Monday, November 30, 2009

Travels with Bubbie: 11/27/2009 - 11/30/2009

Bubbie and I went back and forth to/from Seattle to visit with Sarah and Gannet over the weekend. Gannet was lots of fun (so was Sarah!) and we took in the Seattle Aquarium, Pike Place and some Northwest seafood. We sampled Northwest-style clam chowder at Ivar's, Anthony's Pier 66, and and the hotel restaurant at the Waterfront Marriott. All OK and different, but maybe Ivar's white chowder was the better of the bunch. Their red was mediocre and their fish and chips would have been awful if the chips hadn't been acceptable. At least they offered malt vinegar. Being a Ye Olde English fan, I am rather finicky (OK, pissy) about F&C, and I really haven't been completely satisfied. Sea J's in Port Townsend, WA is consistently good and I had good F&C at the Word of Mouth in Salem, OR (although it seemed to be a one-time special on the day I was there).

The weather was decent and the scenery from the hotel room at the Waterfront Marriott was excellent, overlooking Elliot Bay. Gannet loved watching the ferries, container ships, tugs and gulls do their thing; Bubbie and I enjoyed watching Gannet do his thing!

Friday, November 20, 2009

News From the 9th Circle

This morning I read in the Corvallis (OR) Gazette-Times that Texas had executed another post-birth human being. Nothing unusual in that for the Lone Star State, a political entity that values potential people far more than it does living, breathing humans. Be that as it may (I abhor abortion, but I abhor executions more). This particular case, however, is even more egregious than the usual callous disregard for human life and common sense that Texas Governor Rick Perry exhibits.

There is no question that the person who was executed (Robert Lee Thompson) was a criminal and deserved to be in jail. And because a clerk (Mansoor Bhai Rahim Mohammed) in the store that Thompson and his partner in crime (Sammy Butler) robbed was killed, Thompson received the death penalty.

Here is why Rick Perry has earned (not for the first time) my scorn. During the commission of the crime, Butler was the gunman and Thompson was the accomplice. Butler shot and killed Mohammed. Butler received a life sentence. I do not know the circumstances as to why there was such a difference in the sentences. In any event, the sentences were not Rick Perry’s doing or fault.

Thompson’s lawyer argued before the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles that Thompson’s punishment, compared to Butler’s, was unfair. The Board agreed in a 5-2 decision on November 18, 2009 and recommended that Thompson’s sentence be commuted to life. Perry disagreed and Thompson was executed on Thursday.

The callous disregard for human life and common sense that Rick Perry has exhibited since he became governor when W was appointed to the presidency by an activist Supreme Court is such that he should be booted out of office as soon as possible. Nine years is enough of this despicable man’s insane tenure. He should be retired to his appropriate Circle of Hell.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Number 27

I did not write the following quoted comments about the Yankees (David Schoenfield of wrote it on November 5, 2009; see the Page 2 section). I just had to present it here for the Red Sox fan from the West Brookfield, MA area who gave me such a ration of effluent back in the spring. Since I could not have said it better, here are David's words:

“Remember back on May 12 when they were 15-17 and 6½ games out of first place? You were mocking them at the time, weren't you? You know you were. So, if you hate the Yankees, it's probably your fault they won. They took that mocking and spit it right back in your face.”

As I am fond of saying to Red Sox fans, "Talk to me in October." I saluted you and the Red Sox in October 2004 (especially that year!) and October 2007. I am listening...but there is no real need to say anything. You spoke volumes in the spring!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Capitalism is Dead!

Earlier this week, International Paper (IP) announced that it would close its Millersburg, OR Kraft paper plant in December. 240 people will be laid-off, bringing the total of folks who have lost their jobs at this facility in 2009 to 270.

A few days earlier, we viewed Michael Moore’s new documentary, “Capitalism: A Love Story” at the local Regal Cinema theater. There were about ten people in attendance.

A couple of weeks ago, we viewed another documentary, “Flow,” about how water companies such as Nestle and Vivendi are vying to control water distribution throughout the world.

Last weekend, we viewed an HBO documentary called “Schmata: Rags to Riches to Rags,” about the collapse of New York’s garment district.

Of course, we all know about Wall Street getting bailed out and we, the people, getting the shaft.

Indeed, it’s the end of capitalism as we know it, and I do NOT feel fine!

Michael Jackson Ruined My Life!!!!!

I was supposed to be on the cover of People Magazine on February 5, 1996. Let me explain.

In June 1995 I started working for a Westfield, MA environmental engineering firm (Tighe and Bond) as a hydrogeologist and environmental scientist. On December 11, 1995 I was watching some unremembered television program on Boston’s channel 7 when the program was interrupted with live video from a fire at a factory (Malden Mills) in Methuen, MA. It was a very spectacular fire; “Story at 11” stated the excited reporter. The following Monday morning I arrived at work and was summoned to my boss’s office.

“Did you hear about that fire in Methuen?” asked Evan. I replied that I had. “Well,” he continued, “the job of monitoring the cleanup is ours. What are you doing for the next few months?”

The fire had destroyed several buildings of the Malden Mills textile complex, the damaged area covering approximately five acres. It was feared that hazardous materials had been released in the fire, and the buildings were known to contain various chemicals as well as sources of radiation. Over the course of the next nine months, until August 1996, I managed the environmental assessment and remediation of the site.

A major story associated with the fire and its aftermath was the above-and-beyond-the-call-of-duty response by the owner of Malden Mills (Aaron Feuerstein). He kept employees on the payroll and continued their health coverage as long as he could, winning accolades far and wide. President Bill Clinton invited Mr. Feuerstein to the 1996 State of The Union Address and acknowledged him as a model of corporate responsibility. Such was the fervor over Mr. Feuerstein’s actions that he was scheduled for a cover story in People Magazine.

A photographer arrived onsite in Methuen on a cold January morning. The Malden Mills environmental technician that was working with me (Fernando Cruz is his name) helped to apprise the photographer of the likely hazards on the property. The photographer already had shot lots of film in the corporate offices and needed some shots of the fire-ravaged area. Mr. Feuerstein wanted a photograph of himself with the iconic Malden Mills clock tower rising behind him amid the rubble.

The photographer felt that the pose was “too sterile” and suggested that Fernando and I get into the background. Dressed in our yellow Tyvek© coveralls, we hurried out into the rubble and got ourselves in the background of the photograph. Several days later, we were informed that the shot with Fernando and I in it was scheduled to be on the cover of the February 5, 1996 People!

Imagine our chagrin when Lisa Marie Presley walked out on Michael Jackson just in time to bump us off the cover of the February 5, 1996 edition of People Magazine!!! The full-page photograph, however, did make it into that issue, buried deep into the back of that worthless rag. You can look it up! (I still have copies!)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Now wait One...

Have I converted to Judaism? No. I am still a non-believer, not just a doubter. When I presented Rabbi Alan with my feelings some time ago, he said (and I an paraphrasing here) "Forget about God for the moment. Judaism is about morals and ethics: how to live." We have had more than a few discussions such as this; and more talk about baseball. So this endeavor of mine is not an adoption of Judaism or an abandonment of atheism. It is part of my curiosity about religion(s).

So, what am I currently reading? I an re-reading Richard Dawkins "The God Delusion." And I recently completed re-reading Bart Ehrman's "Mis-Quoting Jesus."

Rosh Hashanah 5770

My friend Alan Freedman is rabbi at Temple Beth Shalom in Austin, TX. I truly value his friendship, good humor and teaching. He is also a Phillies fan, which I know some of us will understand that he has done his share of suffering on this planet. Incidentally, Margot and I recently joined Alan's congregation. Yes, Temple Beth Shalom accepts Yankees fans and (severely) lapsed Roman Catholics. Here is his Saturday morning Rosh Hashanah adress for this year:

Rosh Hashanah 5770

Let me tell you at the outset that this is a very personal sermon. In sharing some of what is on my mind this Rosh Hoshanah, I hope it will help others who might be sharing the same theological struggles. This Rosh Hashanah morning, I find myself longing for an understanding of God’s will for me in this upcoming year. I want to know what God has in mind for my life and how I can live in accordance with that plan? I want to have the kind of faith that will allow me to entrust my life to God’s care. Now that may be a somewhat unusual expression to be heard in a synagogue. The idea that God has a plan for our lives and that we should entrust our lives to God is often associated with evangelical preachers.

Rarely, will you hear a rabbi address matters of faith. Rabbis deliver sermons concerning matters of duty. The reason for this is that the most prominent theology contained in Torah is that we express our love for God by obeying God’s commandments and in exchange God refrains from smiting us. Thus, the focus of the Jewish intellectual tradition, in which we rabbis are all trained, is that the access to God’s will is through better understanding of the laws, rules and regulations so that we might better observe them. Obedience results in blessing, disobedience results in curse. Moreover, behaviors are usually addressed on a community-wide basis. Blessings and curses in the Bible generally are dispensed on the entire people Israel and rarely, if ever, addressed to individuals.

Yet, I want something more. I want to believe that God knows of my existence and that God cares about me. The God that we encounter during the Days of Awe seems so remote, sitting off in heaven somewhere with a big book, deciding who shall live and who shall die. This morning, I feel confronted by the God of justice while I crave the God of mercy. I want to know the God in the prayer that we will utter in a few moments before the open ark: Adonai, Adonai, el rachum v’hanum; erech apayim v’rav hesed, v’emet—Adonai, Adonai, God who is merciful and gracious, endlessly patient, loving and true.

But where is that God to be found? The Judaism in which I was raised was always so demanding. Al shalosha devarim, the existence of the world depends on three things, the Sages tell us, al haTorah, obedience to the laws of Torah; al haavodah, ritual observance; v’al gimilut hasadim, and acts of loving kindness towards others. But how does that help me in moments of personal or family crisis, when I am weary, or when I am seeking meaning for my life? I long for a personal relationship with God. But what does that mean and where do we find it in Judaism?

Well, for one, we find it in the lives of two of our matriarchs, Sarah and Rachel, and in this morning’s haftorah, in the story of Hannah. While it is Reform practice on Rosh Hashanah to read the Akedah, the story of the binding of Isaac, the traditional text for this day is the story of the birth of Isaac. Why? Because the Talmud tells us that this is the day on which God pokaid, took note, of Sarah and opened her womb as the Holy One had promised. Talmud also tells us that on this day, God yiskor, remembered, another matriarch, Rachel, and granted her a son. For, the text tells us, God heard Rachel’s prayers and responded to them.

These two ideas, that God both pokaid and yizchor, takes notice and remembers, are combined in this morning’s haftorah, the story of Hannah. Hannah is a woman who is barren and prays to God for a child. In response, the haftorah text tells us, God yizkoreha, God remembers her and grants her a son, the prophet Samuel. But in the next chapter, since Hannah had fulfilled her promise to dedicate Samuel to the service of God, God pakod, takes note of her, and she is granted more children.

These two terms, pokaid and yizkor, are the foundation of why we are here today. We are here to seek God’s notice and to be remembered as God’s children. We see this in the three themes of the verses that are recited during the shofar service. Yes, there are the malchuyot, the verses that say that God is ruler over all the earth. But then there are zichronot, the verses that tell us that God remembers us, that we are worthy of God’s notice. And then the shofarot verses, calling us to teshuvah but also calling us to God’s attention.

It is important to note, however, that God’s remembrance and notice are not automatic. For we are told that Hannah cried out to God from morat nefesh, the anguish of her being. Hannah does not come before God demanding something to which she believes she is entitled, she beseeches God from the depths of her soul. Hannah appeals to the God of mercy, to relieve her from her pain.

Adonai, Adonai, el rachum v’chanun, erech, apayim, v’rav chesed v’emet: Adonai, Adonai, the One who is compassionate and gracious, endlessly patient, filled with kindness and true. It is exactly these elements of God’s being that we will appeal to in a few minutes as we recite God’s 13 attributes of mercy before the open ark.

We live unfulfilled lives, for no one’s life is without pain or regret. For some, the anguish is greater than others. Some among us today are struggling with illness or addiction, painful loss, broken relationships, shredded dreams. Many in this sanctuary are dealing with the loss of a job and the anxiety of hard economic times. Even for those among us who are fortunate enough to describe our lives as happy ones, there can be the sense that there is something more to life. We all have aspirations to be better people, better spouses, better parents, better children.

Let us bring our anguish, bring our pain, bring our fear and, yes, bring our hope to God. For today of all days, we are the object of God’s attention. In Man is Not Alone, Abraham Joshua Heschel writes that we are the object of God’s inexhaustible concern; that God does not judge the deeds of humanity impassively, but that God’s judgment is imbued with a feeling of intimate concern. Yet we learn from Hannah that in order to come into contact with God’s concern we must first reach out to God, to bring the longings of our soul to the Eternal so that God might take note and remember us.

In what might be the ultimate teshuvah, in the 12 Step recovery program, the third step is to make a decision to turn one’s will and one’s life over to the care of God, as God is understood by that individual. I would imagine that there are as many visions of God as there are people in this room. There is God the judge, God the lawgiver, God the parent and God the companion. God can be merciful or wrathful, judgmental or sympathetic. There is the Biblical God who intervenes in human affairs and the God who simply orders the universe, gives us free will and then stands back to see what happens. For some, God is a cosmic force and, for others, God is a real and constant Presence.

All of these are God, for the one thing that all of these visions have in common is that they encompass something beyond ourselves. We are here today to do teshuvah, to turn, but to where can we turn for the strength and the wisdom to change our lives? To where can we turn to still the anguish of our souls? To where can we turn for hope and for the vision of a better day? To ourselves? To each other? No, for we are only human and, therefore, share human shortcomings and limitations. To go beyond ourselves we must first turn to the One who is beyond us; to move beyond our daily lives into the world of the Eternal.

I cannot prove the existence of God but, for me, the alternative is too horrible to contemplate. A universe without God would be existentially lonely and desperate; humanity would be at the pinnacle of creation but with no place else to go. The idea that our existence is some sort of cosmic accident, rooted in nothing and to nothing do we return, is shattering beyond words. I want to know that there is a source of strength and wisdom that is available to me beyond my own. Particularly, as the years go by, I crave a belief that God has a plan for my life and that God’s plan for me is part of a larger plan that will provide meaning to my existence. I want to stop living my life as though I was in complete control and have enough faith to turn my life over to God.

I asked a member of our congregation who has shared with me his experience of turning his life over to God, what that concept meant to him. Here is what he wrote:

So, these days, when I doubt decisions I have made, when I’m scared that I’m always going to be alone, when I’m worried that I won’t be able to make my dollar stretch until the next payday, and that I’m always going to be in debt and struggling …… what I remember to do when I wake up, when I go to sleep, and anytime in between, is to turn it over to God, He’s in charge, He knows what He’s doing, He’s got an incredible plan for me – I just need to trust Him and this process… and in the end, it’s going to be ok, because I have abandoned myself to God.

My teshuvah on this Rosh Hashanah is that I want to be more like that guy. Faith alone is not enough and, believe me, the person who wrote that understands that faith must be accompanied by deeds. I still do thoroughly believe in the truth of Al Shalosha Devarim, that the existence of the world depends on our living in accordance with God’s will as expressed in Torah, in sincere prayer and ritual, and in performing acts of loving kindness towards others. But I no longer can find meaning in these actions as ends in themselves. I need more. I want walking in God’s way, as I understand it, to be a vehicle for faith; the kind of faith that allows me to say that I trust in God’s plan for my life. In contemporary terms, I want to do more this year to get over myself, to recognize and revel in my limitations, so that I might feel more of God’s concern and rely less on my own.

I have been much blessed in my life. I have the most wonderful wife in the world, three daughters of whom Lori and I are extremely proud, the continued presence of loving parents and great sisters. I also have the blessing of being able to serve you and to serve God as a rabbi. My Christian colleagues often speak in terms of having been called to the ministry, not an expression that I have used to describe my journey. To me, a calling implies living in response to God’s plan for one’s life. I always thought it was a little chutzpadik to claim that kind of attention, to claim that God has taken note of and remembered me. But now I am not so sure about that and I want to begin the journey toward finding a God that has a hand in my life as well as holds the universe in Her hands. Besides, if I don’t entrust my life to God, then how can I ask you to? I do not know where this path ultimately leads, but this Rosh Hashanah, here I go. Would anyone care to join me?

Friday, September 4, 2009

Why I Root For The Yankees

I was born in Woonsocket, RI, in 1950, some 45 odd miles from Boston, MA. A reasonable person would assume that as a sports fan I would root for the Red Sox, Bruins, Celtics and Patriots. Well, no, no, yes and sort of. Let me explain myself!

My father was a proud New York Yankees fan. It was all Yankees all of the time in our house. As I recall, Dad’s allegiance to the Yankees stemmed from reading and hearing about Lou Gehrig and Bill Dickey as a youngster. Since Dad’s father was a Red Sox fan, I think that a lot to do with Dad’s love of the Yankees was his strong relationship to his Uncle Tom (Pothier) who was married to Dad’s mother’s (Elzia) sister (Aunt Ernestine – aka “Sitsit”). My siblings and I were brainwashed from birth to be Yankees fans. It stuck with my brother (Tim), nearest sister (Lynette) and me. The youngest sister (Jane) is a Red Sox fan, most likely just to piss off Dad. I have a photograph of me at 18-months-old dressed in a Yankees uniform!

When the Yankees were playing a night game Dad and I would often attempt to listen to the game on radio from a New York station. He would back the car part way out of the garage and angle the car just so in order to get acceptable reception on the car radio. On games from the west on a school night, we always ran the risk of it getting past my bedtime and incurring the wrath of Mom, not to mention running down the car battery. If the Yankees lost, especially if they blew a lead and some “crunchy” won it for the other team by blooping a cheap hit over a drawn-in infield or squibbling a “seeing-eye” grounder up the middle, Dad would get an awful headache that lasted until the next Bronx Bomber victory. Dad’s idea of a good game was when the Yankees would score 10 runs in the first inning and slowing pull away.

Needless to say, the Yankees were dominant in the Majors when I was a kid. I was there in body for Yankees World Series wins in ’51, ’52, ’53 and ’56, as well as a World Series loss in ’55. I do not remember these years at all. I remember the Yankees losing to the Braves in ’57, the Pirates in’60, the Dodgers in ’63 and the Cardinals in ‘64 and beating the Braves in ’58, the Reds in ’61 and the Giants in ’62. All in all, it was great being a Yankees fan then. As a consequence, however, I was hated for being a Yankees fan by all of the Red Sox fans in the neighborhood and at school.

I liked hockey a lot as a kid. We all rooted for the Bruins in the NHL as well as the minor-league Rhode Island Reds of the AHL. Most of the guys in the neighborhood had tabletop mechanical hockey games, akin to foosball table games of today. We had a league of sorts and drew straws to choose team names. Other guys got to be the Bruins and Reds, and I had to settle for the Chicago Black Hawks, who happened to be in first place that year. I began to follow the Black Hawks, becoming a fan and following the careers of Stan Mikita, Bobby Hull, Glenn Hall, Eric Nesterenko, Pat Stapleton, et al. While my interest in professional hockey has waxed and waned through the years, I still root for the forlorn Black Hawks.

Of course I root for the Celtics! I hate the Knicks, the Bulls, the Pistons and especially the Lakers!

In the 1950s the only professional football around was the old pre-AFC NFL. In Rhode Island, our choices were the New York Giants. Period. A few folks rooted for the Cleveland Browns – not the ersatz Cleveland Browns currently inhabiting the Mistake by the Lake, but the team that moved to Baltimore to become the Ravens. Some miscreants may have rooted for the Philadelphia Eagles but I do not remember them. The Colts were still in Baltimore, the Cardinals had only recently left Chicago for St. Louis and the Rams were in Los Angeles. In Woonsocket, you rooted for the Giants: Y. A. Tittle, Charley Conerly, Frank Gifford, Del Shofner, Rosey Brown, Dick Modzewleski, Sam Huff, Jim Katcavage, Dick Lynch, et al. They were pretty good, although they lost the NFL championship to the Colts in what may have been the greatest NFL game ever.

It was in the 1960s that things began to change with the advent of the American Football League (AFL) that morphed into the AFC after the merger. It was only in 1960 that the New England Patriots were born, originally called the Boston Patriots and actually playing some games at Fenway Park! In the AFL most of us rooted for the Patriots. Later, after the merger it became necessary to root for either the Giants or the Patriots. Old habits die-hard and I have remained loyal to the Giants, especially when the two teams played head-on in the Super Bowl. When the Giants suck, I root for the Pats!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Jeff Woled sent me this via the internet and I present it here, warts and all!!!!


“I know you thought this was Italian, however the prize winning recipe below, taken from the (Woonsocket) Call, is obviously Canuck. Rosie Thibeault ran a luncheonette on Hamlet Ave. and supposedly invented it in 1939. Also, I learned that Dynamites are indigenous to the Woonsocket/Blackstone/Bellingham area. You couldn't, and may still can't, get one in North Smithfield. Bon appetit!” (These are Jeff's words).

3 pounds freshly ground beef (see Note 1)
1 large green pepper, diced, no seeds
1 large red pepper, diced, no seeds
2 medium onions, diced (or 1 Vidalia onion)
2 large vine-ripened tomatoes, diced
3 tablespoons butter to saute (see Note 2)
1 cup water (1 1/2 cups if using 5 pounds of beef)
2 -3 small cans tomato paste (or your own sauce from fresh tomatoes)
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper seasoning
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

In a large saucepan, saute diced peppers, onions and tomatoes in butter until soft. Add the water. Cook for a minute or two until the vegetables are blended. In same pot, add ground hamburger and cook until evenly browned and most of the water dissipates. Using a ladle, spoon off grease from top of the meat. A little bit left is fine but you do not want a lot. Then, add the tomato paste or homemade sauce and seasonings. The consistency should not be too loose or mushy. Add just enough paste to coat the meat. Sample the dynamite. You may want to add a bit more seasonings to desired taste. The dynamite will be stronger if left to mesh overnight, so keep this in mind when adding more seasonings.

The dynamite must sit in the fridge (covered, in the same pot) for a day so that all of the spices blend. It tastes much better when this step is taken. The dynamite can be reheated in the same pot on the stove or on the side burner of a grill. Serve on torpedo rolls (see note 3).

Note 1: You can use up to 5 pounds of meat without the need to double ingredients.

Note 2: We also use 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil or canola oil.

Note 3: Calise Bakery or Lil’ General Stores sell torpedo rolls.

The dynamite recipe can also be used as a topping on hot dogs.

Yield: Feeds a crowd.

My comments on this recipe:

I doubt that Rosie knew about Vidalia onions in 1939. Use good old yellow onions first. Vidalias are sweet and cost more than regular yellow onions. Remember, this is supposed to be cheap eats! Most of the homemade dynamites that I have seen also used celery – remember, this recipe is a depression-era attempt at stretching a little meat a long way. I use one or two stalks per pound of meat. Also, neither butter nor olive oil are needed since there is plenty of fat in the ground beef and this is supposed to be cheap eats (I know - I am redundant). Water is not necessary because the vegetables have plenty. I use more veggies than Rosie: equal pounds of peppers and onions to the ground beef (that is 3# of beef, 3# of peppers and 3# of onions). I would not dice the veggies - larger chunks are a better presentation and much more fun. I like to add fresh garlic, more tomatoes (or good canned tomatoes), less tomato paste and plenty of Italian seasoning. I leave out the salt because there is plenty in the tomatoes, beef, celery, peppers and onions. No way would I top a hot dog with this!

Here is what I do:

Start the beef in a cold pot on low to medium heat. As the beef cooks, crumble it into smaller and smaller chunks. Add peppers, onion, celery, tomatoes and spices all together at the same time and cook for hours until the whole shebang is reduced considerably in volume. I go easy on the red pepper flakes, because many folks (especially many older Canucks and children) are repelled by spicy food. I supply extra flakes on the table, as well as Tabasco and other hot sauces, to spark the flames on the tongue.

Alas, most of us have no access to Calise or L’il General stores outside of Woonsocket, so choose a good quality soft (but absorbent) submarine roll. It is important to find an un-sliced roll so that you can slice it on top. Something about side-slicing a roll burns my butt.

Bridge Freezes Before Roadway

Sometimes simple concepts require an elaborate explanation. Sometimes they explain themselves.

In Spring 1971, the Assumption College Greyhounds got to go to Evansville! The basketball team was blessed with skill and luck that 1970-1971 season, beating Holy Cross and losing only to Providence College in Providence during the regular season. The New England Region NCAA Division II tournament was a breeze for the ‘Hounds as we (I was a sophomore) were headed for the National Tournament in Evansville IN. In its time, that season was magical and beating HC was of biblical proportions (all puns intended). You can look it up!

Because it was the first trip for AC to the Nationals (or “Evansville” as most of us called the tournament), much of the college community was scrapping for ways to get to Evansville. One of the faculty, Jim Barbato, announced that he was going and could fit additional folks into his VW bus. Not only was Jim my Geography professor, he was an AC grad himself and just could not pass on the chance to be on the first pilgrimage to Evansville. Somehow, I managed to get the last seat on Jim’s bus. The other five were Jim, Lou, Merc, John and Doreen.

Many stories have emanated from this epic journey. Strangely, all of them are true! This is but one of them. It will not be the last.

The plan was to drive all night to Evansville via I-90 (the Massachusetts Turnpike and New York Thruway) through Cleveland to I-71, then south to Columbus to I-70, west to Terre Haute to US 41 and south into Evansville. Somehow, in the middle of the night somewhere on I-90 near the Ohio-Pennsylvania border, Lou was driving and I was sitting shotgun. I am fairly certain that everyone else was sleeping - dead certain that Jim was.

It was snowing lightly, maybe even sleeting. A sign loomed on the side of the road – it read “Bridge Freezes Before Roadway.” I noted the sign, turned to Lou and asked him “Exactly what does that mean?” “Not sure,” replied Lou. We crossed the bridge. If Jim had been awake, he would have answered the question. He taught Earth Science and Geography at AC. His CB handle was “Weatherman.” He knew about this stuff!

We crossed another bridge. I noticed that Lou, not an excitable person, had noticeably tensed, gripping the steering wheel tightly. I looked at the road, noted that we were driving over a bridge, and that the back end of the bus was approaching on the left (driver’s) side! Lou never said a word as the sweat beaded on his forehead. He eased off the gas and as we slowed the ass-end of the bus slowly receded from my sight. The highway resumed its correct position in front of the bus. Lou finally spoke: “Ya think that’s what the sign meant?” “Dunno,” I answered. “I suppose so.” We drove on into the night.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Sorghum Queen of Hancock County

The Sorghum Queen of Hancock County

Oftentimes, human beings act and react without undertaking a thorough analysis of the entire situation and circumstances extant at the time, and in the place, of the event. We take things out of context or place them in the wrong context or ignore context altogether. Worse, we fail to consider the consequences of making casual errors of omission or commission because of our shortsightedness. I am as guilty of this as any other schmuck, maybe more guilty, actually. I could benefit from heeding that old saw that it is better to keep one’s mouth shut and be thought a fool rather than to open it and prove it beyond all shadow of a doubt. In this case, I fell victim to a clash of cultures. As a student of Cultural Geography, I should have known better.

In the autumn of my senior year (1972-73) of college, I realized that I was not ready for the work-a-day world and on the advice of one of my favorite undergraduate professors (Jim Barbato) I began exploring the possibilities of graduate school. Through a series of Aristotelian accidents, I found myself at Western Kentucky University (WKU) in Bowling Green, Kentucky in August 1973.

Bowling Green was a classic central place, a crossroads of sorts, at least for south-central Kentucky. There wasn’t much in the way of urbanity to the east until Virginia or to the west until Missouri. It was 100 miles to Louisville to the north and 65 miles to Nashville to the south. For a graduate student without any spare cash or an assistantship, Bowling Green was Gotham City and you had to delude yourself into being Superman. (On my last trip through town in the mid-oughts of the 21st century, it appeared that not much had changed and that Virginia, Missouri, Nashville and Louisville had not gotten any closer.)

Early that first semester in 1973, it became readily apparent that I was quickly running out of money. My parents could not help and the economy in fair Gotham sucked. While contemplating a food-free existence, I found a job answering the telephone from 11 PM to 7 AM at the information desk of the very dormitory where I was living. The pay was minimal, but I calculated that I could eat, drink and be somewhat less miserable until December. I avoided any thoughts of paying for the spring semester.

The most important aspect of the job was to sound the alarm if there was an incident requiring an evacuation of the dorm and to alert the proper authorities. During my tenure, there were no such incidents at Bemis Lawrence Hall. I did, however, answer many calls from students trying to locate each other. The most memorable call was from the 1973 Sorghum Queen of Hancock County Kentucky.

I cannot remember her name. The sound of her voice escapes me. But I remember our brief “relationship.”

It probably was 2 AM when she called the dorm, asking for the telephone number of some guy who was in her math class. She could not remember his name his name, but she knew he lived next door to some other guy whose first name she did know. Somehow I figured out the last name of the guy she knew, called him, got the name of the fellow next door and relayed that information back to her. About an hour later she called back to thank me for helping her. She seemed rather sweet in a Southern Belle sort of way, with that fetching, enslaving accent women in Kentucky have. And she was intrigued with my accent!

“Where are you from?” she inquired.

“Rhode Island,” I replied.

“Where’s that?” she asked. “Back east somewhere?”

“Close to Massachusetts, near Boston,” I answered.

“Massatusetts?” she questioned. “Keep talking because I like the sound of your voice,” she implored.

I should have known right then that something was amiss (Massatusetts????), but I was 1000 miles from home, lonely, and lusting after that sweet syrupy voice. She was from Hancock County, near Owensboro, and had been elected the Sorghum Queen of Hancock County the previous summer. I’m sure I acted impressed, but being a rock-ribbed Rhode Island Yankee, I had no clue whatsoever what sorghum was beyond some kind of plant. I assumed that she must have been somewhat attractive being a Queen and all, so I kept on exuding my Yankee charm. We talked until 4 AM, finally agreeing to meet in a day or two at the campus amphitheater.

We met, we talked and neither of us was dissuaded from a second meeting. It did not dawn on me at the time that the competition for Sorghum Queen must have been rather weak in 1973, but that voice had me mesmerized (I confess to being desperate at the time, also). I can’t remember what we agreed to do for our first date, but it must have gone OK.

Homecoming was fast approaching and a Rock N Roll Revival show/sock hop was scheduled for the Diddle Arena. Jerry Lee Lewis, Freddie Boom-Boom Cannon, Chuck Berry, Gary U.S. Bonds, a couple of Girl Groups and a host of others were on the bill. My new buddy Ken had secured a date and suggested that the Sorghum Queen and I join them for the show. The SQ was amenable, tickets were purchased, and plans were made.

A sock hop…fifties/early sixties music…blue jeans…poodle skirts…Hush Puppies (the wearing kind, not the eating kind)…sneakers…stupid dances that I did not know all that well…liquid refreshments…some tasty snacks…good times!

On the magic night, I dressed for the sock hop, hiked to the SQ’s dorm, met her at the door and joined Ken and his date. Something seemed amiss, but I chalked it up to excitement and nerves.

The event started poorly. It seems as if no one had bothered to sign either Jerry Lee or Chuck to a solid contract, so the emcee stated that it was hoped that “…Jerry Lee and Chuck are one their way.” They never made it. The show, however, was very good, especially Gary U.S. Bonds and Freddie Cannon.

On the other hand, the SQ was not happy. Then, I noticed that she was rather overdressed for a Rock ‘N’ Roll Revival sock hop-type of affair. It quickly became apparent that she expected more of a show from me (like a suit on me and a corsage from me on her!!) since this was Homecoming Weekend. Sensing that the evening was not going to get any better, I quickly agreed to get her back to her dorm where I said good night to a cold, cold glare. I knew better than to call her again!

Soon afterwards, I lucked into a teaching assistantship for the rest of my tenure at WKU and was able to quit my position at the dorm. I never did speak with the SQ again, although I was very pointedly ignored the two times that we subsequently (and literally) bumped into each other on campus.

Two years later, being in the third year of an 18-month program, I answered the telephone at my apartment one evening to hear a charming female Kentucky voice. Stating that her name was Allyn, she said that she had heard from some unnamed friend that I was a Geography graduate teaching assistant and that she (Allyn) wanted to know more about Geography as a major. Being me, I obliged her for the better part of an hour. After hanging up, I dimly recalled hearing some muffled giggling in the background on her end of the line. On a hunch, I grabbed the WKU Directory (this was 1975 – we had no online resources) and began trolling for women named Allyn. Lo and behold, there was none with that first name. (Digression: I had a classmate in grammar and secondary school in Woonsocket whose first name was Allyn. So, I knew that it was, indeed, a female name and how to spell it!) There was, however, a woman whose middle name was Allyn and damned if her roommate wasn’t the SQ!!

I quickly dialed Allyn’s number, addressed her by her real first name, told her who I was and that I knew that her roommate had put her up to this. I dared her to ever take a Geography course at WKU.

At least I learned what sorghum is!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The right to be a stupid racisct punk

The New York Daily News cartoon depicting a prone monkey killed by police is shameful, racist, despicable, and just plain wrong. I defend the right of the cartoonist to draw it, the editor to approve it and the newspaper to publish it. Whatever negative feedback, back flash, protest, contempt, lost subscriptions, ill-will, and other rhetorical kicks in the reproductive apparatus that News Corp and Rupert Murdoch receive come with the territory. If either you don't think that the cartoon is racist or you think that it is funny, then maybe you should educate yourself by reading the history of The Reconstruction, the Jim Crow era and the struggle for civil rights in this country despite the 13th and 14th Amendments.

The rancid whipped cream and moldy cherry atop this sundae of excrement and vomit (the cartoon) is the News Corp statement that offers an apology IF you were offended by the cartoon. Note that News Corp did not state that they apologize FOR printing a racist, shameful cartoon; they only apologize to those they offended. To my knowledge, I do not purchase any News Corp journals, magazines or newspapers. I admit to watching "The Simpsons" and "House" at times on Fox TV. I suppose that I can boycott all that is Fox, but that would have to include "Slumdog Millionaire" which was distributed by the Fox Searchlight division of Fox.

Most boycotts do not work as they are most often symbolic protests with little economic effect. Now that I am off that hook, I'll state that I will irritate News Corp in what little ways I can. If I succeed in any way, I'll let you guys, youse guys and y'all know!

RI Yankee on Mental Vacation

I have been attempting to refocus this blog. In effect, I am trying to think but nothing is happening. I have started a series of memoirs, the first one being The Sorghum Queen of Hancock County. It's not complete, so I have decided to continue my nonsensical anti-Bush Republicanism, anti capitalism lunatic ravings for the time being.

Let's calculate: 8 years of Reaganomics; 4 years of Poppy Bush's kinder, gentler Reaganomics, 8 years of Clintonomics (moderate Republicanism with a Democratic Lite label) and 8 years of oil-field cheney-bushonomics equals 28 years of rendering of the gains working people made after WWII. Many of us no longer have good jobs despite our college educations; many of us have houses underwater in drought conditions; our 401k has become out of date Special K; crude oil prices fall and retail gasoline prices have started rising again; don't eat the peanut butter cookies; don't give your baby anything from China; my mattress is safer then Citi or BOA; Both get federal subsidies from us/US but neither will help us by lowering their usurious credit card interest rates.

Last night President Obama gave a rousing pep talk and Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA) responded with the usual far-right-rhetoric, blaming all of the world's fiscal problems on Obama's stimulus package, somehow forgetting 28 years of trickle-down fiscal fiction and war-mongering fiscal excess at his own party's blood-stained hands. Just had to love how Jindal bloviated that Louisiana had financed its own post-Katrina recovery, somehow ignoring the some $175bb of Federal help. Jindal sounds suspiciously like Barbara Bush who thought that the accommodations of the Astrodome were quite comfy. Maybe the Gov. has been snorting some of the formaldehyde in those FEMA trailers.

As I write this, the DJIA is down 155 points. Thanks to all of those traders who have further destroyed our retirement funds for a quick profit after yesterday's 200+ point rise. I am so happy that the Bush plan to churn our SS money into 401K plans did not happen. Watch out, however, there is a bipartisan plan afoot to ditch SS for another rich-people-win scheme: see The Nation for 3/2/2008 - "The Man Who Wants to Loot Social Security ("