2008

Cherry Hill

All the outdoor Christmas lights switched on for me. Nobody else out there looking at them.
No matter which direction I walked, the wind blew in my face. But I had to get to the supermarket today. I've never timed the walk, it probably feels longer than it is, maybe 15 minutes.

I associate this time of year, late fall- early winter, with gray skies & drizzle, our fifth season; the longer it lasts the shorter the distance to spring. I don't know if the averages bear that out. Got cold early this year.

One block up is what used to be called "Cherry Hill." 100 years ago it was a park & woodland with a small pond, & a middle class neighborhood was growing around some big Victorian houses ( only one remains), occupied, I suppose, by the wealthier merchant burghers of this city. The incline is hardly noticeable, & now there's a tall apt building at the top I wouldn't mind living in, Cherry Hill Tower. On cold windy days one remembers that it is a hill, slightly higher than surrounding streets, as the wind whips around the side of the building from the northwest, blowing out of the large parking lot & down the driveway. It nearly always comes as an unpleasant surprise. It's also where the breeze is on a warm summer evening.

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Fort Dix NJ

Today is Pearl Harbor Day. The attack occurred on a Sunday.

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Saturday, December 06, 2008

Kitten Blowing Soap Bubbles

Gina named her new kitten Sparky.
She named it Sparky because the vet needed a name for the new patient file & that one popped into Gina's head.
Sparky was at the vet because soap bubbles were coming out of his mouth.
Soup bubbles were coming out of his mouth because he had been on the kitchen counter drinking the dishwater.
Why then, I asked, didn't you name him Bubbles? Or Dawn, Palmolive, or Dermassage? Or Rabies?
& for heaven's sake, you own about ten cameras, & I know half of them are pinholes & he'd never sit still for those, but couldn't you have taken a photo of the soap bubbles before you went to the vet? I would have posted it on my blog & gotten 10,000 hits from the silly cat photo people just by captioning it, "Kitten Blowing Soap Bubbles."

The vet concluded that no medical treatment was necessary. That would have been my guess, but can't blame Gina for worrying. Although it's unlikely Sparky will connect dishwater with blowing bubbles, & blowing bubbles with a trip to the vet, one can always hope.


Friday, December 05, 2008

The Juice

O.J. Simpson has to serve at least nine years. Convicted on 12 counts. I don't know what he might have been offered in an early plea deal, if an offer had been made & rejected.

In his rambling pre-sentencing statement, as if it would have made any difference, O.J. kept apologizing & saying he didn't mean to steal anything, it was, after all, his stuff, so he claims. The bizarre thing is that O.J. doesn't appear to know why he's going to prison. He thinks he was convicted for attempted theft, like he only tried to swipe a few things he believed were his. Didn't he notice that six of the counts contain the words "deadly weapon," four counts use the word "kidnap," & two counts the words "armed robbery"? Will he now appeal on the grounds that he didn't understand the charges against him?

Even before O.J.'s double murder rap & trial he had become the kind of person one thought of as having "associates" rather than "friends." His movie & TV career hadn't gone anywhere, probably because he had long since ceased to care. Had he even bothered to take acting lessons? A few more years & he might have become bored enough to be a cable sports commentator.

It wasn't smooth sailing for O.J. to USC & the Heisman & NFL stardom. One sees a great tenacity in his football career, a will to succeed. He made himself a superstar NFL Hall of Famer playing for the undistinguished Buffalo Bills in the Cowboys & Steelers decade & going to the playoffs only once, how easy is that?

He existed in a bubble. He was O.J. At first, O.J. seemed to be trying to follow the career path opened by the peerless Jim Brown. But there was no comparison. O.J.'s big smile was a mask. Jim Brown could look & act like a thug, on the field & on screen. O.J. is one.

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Rutgers 63 Louisville 14

If Rutgers offense had played all season anything like they have the past five games, they'd be 11-1 or 10-2, ranked Top 25, maybe Big East Champs headed for a BCS Bowl, & quarterback Mike Teel would ne getting Heisman talk, & Coach Schiano would be a genius. He wants Papa Joe's job at Penn State, he really does.

After the first two dismal games I thought they'd lose lose 9. When they were 1-5 it was obvious the problem wasn't with defense. They held Cincinnati to 13 points. Then they pulled out a low score squeaker against 5-1 UConn & the following week they traveled to Pittsburgh & pounded the #17 Panthers, who beat Navy & West VA.

So what happened? One wants to be glad for their season ending run, but this ain't NCAA basketball where a team can save a season with a sprint through the tournaments. Schiano didn't have this team in gear when the season started. The record is 7 & 5, not 7 & huh?

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Thursday, December 04, 2008

Finding Foster

One dog, two marvelous women, & a very inefficient police rescue. Read the whole story. There really is a German Shorthaired Pointers Rescue Club.

Authorities rescue 2 women who became lost while searching for missing dog

Two women searching for a lost dog needed rescue themselves today after they got lost in a Parsippany marsh. Montville and State Police sent an all-terrain vehicle and four helicopters to find them and the pair - and the pooch - were eventually airlifted to safety.

Though wet and cold from their 3 1/2-hour foray into Troy Meadows, 41-year-olds Susan Zymroz of Manasquan, and Deidre Keelen, of Keansburg, were otherwise unhurt by the ordeal.

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My megabank provided a real service. I write very few checks, I'm about out, & it's taken so long to go through them that they have my old address, which I have to cross out & write in my current, I couldn't be bothered replacing them. When I tried ordering more online, the bank website order new checks link sent me to another website, a company that sells checks, where I'd have to give all my account information. I didn't want two whole boxes of 300 checks even with the Lighthouses of America design (or frogs, or 4 views of Betty Boop, tempting as she is). Just get me through a few months with the plain old until I make it in person to my branch bank inconveniently located in another town & then maybe I'll order pretty pictures from the catalogue they have there. So I called the 800 number hoping this was something they did, immediately got a live human, gave my info, passed the test questions, & they send 50 free checks.

Busy compiling a "2008 "favorites" list for WFMU blog. Music & books. This is not my strength. I hear an enormous amount of new music (any music I haven't heard before) during a given year, but the number of complete, new albums I listen to at home & that stay on my shortlist of music I keep wanting to hear is never large. Although I trust the tastes of many WFMU DJs, & their ability to know something is really good, I also know they have little time to live with the same music. I'm often tempted to ask how many times they actually listened to the albums on their "best of" lists, a troll-like question. I'm up to seven albums on my list, no pop, no rock.

As for books; I rarely a read book of prose twice. The New York Times tells me the "important" new books, I've read exactly one of this year's 100 "best" & there's two I might read, all nonfiction. I'm more likely to pull one of these books off the library 14 day shelf, read the dust jacket, note the length & the tiny print, & put it back on the shelf. I admit most of what I read is insignificant. My local library doesn't buy the new books that are important to me, & at $25 or more each I can't afford them. Few are from major publishers, & I visit some of them at Amazon hoping they'll show up used or remaindered.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The Dawn Patrol

The librarian asked me how I liked Don Winslow's latest crime novel, The Dawn Patrol, which takes place in & around San Diego surfer culture. I said it was enjoyable but wasn't as good as an earlier book I'd read, The Death & Life of Bobby Z. She said, well, sometimes novelists just go on automatic after they've written a few books. Her remark annoyed me a little; I hadn't implied anything that critical of Don Winslow, who I would say is underrated, on the basis of the only two novels of his I have read, both of which had protagonists interesting enough to live on in their own crime novel series if Winslow wanted to take them that route.

There are popular P.I.s like Spenser that aren't all that interesting to me as characters, but Robert B. Parker surrounds his man with sociopath "friends" & lets them kill other bad guys without fear of being arrested & charged with murder. I prefer detective types that worry about making messes & then needing to clean up the messes they make. Bobby Z is a nonstop action adventure about a loser who thinks he's saving his own ass by briefly impersonating a legendary drug dealer, Bobby Z, then finds out he has to become as smart & resourceful as the real Bobby Z. The Dawn Patrol had a little too much endless sea mysticism for my taste, although the characters & local detail are excellent. I'm never sure how much weight I ought to be giving to the plot.

I find this particular middle-aged librarian attractive. No doubt she's on the city pension plan, you can tell she's been at it for years, she's got the routines & can switch the bossiness on & off, But I am not attractive. & librarians generally are not as interesting as one hopes of people who work around books all day. They are usually cataloguers & clerks by temperament. Yet, they don't seem to be neat people, personally. They depend on the system.

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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Golden Showers

Democracy, to me, is liberty plus economic security.
-Maury Maverick, attorney and congressman (1895-1954)
Interesting quote in Wordsmith e mail today. A New Dealer's sentiment rather than a definition. Worth mulling over. Insecurity endangers democracy, but it also provides impetus for change. I don't entirely disagree with Maury Maverick, being something of a New Dealer myself,
NEW YORK -November U.S. vehicle sales at General Motors and Chrysler plunged more than 40 percent, while Ford's sales dropped 31 percent, crushing hopes that the industrywide drop in vehicle demand might be easing as the U.S. automakers prepare to state their second case for a federal bailout.

GM's sales fell 41 percent, while Chrysler's dropped 47 percent. Their overseas rivals posted abysmal results Tuesday as well. Toyota's November U.S. sales tumbled 34 percent, and Honda's fell 32 percent.

Like retailers of other big ticket items, automakers have taken a beating in recent months as worries about the economy and unemployment have prompted consumers to slash spending. At the same time, some people afraid that they won't qualify for credit or that it will be too costly have put purchases on hold.

On Monday, the National Bureau of Economic Research said the U.S. entered a recession in December 2007, much earlier than most predictions.
Ford's F truck series declined the least. Credit NFL TV ads, NASCAR truck racing series, & American manliness. Ford now says it might survive without a bailout. A heavy decline in fleet sales hurt, purchases from rental car companies, government agencies, any company requiring a lot of cars or small vans & trucks.

The auto company execs got the private jets before us, & now they'll drive hybrids to show us they're as hip to their carbon footprints as rich Californians & Bonny Prince Charlie.

Americans smelled recession a year ago while Wall Street was still bouncing along. The Democratic win two years ago was due in large part to general queasiness about the economy, the Repugs weren't delivering on anything.

The American consumer/voter is hardly blameless. We can point the finger at auto companies, credit cards, banks, deregulation, CEO bonuses & parachutes; at $4 gas & the home mortgage collapse. Had we been paying attention, we wouldn't have been so blindsided. Little of this was as hidden as we believe it was. We believed in Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, too. Hell, after awhile we even believed Bush won the 2000 & 2004 elections.

Years of listening to politicians yapping about what Big Guvmint spends on the poor, on environmental protection, after we let Cheney/Bush wreck myriad federal agencies with hackery & indifference (e coli, anyone?) & "privatization" - remember, guvmint IS the problem - now it's o.k. to go into debt for trillions of dollars. We spun 180 degrees so fast we haven't even realized we're facing the opposite direction, if we are. Depends on who benefits from the trillions. Be swell if the people did for a change.

How much is that wireless contract costing you each month? Tap, text, twitter, & talk.

Ironic. P.T. Barnum bragged he'd never go broke underestimating the American public. Now America's gone broke by underestimating itself. We've been doing that for 40 years, when we began concluding the New Deal sucked & it was fine if the rich got exponentially richer than everyone else & we'd all quickly float upward underneath them, rafting on their beneficent trickle down. They pissed on us, we called it golden showers. (Unions? We don't need no stinkin' unions.) Turning that attitude around will be very difficult.


"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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