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Wednesday, August 31, 2005

I have promised to take on blog duties tonight - mama is here with me (and dutifully sorting through her new yorker cartoons trying to find a funny one to post for you guys) but very worn out by New York driving. She is perplexed by the fact that pedestrians in Manhattan will happily and determinedly mosey across the street regardless of whether the pedestrian icon is a white man, a red hand, or a "fresh" or "stale" flashing red hand. In driver's ed, they teach you to distinguish between a "fresh" and a "stale" yellow light, but come to think of it, did they really want you analyzing that very carefully? how fresh is fresh?

We had dinner at a Turkish restaurant where they swept the crumbs from in front of us about three times during the course of the dinner. One time I was sitting with my elbows on the table and the guy asked me to move my arms so he could swipe any crumbs I might have been hiding under them. I have to say I don't really care for this. If I have made crumbs why can't I just pretend to ignore them all night?

We are still not having any luck with the New Yorker cartoons. I have to say I think most of these are pieces of crap. They are so bad I can't think of any explanation but that they have a very different definition of "funny" than, um, funny. You guys probably don't think that she is working very hard when she looks through cartoons but in fact, the next cartoon (which she is saving, to post later) actually represents about half an hour's worth of searching. To save you-all the trouble.



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Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Joys of traveling on the cheap

Some of my fellow residents at the Econolodge here in East Rensselaer, who previously were sitting in their doorways drinking beer while looking out at their pickup trucks, have now reversed direction completely and are sitting on their pickup truck tailgates drinking beer while watching TV through their open doorways. The human mind, so adaptable, so inventive.

I love traveling on the cheap. It's a nature-and-nurture thing, my Pennsylvania Dutch father instilled a contempt of luxury in me. Further, I don't want to spend a lot of money while indulging in the hobby that occasionally impels me hither and yon.

What hobby? I'll call it "historic research" because I'm embarrassed to admit I enjoy genealogy, and also because I don't think I'm going to find any more of my lost ancestors. I'll have to be content with reading about the places they used to hang out.

This is a good traveling hobby. For one thing, I like librarians a lot. They remind me of my mom, who was a librarian. For another thing, it's something a single person can enjoy. For a third, it's very quiet and peaceful.

Anyway, I tend to stay in seedy hotels/motels. Well, I like them. They're near sights I enjoy very much:
  • Crumbling bridges over railroad tracks;

  • Old deserted buildings with names like ALBANY HYDRAULIC which remind me that, once upon a time, Americans built things;

  • Wannabe historic sites with official-looking signs erected by hopeful Chambers of Commerce. For instance, on one crumbling railroad bridge this evening, while on my pedestrian excursion to find dinner, I saw this sign: "2500 feet from Fort Crailo. Yankee Doodle was written here in 1758;"

  • Mysterious activities and edifices. The "Pollution Control Facility at East Greenbush" is surrounded by a chainlink fence topped with barbed wire (this is in case somebody wants to sneak in and steal polluted things); strapped to the top of the fence, around the perimeter, is a narrow pipe and every ten feet there is an outlet nozzle which is spewing steam or smoke or ???? into the air. I walked RIGHT BY these nozzles. What, exactly, was I breathing?
Then there's:
  • A profusion of wonderful plants growing lustily in cracked pavement;

  • A wonderful assortment of people of all ages sitting, leaning, lounging in doorways (I wish I had a photo album of these scenes).
I also go on hunting-and-gathering sorties in down-at-the-heels stores I don't frequent at home. I prowled BIG LOTS tonight and found a flat loofah for 79 cents. I can't wait to rehydrate it and see if it turns back to its proper shape.

I see signs and portents everywhere when I travel alone. I think about my life with calm perspective. And when I travel I like my fellow humans, almost all of them. I remember that all people, by and large, are doing the best they can.

I liked, very much, the guy with no teeth who was bicycling up the sidewalk towards me an hour ago. When I smiled and got out of his way (there was a weed-patch narrowing our path), he said generously: "there's loads of room for both of us."

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Another journey

Melina's diary:

I was at a business conference today where someone swore to me that the Ben and Jerry's ice cream in Burlington, VT was better than Ben and Jerry's anywhere else in the country. This reminded me of something I wanted to write about for a while - my trip to the company's factory in Vermont for a guided tour. Seems like something you guys would appreciate.

Obviously, the company's image is very hippie, very enviro-friendly, and very much about jovial, chubby Ben and Jerry and their ethics. What's not to love.

So we went into the factory with high expectations on this account. The first problem was the tour guide who rounded us up like cattle to start the tour. "Don't worry, you'll have plenty of time to look at the merchandise later, and you will get free samples of ice cream, so please just come along now!" she called patronizingly, then mumbling to me, "it's my last tour of the day." We spent the first 15 minutes not in the factory but in a TV room, watching a video about the history of the company and its cutie pie origins. Some odd things began to come up, though.

It became clear that B and J no longer have anything to do with the ice cream they created, and in fact went through a buy out situation that was far nastier than I would have thought. This wasn't spelled out in the video, but came through in the fact that the absolutely only picture of B and J used in the video - and there were no interviews or video footage of them -- was the one picture that is on the package of every ice cream. The poor propaganda-film maker probably had to go through and scan the label for himself - it seemed that B and J had not only refused to offer comment for the video but would not allow a single other image of either of them -- whether from 1975 or 2005 -- to be used for their company's propaganda flick.

The other odd thing about the video was that it was clearly made to be hippie-crunchy styled, but its perspective was actually that of the businessmen who took over the company FROM B and J. In some way this was inevitable - since nobody who was actually a friend of B or J was legally allowed/willing to participate in the movie. But the narrator would say things like (I don't remember htis well, so I am recreating the quotes here): "Ben and Jerry were into ice cream, but they didn't know a balance sheet from a hole in the wall." He would say this in the jovial, growly narrator voice, inviting you to laugh. And our obedient audience, for the most part, laughed. But the issue kept coming up in the movie. As if Ben and Jerry were just about the stupidest people you could ever meet. There were numerous excerpts from an interview with the new CEO of Ben and Jerry's who made comments like, "Ben and Jerry loved what they were doing, but their business just kept running into trouble due to some of their business practices!" And then there'd be some more narrative, and then it would be back to the CEO. "Boy, Ben and Jerry loved ice cream, but they sure didn't know how to run a business!" One of these loony business practices was their habit of putting too many large chunks of toppings into the ice cream. This apparently gummed up the machines and was a pain in the ass. The narrator delicately implied they were total morons for insisting on large chunks of toppings.

The big turning point of the propaganda movie, of course, was that things immediately improved when Ben and Jerry hired a bunch of bookkeepers and business men to run things for them. ("Finally, Ben and Jerry's began to be a big, serious business!") These guys were the heroes, and as Unilever-friendly guys, they were happy to yak on film about the improved business practices of the factory. The movie ended there, with Ben and Jerry's becoming a big and of course a socially conscious business.

But it never mentioned what *happened* to the two founders. I was hoping there'd be something like, "finally, Unilever waved enough money in front of Ben and Jerry." Or perhaps, "At long last, B and J's sensible business manager was able to wedge them out of a controlling stake in the promising company they had created. Ben and Jerry now spend their time golfing in Arizona, watch cholesterol, and try to never, ever think about ice cream."

Actually, didn't one of them die a few years ago? We realized this about half way through the movie and were waiting for some kind of memorial, but there was none. Apparently nobody told them - or maybe B and J's family still have lawyers on payroll that don't even let the new owners mention the death. ("It was Ben's last wish that nobody from Unilever ever be allowed to mention his name without getting the shit sued out of him.")

But of course there was no enlightening ending like this in the movie. It just kept showing the same ancient picture of the two guys, filmed about five different ways: zooming in on their faces; spiraling in from the far distance, panning from left to right, etc. Eventually it became this icon, or like the faces painted on the front of mummies. You think maybe this was what the guys looked like -- but it sure was obviously stylized -- but was there any way to be *really* sure? The true feelings, and the true business story of Ben and Jerry's, lost to time like the real face of Tutankhamen.... Hmmm...

At any rate, they walked us through the factory (which is really quite small), then wearily scooped out ice cream for us, and quizzed us about the spiel they'd just given us about the factory. Anyone who could answer the quiz question would get more free ice cream or something. But nobody could answer - none of us had been listening that closely - and after the tour guide openly mocked us for our inattention, they shooed us out of the factory.

So that was my experience in Burlington, Vermont. The ice cream was good, but the overall experience was - to say the least - unsettling. Rest in peace, hippie ice cream dudes.


Greetings from Albany, NY


My string of (2) wonderful hotels is broken by this meandering necklace of dark, musty motel rooms, where quite a few of the customers are sitting in their doorways, staring into the tailpipes of their pickup trucks and drinking beer.

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Monday, August 29, 2005

Greetings from Hartford, Connecticut

I'm lolling in my hotel room in a state of supreme satisfaction after a job well done. My son is officially a college freshman. I'm exhausted, but glad to have passed the baton along so successfully.

We woke up way early this morning - nerves - and arrived at Wesleyan considerably before the official start time. We found many other early birds around, carrying stereo systems and refrigerators in every direction with bored children and grandparents trailing along behind.

I knew this was a good place when, leaving the dorm for the 20th time to take items to the car and bring others back in, I heard in rapid succession: (1) a family telling itself jokes in Hebrew and laughing most merrily; (2) a family unloading boxes to the strains of greek rembetika on the car stereo; (3) a boom-box, on the windowsill of an antique pink house, playing Turkish oud-rock.

Large, genial, hunky undergrads wearing "WES-HAUL" t-shirts tossed our heavy boxes into the dorm as if they were bags of feathers. Zed's nearest neighbor, an adorable motormouth from Singapore, lent cheer.

All that needed to be done was done. Boxes were unpacked, bookshelves were adjusted, the all-important sound-system was set ceremonially on top of the little refrigerator, posters were taped to the walls, an ethernet cord was bought to replace the one which had mysteriously vanished. All i's were crossed.

We met deans, doctors, and advisors. We ate free sandwiches. I bought Zed a red t-shirt he was looking at longingly; it says "Vesleyan" in Hebrew (sort of).

Then, since all families had been genially reminded to leave promptly at 5, I got in my car and watched Zed lope happily across the quad and disappear into a massive flock of his own kind.

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Acme Electric Guitars

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Sunday, August 28, 2005

Greetings from Cromwell, CT

Knowing I would suffer all day from an OCD wish to BE HERE, I decided we'd do the drive in one long haul. From Chapel Hill to Middletown turned out to be almost twelve hours, including a couple traffic jams.

Because Zed was willing to put up with a 5:30 am departure, we got here in time to find his dorm while there was still daylight. We met a trio of international students on his floor (they have been here for a few days already) and toured the campus.

From my point of view the most important thing we did was to scope out the closest place for decanting his possessions in the morning. I found a firedoor near Zed's room which led directly to a place I can drive to, if I'm careful. Then I found a sweet international student who says she's happy to open the fire door for us at 8:30 tomorrow morning. Successful recon: product of decades of craftily finding the best place to unload a sound system.

While we ate a not-very-good Indian dinner, I found myself fretting, again in an OCD way, about the time it would take to put Zed's bookcase back together in the morning. So we went back to the dorm, found somebody to let us in, and I squatted in a dark hallway screwing and nailing the thing together, grunting a little bit and sweating, glad there were no strangers watching.

Now we're watching Jared Diamond on PBS in a desultory way. I'm thinking, this is the last night of Zed's being in my care. As of tomorrow he's on his own.

It was a very satisfactory day. And the hotel even has a wireless connection!

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Saturday, August 27, 2005

NYC update

Hi all,
So my car did not break down, and everything went just fine, and I am all set up here in my new apartment in New York, with boyfriend... I have learned a few things already this journey. One of them is about furniture. A person needs it. But it is just awful to try to get it around in the city. There are lots of people on craigs list practically begging to give you their furniture, they will give it to you for free, they will pay you to take it, but the only condition is you have to go get it yourself. Unless it is a situation of life and death, no one is willing to haul furniture up stairs.

Our apartment is two rooms in a converted hotel overlooking Lexington avenue from the 9th floor. It's awfully fun to look down and watch people and cars beeping and causing a fuss. New York does not seem as scary when you have your own (relatively) quiet nest place...

I am now also a Working Person. I have some business cards. It is pretty neat so far.



Traffic tix

Hi, so I was in boy's car yesterday and they pulled us over (at 59th street ish) for a random "Safety check" of the vehicle. she checked boy's tinted windows and gave him a ticket saying that they were way too dark to be legal. We found this questionable, as boy's windows came from the dealer that degree tinted. Here's the deal. She said the laser-window-reader thingy said 29. This apparently means 29%. She says that means 29% of the light gets through the window. In New York, the maximum tinting you can have is such that 70% of the light gets through, or 30% tinted. Don't you think it's more likely that the 29 she was reading meant 29% opaque (i.e. just under the legal limit) rather than 29% of the light gets through? so Boy has a ticket that says "29% tinted" which does not even sound illegal the way the cop wrote it. Has this ever happened to anyone? We have never really thought about tinting before.


Tomorrow morning early Zed and I set out for Middletown CT, the van stuffed with his stuff. My 1993 Grand Voyager may be bigger than the dorm room we're heading towards; I may return with a considerable volume of rejected cubic feet.

This seems a symmetrical end to a venture begun in November of 1983, when, very pregnant, I left for the hospital with an empty baby seat strapped into my tiny green Honda Civic. It seemed so preposterous and presumptuous to have procured this seat - yet, undeniably, I was nine months pregnant and had reason to believe a baby was on the way. And, indeed, when I left for home, there WAS a baby (little Melina, who is now a honking big girl who can blog for me while I'm on the road!) in that seat.

Twenty-two years later, I leave for Wesleyan with my other child, Zed, in the passenger seat. When I say goodbye and turn towards home, his seat will be empty.

A mom I know once told me that her son, impatient to evade her attentions on the day he was delivered to college, whispered to her, "DING! Your child is done!" as he disappeared into a flock of freshmen.

I'll take a few days on the way home, not in any hurry to return to the empty house. Along the way I'll visit Melina in her new NYC digs.

In the mean time, she's promised to fill you in on her post-Jackson adventures. Stay tuned.

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Friday, August 26, 2005

From Rabbi Ribeye

Researching Max Heller I came upon Marc Wilson, a rabbi and gastronome living in Greenville; he also writes as "Rabbi Ribeye" for in the Internet magazine, eGullet, whence this picture of his family seder of years past. His blog does not have permalinks, instead it scrolls down endlessly from today's posts to its very beginnings. Here are some snippets I caught as I scrolled past...

June 8 2005:

... unlike bygone days, salmon is now the cheapest fish around: $3.99 a pound. The hoo-hah secret of gravlax is to cover the salmon in salt, sugar, a shot of vodka, put one side of salmon atop the other, wrap in cheesecloth and let it sit for a few days. Why let your pocketbook be raped at Zabar’s for $24.99 a pound?

But, how much gravlax can one man eat? Slowly I started bringing samples to a few delis around town. Unanimous opinion? Delicious. Soon, I became The Gravlax King of the South Carolina Upstate, selling more than 20 pounds a week. Recently, I popped in on a patron and spied a sign above the showcase: "Gravlax: Sweeter and Smoother than Yankee Lox!"

Ah, this is the ultimate accolade to the Gravlax King in the heart of Dixie, where the Civil War is still called "Our Great Misfortune," and lox is neither Scandinavian nor Jewish, simply "Yankee." What a delicious irony that a Yankee-rabbi-liberal-antiwar-Democrat has apparently liberated the xenophobic South from the smoky, salty scourge of Northern Aggression. They should only know the truth: My cell phone plays Hava Nagilah, not Dixie.

April 11, 2005:

My rabbinical interview in Greenville was built around a covered-dish dinner. But, forgetting to coordinate the menu, the table was laden with no less than twenty varieties of tuna salad, the more modest of them laced with celery, onion, bell pepper, pickle relish (feh) and eggs. The more garrulous bore every means of provender: olives, grapes, pecans, pistachios, corn, peas, bleu cheese and feta. Next to each artistic platter – some molded in the shape of turtles or Torah scrolls – stood a proud hausfrau, heaping my plate and smugly winking, "I can’t believe you’re even tasting that cat food Mrs. Schwartz made."

December 2, 2004

Jewish or not, I got a burn in my belly when I discovered that our mall would allow parents to snap a picture of their kid with Santa only if they first paid to have Santa’s helpers take a suite of "formal" pictures. ... So, I got hacked off at the mall.

What to do? I put together a project called "Laps of Love": Find a few fat guys to play Santa. Me first. Find a central location. Sit Santa on a throne. Invite folks to bring their kids and their cameras. Let Santa’s helpers give the kids candy, trinkets, cookies and cider while the parents snap away. On the way out, have a bucket to accept contributions for homeless families.

No overhead. No bureaucracy. No profits. All goodies donated. Ah, the spirit of giving. Welcome back.

Now, on to find the Santas. Plenty of fat guys in Greenville County, the home of deep-fried everything, cream-gravied everything, and otherwise healthy vegetables cooked with fatback. A newspaper reporter. A construction foreman. An asthmatic evangelist. A cabbie. My shoemaker. All practicing their ho-ho-ho’s and fattening up at Henry’s BBQ (voted best in the country by Playboy, or so I have been told). ...

Nov 11 2003:

I live in the heartland of guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks. And, do not forget Confederate battle flags defiantly unfurled from front-yard flagpoles and vituperatively racist bumper stickers. (I saw it with my own eyes: If I Knew You’d Cause This Much Trouble, I’d Have Picked the Cotton Myself!) These are not nice people. These are folks who are still ranting about secession and slavery and "outside agitators."

Tuesday, July 08, 2003:

[On the forced retirement of a beloved cantor, Marc recalls...]

How he struggled each week to teach us bratty kids songs for Sabbath and holy days. How he awakened my interest in Judaism by challenging me to read from the Torah, after five years of my being uniformly treated like an idiot by a cavalcade of religious-school teachers....

A new rabbi with "different" ideas ... told him that ... his singing with the congregation was "too loud." ... At absolute least, basic decency if not crass realism should say, "How much longer will a 90-year-old be around anyways? What would it hurt to honor him and his vocation while they are still with us? Is the sanctity of the pulpit better found in up-tempo melodies at the expense of shaming an old man?

But, the canard of "singing too loud" goes way beyond all that. To be demeaned for feebleness or forgetfulness is cruel enough. But, "singing too loud"? Criminal.

No one should ever be told that s/he is "singing too loud," even when the voice quivers, or the hands tremble, or the words do not come as easy as they used to. We stifle our children’s singing because it is disruptive. We stifle our elders’ singing because we see it as just another type of "acting out." And in between, we rarely lift our voices in song, because it is embarrassing or because we are numbed to the prospect of voice-lifting joy. Yet, "singing too loud" might be the only shred of soulfulness left to ensure our sanity.

Postscript: I wrote to Marc, who remembered our playing at the Heller event as well as my boneheaded move (he kindly wrote: "I vaguely recall the boondoggle, but think much more fondly of the wonderful repertoire played so masterfully by you and the group. When before and since have we danced an authentic patch-tanz in Greenville? Absolutely delicious!"). He then pointed me to a much more coherent form of his blog at, and I recommend it.

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Thursday, August 25, 2005

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The disastrous Greenville gig

A debacle was visited upon my world music band Mappamundi due to my utter distraction in the spring of 1999. My dad was going downhill fast - he died of leukemia a couple months later - and I was at wits' end.

As mentioned yesterday, we were hired to play at a birthday celebration for Max Heller, the ex-mayor of Greenville.

So here's the thing: I sent out a contract which said the gig was on (say) Saturday the 28th. However, Saturday was actually going to be the 27th. Error.

Now I had it in my head we were due to arrive on a Saturday. But Max's son, knowing the event was taking place on the 28th, didn't notice that I'd written Saturday instead of Sunday, and signed and returned the contract without noticing my error.

It's a five-hour drive to Greenville, SC. So that Saturday we were up very early, loading the WHOLE DARN SOUND SYSTEM into the van. We made the drive, got to the Hyatt Regency, unloaded the WHOLE DARN SOUND SYSTEM onto a dolly, and wheeled it into the huge lobby.

We looked for the usual signs, you know: "... Event in the ... Room." In this case, we were awed to note, the birthday boy happened to have his very own eponymous room, the "Max Heller Conference Center." But his name was not out front on the blackboard.

We wandered with increasing queasiness and finally found an unctuous manager who told us what was going on - the event was the next day.

??? So here's the thing. All three of us had other gigs the next day! Robbie had an opera, and Ken and I had a wedding in town.

We made a frantic call and Max's son came right over. We all paced around trying to figure this out. He generously offered to send us back home in a private jet after the party on Sunday, so we could skittle on over to the wedding, but the timing was too tight.

So we said: "We'll make it work." We loaded the WHOLE DARN SOUND SYSTEM back into the car and headed back to Durham. Along the way, this being before any of us had cellphones, we stopped to call our other bandmates: since we couldn't be in two places at once, we needed musicians to do the wedding in town on Sunday so Ken and I could go back to Greenville and do the Heller birthday!

Beth was free. Jim wasn't, but said he'd try to find us a warm body. We stopped several more times on the way back to call him, and at last he found us a guitarist, whom none of the rest of us knew or had ever even seen before.

When we got back, Robbie and Ken left. I call Beth and the guitarist, hmm, what was his name, let's say Lyle, and find they are not free to rehearse together in the brief time remaining. This is a problem, because there are quite a few "special requests" from the mother of the bride, who even at her best is a very tense person.

So, having driven five hours to Greenville and five hours back, I now drive to Beth's house, teach her the special requests, and later go to Lyle's house, and teach HIM the special requests. And it's night, and then it's the next day.

We do it all again except this time there are only two of us, Ken and me, loading the W.D.S.S. and driving and then unloading the W.D.S.S. in Greenville. Meanwhile, Beth and Lyle meet for the first time at the in-town wedding.

Our event is loads of fun, the food is good and plentiful, everybody is happy and nice, Max Heller and his wife are sweet and charismatic, a fine time is had by all. We leave exhausted but satisfied.

Beth and Lyle have a nightmare of a time. The mother of the bride acts like a witch (to be fair, she had family tragedy of her own to deal with), yells at Beth for not being me, yells at Lyle for eating an hors d'oeuvre, treats them like incompetent minions, and makes their afternoon hellish. Beth, upon her return, says: "I want to quit music now." Lyle and I never discuss this and I've never seen him since.

I was so traumatized by this mistake that I announced to the band: "I can't be manager any more. One of you do it." But nary a one ever actually did.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Max Heller

I wanted to write about the time I got my bandmates up before dawn, dragging them toward South Carolina to play for Max Heller's birthday - a huge celebration at the "Max Heller Conference Center" in the Hyatt Regency, at which he and his wife Trude got the "Citizen of the Year" award from the League of Women Voters - only to discover it was the wrong day. We DID come back, but there is woe in the tale.

So I looked up Max Heller; he proved so interesting I'll tell you about him, instead, and save the nightmare gig for another occasion.

B.G. (before Googling), I only knew that Max had been mayor of Greenville SC for two terms. Then I read his story at the website called Survivor & Witness in Western North Carolina: Choosing to Remember - from the Shoa to the Mountains:

Max was born in Poland in 1919 to Israel and Leah Hirsch Heller, who sold fabric for bedding and tablecloths. Max worked for a five-and-dime supply company, becoming foreman and later buyer, earning about ten dollars per month.

When he was 18, Max met fourteen-year-old Trude Schonthal and told her they would marry some day.

One day at a dance in Vienna Max met a chaperoned group of girls from Greenville, South Carolina. He danced with a Mary Mills; neither could speak the other's language, but they met the next day for a walk and Max asked Mary for her address.

The next year, on Friday, March 11, 1938 Max witnessed the Nazi takeover of Vienna.
Austrians were on the streets jubilant in their support for the Nazis. Jewish synagogues and property were being burned and vandalized. By Monday Max remembers that signs were posted in the park forbidding Jews to sit down on the benches. At work on that first Monday following the Anschluss, fellow employees arrived wearing Nazi uniforms.
He wrote to Mary - using a German/English dictionary - and she was able to find a man in her hometown, Shepherd Saltzman, who would send an affidavit.

Meanwhile, Max and the few other Jewish employees not yet fired were ordered to train the non-Jewish workers who would soon be taking their places.

Max remembers long lines of people waiting to apply for visas at the American Embassy; he and his family stood in line all night, trying to get a chance to apply.

As soon as he reached New York, Max took a train to Greenville. Right away he began sweeping and working as a stock boy at Piedmont Shirt Company.

In the summer of 1941 he went to New York to visit Trude, who had also managed to escape. They were married in August of 1942. (Trude's story is also told at the Shoah website.)

Max became a successful businessman in Greenville and in 1969 he was elected to the City Council. He served as Mayor of Greenville from 1971 until 1979, spearheading the revitalization of downtown and the bringing of new businesses into the city.

Heller then ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the U.S. Congress, on which defeat Marc Wilson (Marc Musing) commented:
The designation of "good Jew" attained its apex in my current residence of Greenville, SC, as businessman and Holocaust survivor Max Heller rose to the position of the city’s most respected mayor. Ironically, Max’s being a "good Jew" was not good enough to be elected to Congress in the late 1970’s due to an overtly anti-Semitic campaign largely fomented by Christian conservatives.
In the decades since that defeat, Heller and his family have been busy; here are excerpts from a 2002 story by Jason Zacher for the Greenville News:

Friends thank Hellers with Furman honor

The lobby of the Hyatt Regency hotel fell silent Thursday when Max Heller began to speak.

He talked about the "miracle" that brought him here from Nazi-occupied Austria in 1938 and recalled how six young girls from Greenville helped him escape the Holocaust.

But it was the announcement of this day, that Furman University was renaming its Collegiate Education Service Corps for the former Greenville mayor and his wife, Trude, that brought tears to Heller's eyes. The Hellers' friends have raised $1 million toward a $1.5 million endowment for the program.

The nearly 200 people who packed the Hyatt -- just outside the Max Heller Conference Center -- said Heller's contributions to the community cannot be overstated.

Greenville's most notable and powerful -- black and white, Democrat and Republican -- were there, but when Heller began his speech, it was as if a prophet stood before them: The crowd hung on every word.

Heller, 83, recounted his chance meeting with six Greenville girls in Nazi-occupied Vienna, Austria in 1938. Some people teared up when he called that meeting his "miracle." The audience delighted in his account of how he asked their chaperone if he could dance with the girls and watched while they sized him up.

Families of the six girls gave money to the endowment. One of the girls, Louise Jordan Earle, was present, as was the daughter of another, Mary Mills.

"If it had not been for your mother, I would be bones in Auschwitz," he said to Mary Moore Roberson, Mills' daughter.

The miracle that brought Heller to Greenville shaped his life's philosophy -- the importance of "sharing oneself with others."

A close bond between Heller and Furman began when former Furman President John Plyler mentored Heller after he came to Greenville in 1938.

Since that time, the Hellers have established scholarships at Furman, taught classes, and served as volunteer leaders. Both have received honorary degrees from the university, and Max Heller is currently a member of the Furman Board of Trustees.

Heller and his family have continued to be leaders and philanthropists. Their presence is a blessing magnifying one young girl's long-ago mitzvah many times over.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Switched-on Bach

Hearing of the death of Robert Moog, inventor of the synthesizer, reminded me of how addicted I was to the first synthesizer album, "Switched-on Bach." I'm not sure the synthesizer ever sounded that good again.

From Frank Houston's Salon article of April 2000:

In the 1920s a Russian inventor named Leon Theremin unveiled the first purely electronic instrument. You played the theremin by waving your hands in the vicinity of two metal rods, controlling pitch and volume, that were attached to a nondescript wooden cabinet. Between the strange arm motions and the instrument's invisible machinations, the theremin's overall effect in performance was theatrical and mysterious.

But like the 200-ton telharmonium, the world's first mechanical music synthesizer ... the theremin was difficult to play. It soon disappeared behind the curtain, relegated to cheap performances in B-grade alien-invasion movies.

A few years later Robert Moog, a graduate student in physics at Cornell University, published a magazine article explaining how to build a theremin, offering do-it-yourself kits for $49.95. Orders poured in, and Moog sold 1,000 that year. ...

[A decade after the first RCA room-sized prototypes] Moog introduced the first widely adopted electronic instrument -- the synthesizer that bears his name.

Growing up in the '40s in Flushing, Queens, Moog suffered the usual cruelties boys inflict on the smarter, more introverted members of their tribe ... He spent a lot of time with his father, who liked to dabble in electronics, and started his own electronics projects. He built his first theremin with the help of a hobby-magazine article at age 14.

Moog's mother, meanwhile, gave him piano lessons and made him practice hours every day in the hope that he'd become a concert pianist, "klopping" him if he "didn't practice right."

Moog built his synthesizer in 1964 after a composer told him about the need for user-friendly electronic instruments utilizing new solid-state technology. The Moog was modular: You used patch cords to select your waveform (the sound's timbre) and frequency (pitch), and plugged in the interface -- a keyboard, instead of the binary code on paper ...

RCA synthesizers, intended for an elite market of labs financed by universities and record companies, had cost $100,000 and up. In 1967 the new Moog sold for $11,000.

The Moog's biggest break came in 1969, when musician Walter (now Wendy) Carlos had a huge, Grammy-winning hit with "Switched-on Bach," popularizing electronic music with Moog-made renditions of Johann Sebastian Bach. Canadian pianist and Bach interpreter Glenn Gould said that Carlos' Fourth Brandenburg Concerto was "the finest performance of any of the Brandenburgs -- live, canned or intuited -- that I've ever heard."

Still, these were products of studio recording. It took musicians with a talent for excess -- such as keyboardist Keith Emerson -- to tote the enormous Moog setup, a towering box of electronics, onto the stage for live shows. Ever mindful of utility, Moog next introduced the portable, performance-minded Minimoog.

"It was really the advent of the Minimoog that saw synthesizers take off ... the Minimoog showed that there was a significant market for portable, cheaper synthesizers." Or as Moog put it, in typically dry fashion, "By 1974 or so, having a Minimoog would make it a lot easier to get a job playing the local Ramada Inn."

So many god-awful things have been done with synthesizers since Switched-On Bach. Decades of it.

It isn't all pop music - there's Chasidic club date music, for instance! A pianist told me once he was so in demand for playing crappy synthesizer gigs that he became known as a Kassio-shpiler!!!

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Why men play golf.

Extracts from The Golf Gene
by John Tierney
for The New York Times, August 20, 2005

As an action-packed sport, golf ranks down with baseball and bowling ... Golf features no body contact, no car crashes and no cheerleaders, yet men keep watching. They make up more than 80 percent of the TV audience for golf.

The male-female ratio is about the same as in paintball, a war game that always made more sense to me than golf. My basic feeling toward golf - hatred - probably has something to do with how badly I did the couple of times I played, but incompetence didn't seem to stop other guys from becoming obsessed with it.

I couldn't imagine what possessed them until I learned about disc golf, which began as a mellow sport for both sexes three decades ago, played by hippies in Grateful Dead T-shirts who flung Frisbees into baskets mounted on poles in public parks. Today ... more than 90 percent of the disc golf players, pros and duffers, are men. The best explanation I can offer for the disparity is what happened to me the first time I teed off several years ago.

Our foursome started at a tee on high ground, looking down a tree-lined swath of grass ... After we flung our discs, as we headed down the fairway, I felt a strange surge of satisfaction. I couldn't figure out why until it occurred to me what we were: a bunch of guys converging on a target and hurling projectiles at it.

Was golf the modern version of Pleistocene hunting on the savanna? The notion had already occurred to devotees of evolutionary psychology ... They point to ... research showing that people in widely different places and cultures have a common vision of what makes a beautiful landscape - and it looks a lot like the view from golfers' favorite tees.

The ideal is a vista from high ground overlooking open, rolling grassland dotted with low-branched trees and a body of water ... an open savanna where prey could be spotted ... a water hole ... trees offering safe hiding places for hunters.

The descendants of those hunters seem to have inherited their fascination with hitting targets, because today's men excel at tests asking them to predict the flights of projectiles. They also seem to get a special pleasure from watching such flights, both in video games and real life. No matter how many times male pilots have seen a plane land, they'll watch another one just for the satisfaction of seeing the trajectory meet the ground.

That's the only plausible excuse for watching golf. Men, besides having a primal affection for the vistas of fairways, get so much joy watching that little ball fly toward the green that they'll sit through everything else. One sight of a putt dropping in the hole makes up for long moments watching pudgy guys agonize over which club to use.

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Monday, August 22, 2005

Cooling your heels at doctors' offices

Extracts from
Being a Patient
Sick and Scared, and Waiting, Waiting, Waiting

By Gina Kolata for the New York Times, August 20, 2005
Waiting has long been part of medicine. ... but the waiting problem has only gotten worse. Advances in technology have created more tests and procedures to wait for, and new drugs and treatments mean more people need more doctor visits ... insurance companies reimburse doctors at lower rates than in the past, resulting in intense pressure to see large numbers of patients.
An analyst is told: "Waiting times are not bad, waiting times are acceptable" and he comments: "It grows out of that insularity that we get to decide who waits and who doesn't."
Doctors assume, he explained, that the most efficient office is filled with waiting patients, like a company making sure its warehouses are always full. But companies have learned that there is a cost to keeping warehouses full. The same principle applies to doctors' offices.

People get mad, Dr. Murray said. And at some point, patients start to leave.
Studies of emergency rooms indicate that 40 percent of their patients wait longer than an hour to see a doctor; with waits for a bed, a scan, etc. patients end up waiting for hours, even a day.

Hospitals worry about this, not because it causes patients to suffer, but because when they back up too spectacularly, incoming patients are diverted and the hospital loses the $2,000 to $3,000 each admitted patient brings in.
Pam Stephan ... went to her local hospital near collapse. ... Her oncology center had put her off for days before she could get an appointment. Once there, she waited for hours, and then learned that she was dangerously anemic. "Go to the hospital for a blood transfusion," she was told.

She arrived at the hospital at 5 p.m. ... by 2 a.m. she actually started the three-pint blood transfusion. She said by then she was so sick and so exhausted that "dying would have been too much trouble."

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Sunday, August 21, 2005

Planting trees in Kenya

I'm glad I got to hear this morning's re-airing of Ingrid Lobet's feature on Living on Earth called Wangari Maathai: A Watering Can, Some Seedlings, and the Greening of a Nation. It can be heard via Real Player or MP3 and there's also a podcast of the show in case you're not awake at 6 am on a Sunday morning to catch it in its miserable time slot...

Part I: How to Persuade 100 Thousand Poor People to Plant Trees
Kenya has offered the world a new model for what an environmental movement can be, one that harnesses the power of thousands of hands. Even the hands of people with little means. In 2004 the Norwegian Nobel Committee recognized this new model and its founder, Kenyan scientist and environmentalist Wangari Maathai. Ingrid Lobet introduces us to the basic mechanics of the Green Belt tree planting movement.

Part II: It's More Than a Tree Planting Movement
As tree planters in Kenya's central highlands have reforested their region, they've seen a change in fuel availability, the food they can cook and the vegetables they can grow. And the organization they've built to plant trees gives them a way to address other problems, including government. Green Belt has been at the center of conflict to create a more democratic Kenya. But many village members, especially women, say the most important change is in their sense of self worth.

Part III: Soldier Planters, River-Keeping Children and Green Belt's Future
The Green Belt Movement continues to forge its own path, trying to bring planting to dry regions, creating revolving loans for livestock that are paid back with seedlings instead of money, and planting trees in the national forests. Now the movement faces unprecedented demand from Kenyans inspired by their Peace Prize winner. The movement entertains possible offers from the new climate change markets as it tries to find new sources of funding to meet growing demand.

This show also features great music!

There's a bio of Maathai at Soka Gakkai website (extracts):

In the mid-1970's biologist Wangari Maathai became concerned about deforestation in her native Kenya.
Poverty and high population growth strain the natural environment. Poor people cut down trees for fuel and clear land to plant crops. As the trees disappear, so do the plant and animal species that depend on them.

With no ground cover to hold it, rainwater runs off and erodes the soil, depleting it of its nutrients. This degradation of the natural environment deepens the cycle of poverty. The consequences are malnutrition, water scarcity, and an increase in contagious diseases.

In 1977, working through ... the National Council of Women in Kenya, Wangari Maathai began encouraging rural women to plant trees. The initiative soon developed into a broad-based grassroots movement.

"It's very, very important for us to take action at the local level. Because sometimes when we think of global problems, we get disempowered. But when we take action at the local level, we are empowered."

Through this Green Belt Movement women are taught to raise and nurture tree seedlings, which they redistribute for planting where they are most needed and for which the Green Belt Movement compensates them. The income earned by the women is used to meet their immediate domestic needs such as their children's education or is invested in other income-generating ventures.

"Every one of us can make a contribution. And quite often we are looking for the big things and forget that, wherever we are, we can make a contribution."

The organization teaches people about the link between a healthy natural environment and healthy communities, and farmers and villagers also learn about land management practices such as composting, soil conservation and the use of indigenous crops.

Through this movement, thousands of grassroots women's groups have been created which promote sustainable development and also take up other social issues. These women have now planted more than 20 million trees throughout Kenya and established over 6,000 tree nurseries. More than half-a-million schoolchildren have been taught the values of sustainable living.

The Green Belt Movement is thus reducing the effects of deforestation while providing women with an income and empowering them to take on leadership roles within their communities.

"Sometimes I tell myself, I may only be planting a tree here, but just imagine what's happening if there are billions of people out there doing something. Just imagine the power of what we can do."

What began as a small nursery in Wangari Maathai's backyard has now spread around the globe, as the methods of the Green Belt Movement have also been replicated by organizations in other countries.

I was so delighted by this story that I went to the website of the Wangari Maathai Foundation and made a donation.

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Penny Monuments

From ZeNeece's world, a big bunch of Amazing Penny Sculptures from Mitch Fincher. With instructions! I had no idea.

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Saturday, August 20, 2005

Cute hedgehogs seen everywhere

I saw this picture on so many blogs in fifteen minutes of surfing that I have no idea whose it is. It made me happy so I'm sharing it too. If somebody wants to claim the original picture, please let me know and I'll credit you!

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Blog posts for a price

I sympathize with Ambivablogger's plaint about feeding her site:
It all becomes equally semi-shallow, as I suppose it would for a newspaper reporter churning out lots of copy on deadline. You don't gather force. There isn't a rhythm to it, with rest. The blog is a succubus. Its demand feels relentless, like if you don't keep performing and entertaining, the crowd will quickly wander off. There are so many other good acts to watch.
Luckily, Old Horsetail Snake has a solution:

Yesterday I allowed as how I was gonna bail out Internet b**ggers who got writer's cramp from goin' brain dead. Part of my plot to Make My Pile is to secretly substitute for these people with some topical topics. For a price.

Some Internet writers find they got nothin' interesting to say so they rely on formula pap, like "Uninteresting Things in My Junk Drawer," or "What We Had at Burger King." Instead of that, they can hire Ol' Hoss, the Master Internet Double. They give me their user name and password and I will tap into their site and post some spellbinding stuff in their name. Nobody will be the wiser, except me and the poor sap who is payin' me.

Here are the categories in which I am offering services:
  • Gardening: Types of Fish to Use in the Corn Row
  • Child Rearing: The Kids Were So Cute Today
  • Child Rearing: Did I Really Give Birth to These Monsters?
  • Comedy: Bad Jokes and Good ($5 off if permitted to use the F-bomb)
  • Vacations: Without Gnats, $30; With Gnats, Free
  • Rants: Any Subject Except George Bush, who needs no help making himself look like an asshole
  • Walmart: That Bitch in Aisle 3 Never Watches Where She's Going
  • Weird Science: Which Came First, the Opossum or Lois Lane
  • Man-Eating Sharks: List of Stomach Contents, Alphabetical Order
  • Movie Reviews: (This piece will be free, because Ol' Hoss does not go to the movies. All movie reviews will say: "This stinks. Don't go to the movies and you'll never see another bad one.")
The cheapest standard pot-boiler I got is "Blogger Ate My Piece Again Today."

The line forms to the left.

Along the same lines, Museum of Hoaxes pointed to the new Extracts:
What Jeff and I are doing is simple but as far as I know we are the first. We are outsourcing blogs to China.

Our general business model is a two tiered effort to hire Chinese citizens to write blogs en masse for us at a valued wage. The first tier is to create original blogs. These blogs will pop up in various areas of the net and appear to the unknowing reader to be written by your standard American. Our short term goal for these original blogs is to generate a steady stream of revenue...

The second tier of our plan is a blog vacation service where our employees fill in for established bloggers who need to take a break from regular posting. As all bloggers know, an unupdated blog is quickly forgotten. For a nominal fee we can provide seamless integration of filler...

I have been working hard trying to help Jeff make our product more believable. Our initial results have been a little bit below what we expected ... Our design process centers around 3 general groups:
  1. Teenage girls
  2. Normal Bloggers (yuppies, moms, average college students)
  3. Super Bloggers (bipolars, cynics, liberals, outcasts, super-hip)
I can tell you that the top 5 blogs we are currently developing are:
  • A blog written from the perspective of a stray cat in NYC.
  • A blog written from a 14 year old depressed Iowa girl.
  • A blog about life as a math professor in a southern community college.
  • A blog about being a plus sized model in Kentucky.
  • A blog about being a weatherman in California.
While these are not yet ready for public consumption you would be amazed how good this stuff is. Our most talented guy keeps writing about how the weatherman got his forecast wrong and is sad.

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Friday, August 19, 2005

Pigs, circa 1880, Oxfordshire

From Flora Thompson's "Lark Rise to Candleford." See this post for background, if you missed it...
At the back or side of each cottage was a lean-to pigsty and the house refuse was thrown on a nearby pile called "the muck'll." This was so situated that the oozings from the sty could drain into it; the manure was also thrown there when the sty was cleared, and the whole formed a nasty, smelly eyesore to have within a few feet of the wondows...

A good pig fattening in the sty promised a good winter. During its lifetime the pig was an important member of the family, and its health and condition were regularly reported in letters to children away from home, together with news of their brothers and sisters. Men callers on Sunday afternoons came, not to see the family, but the pig, and would lounge with its owner against the pigsty door for an hour, scratching piggy's back and praising his points or turning up their own noses in criticism...

The family pig was everybody's pride and everybody's business. Mother spent hours boiling up the "little taturs" to mash and mix with the pot-liquor, in which food had been cooked, to feed to the pig for its evening meal and help out the expensive barley meal. The children, on their way home from school, would fill their arms with thistle ... or roam along the hedgerows on wet evenings collecting snails for the pig's supper...

When the pig was fattened - and the fatter the better - the date of execution had to be decided upon ... The next thing was to engage the travelling pork butcher, or pig-sticker, and, as he was a thatcher by day, he always had to kill after dark, the scene being lighted with lanterns and the fire of burning straw which at a later stage of the proceedings was to singe the bristles off the victim ... the pig-sticker would pull off the detachable, gristly, outer coverings of the toes, known locally as "the shoes," and fling them among the children, who scrambled for, then sucked and gnawed them, straight from the filth of the sty and blackened by fire as they were.

The whole scene, with its mud and blood, flaring lights and dark shadows, was as savage as anything to be seen in an African jungle. The children at the end house would steal out of bed to the window. "Look! Look! It's hell, and those are the devils," Edmund would whisper, pointing to the men tossing the burning straw with their pitchforks...

Months of hard work and self-denial were brought on that night to a successful conclusion. It was a time to rejoice, and rejoice they did, with beer flowing freely and the first delicious dish of pig's fry ... The next day, when the carcass had been cut up, joints of pork were distributed to those neighbors who had sent similar ones at their own pig-killing ...

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Thursday, August 18, 2005

Snoozer flicks

"About Last Night" asked readers for lists of bad movies, not movies which were made to be bad, like "Dumb and Dumber," but movies with some yikhes (righteous pedigree) to them. So here's my list of worst movies. I'd love it if you left some of your OWN candidates in the comments! Be brave!
  • Dersu Uzala (Kurosawa, 1975). This one comes first because I was young enough to be embarrassed that I snoozed through a Great Masterpiece. Although the movie supposedly takes place in wide-sweeping Siberian plains, actually it's filmed as though Kurosawa had snow trucked into a Tokyo parking lot. The scenes were framed so tightly, the top of the characters' heads were cut off. Claustrophobic huffery and puffery.

  • Z (Costa Gavra, 1969). What can I say? Though Netflix lauds its "edge-of-your-seat action" it was merely the first of many car-chase movies which lulled me to Neverland.

  • Nashville (Altman, 1875). Netflix says this "sprawling masterpiece" "astonishes." I couldn't keep track of the hundreds of actors and couldn't care less. I wished their endless garden party would end and the chattering would subside so I could sleep in peace.

  • The Last Picture Show (Bogdanovich, 1971). Wow, this one got five stars from almost every reviewer. I guess its sleepy Texas location worked its magic on me: after snoring for just a little while, I watched the rest in fast-forward with the subtitles on.

  • Gandhi (Attenborough, 1981). "Epic and unforgettable." I can't forget that I fell asleep twice watching it, then pulled the tape out of the machine and took it back.

  • Andrei Rublev (Tarkovsky, 1966). Did I deserve what I got, renting a Russian movie about a 15th century icon painter? Again, a "sweeping epic." I think I need to stay away from those. Russian stoicism illustrated: even in extra-fast forward, nobody moved! Not one of the wooden actors even twitched a facial muscle! Although somehow by the end everything was burned and everybody died so I must have missed something, even though I swear I stayed awake.

  • Immortal Beloved (Rose, 1994). Don't you hate it when Hollywood tries to show us a girl is smart by putting glasses on her? And when they struggle to depict genius, it's absolutely painful. "The finale features a magical encapsulation of Beethoven's life." I was asleep by then.

  • State and Main (Mamet, 2000). OK, it's Vermont - get a couple old actors who've never been east of the Valley, put them in flannel shirts and rocking chairs and give them some really. stupid. lines. The part of this which was a send up of Hollywood types was funny, but the "real down home America" part was worse than painful and insulting. And I hate that ingenue with the squinty eyes, Julia Stiles.

  • Talk to Her (Almodovar, 2002). I loved "All About My Mother" but should have stayed away from this one. Two men who think the perfect woman is one who is in a coma. What more should I have needed to know before avoiding this? Also features preposterous and annoying modern dance both at the beginning AND the end.

  • Good Will Hunting (Van Sant, 1997). Sorry, can't watch a movie about Southie with accents as bad as these. Did anybody making this movie ever even SEE South Boston? Reminds us once again that Hollywood directors never step foot outside their zip code. They haven't seen real people for so long they've forgotten what they're like.

    (My brother went to AFI, the American Film Institute. I'll never forget the way they chose locations. "This looks like Connecticut, let's film it here." No, boys, it does not look like Connecticut, it looks like Southern California. However, it does look like other Hollywood movies purportedly taking place in Connecticut.)

  • The Man Who Wasn't There (Coen, 2001). I made a poor impression on a first date when I fell asleep during this cold-hearted, sluggish piece of film noir from Joel Coen. Film noir: means you won't like anybody and nothing good will happen.

  • The Goodbye Girl (Ross, 1977). Shut up! Shut up! Shut up! The whole movie reminds me of being forced to listen to somebody else's cellphone conversation. Marsha Mason was annoying me every single moment she was on camera.

  • Love's Labour's Lost (Branagh, 2000). Yowzah. I'm a fan of Shakespeare adaptations - I really loved "Much Ado About Nothing" which was also a Branagh film - so this one was a horrid shock. Branagh really wanted to sing and dance in a tuxedo? Astaire he ain't. His ego is completely out of control. Shudderingly awful.

Here's my earlier list of worst songs of the 70s.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2005

If you're visiting for the first time, via About Last Night, welcome! Looking for something else to read while you're here? My own favorites are listed in the "Read Again" section on the right - including
  • My daughter's report on the Neshoba County Fair, aka "Republican Woodstock;"

  • My report on a hot-sauce king who donated his factory to a yoga-in-the-prisons king who plans to make biodiesel out of the oil from the North Carolina State Fair and bankroll the startup by selling blueberries plus cds of his own renditions of John Lennon songs plus his own song, "Walter the Pigeon" (I didn't put that part in the story, it's a bonus);

  • The story of my life as a professional poet: "Melinama's Sonnet Service."
Hope you enjoy your visit. Y'all come back, now.

Lark Rise to Candleford

In 1993 I rashly invited Jacqueline Schwab - a pianist I knew only through her gorgeous recordings of romantic English country music - to make a cd with me, and she agreed, so I went up to Cambridge to practice with her.

One night at bedtime she lent me Flora Thompson's trilogy, Lark Rise to Candleford, a book about the very world we were trying to re-create in our music. (Here's our title cut: Sedgefield Fair.)

Thompson was born in 1876 to Albert Timms, an alcoholic stone mason, and his wife Emma. Even as a very young girl Flora was preternaturally [heh] observant of her surroundings in the tiny rural community called Juniper Hill.

Most of the families around her were virtually indigent, the dads wage laborers for a local farmer. Only a few very old people had some small material comfort and security in their lives: those who had somehow managed to hang on to something as the era of the commons was brutally ended. (Here and halfway down this page you'll find more.)

Of the rural England of her childhood, Flora retained uncanny and loving memories overflowing with sounds, scents, and sights; she wrote them down with simplicity and grace. Transmitting the reminiscences of people who were very old when she was very young, Flora was a link to the 18th century.

I've been thinking of sharing pieces of her story with you from time to time. So, here's the very beginning of her book.
Poor People's Houses

The hamlet stood on a gentle rise in the flat, wheat-growing north-east corner of Oxfordshire. We will call it Lark Rise because of the great number of skylarks which made the surrounding fields their springboard and nested on the bare earth between the rows of green corn.

All around, from every quarter, the stiff, clayey soil of the arable fields crept up; bare, brown and windswept for eight months out of every twelve. Spring brought a flush of green wheat and there were violets under the hedges, and pussy-willows out beside the brook at the bottom of the "Hundred Acres;" but only for a few weeks in later summer had the landscape real beauty. Then the ripened cornfields rippled up to the doorsteps of the cottages and the hamlet became an island in a sea of dark gold.

To a child it seemed that it must always have been so; but the ploughing and sowing and reaping were recent innovations. Old men could remember when the Rise, covered with juniper bushes, stood in the midst of a furzy heath - common land, which had come under the plough after the passing of the Enclosure Acts. Some of the ancients still occupied cottages on land which had been ceded to their fathers as "squatters' rights," and probably all the small plots upon which the houses stood had originally been so ceded.

In the eighteen-eighties the hamlet consisted of about thirty cottages and an inn, not built in rows, but dotted down anywhere within a more or less circular group. A deeply rutted cart track surrounded the whole, and separate houses or groups of houses were connected by a network of pathways. Going from one part of the hamlet to another was called "going round the Rise," and the plural of "house" was not "houses," but "housen." The only shop was a small general one kept in the back kitchen of the inn. The church and school were in the mother village, a mile and a half away.

A road flattened the circle at one point. It had been cut when the heath was enclosed, for the convenience in fieldwork and to connect the main Oxford road with the mother village and a series of villages beyond. From the hamlet it led on the one hand to church and school, and on the other to the main road, or the turnpike, as it was still called, and so to the market town where the Saturday shopping was done. It brought little traffic past the hamlet. An occasional farm wagon, piled with sacks or square-cut bundles of hay; a farmer on horseback or in his gig; the baker's little old white-tiled van; a string of blanketed hunters with grooms, exercising in the early morning; and only one of the old penny-farthing high bicycles at rare intervals. People still rushed to their cottage doors to see one of the latter come past.

A few of the houses had thatched roofs, whitewashed outer walls and diamond-paned windows, but the majority were just stone or brick boxes with blue-slated roofs. The older houses were relics of pre-enclosure days and were still occupied by descendants of the original squatters, themselves at that time elderly people.

One old couple owned a donkey and cart, which they used to carry their vegetables, eggs, and honey to the market town and sometimes hired out ar sixpence a day to their neighbours. One house was occupied by a retired farm bailiff, who was reported to have "well feathered his own nest" during his years of stewardship. Another aged man owned and worked upon an acre of land. These, the innkeeper, and one other man, a stonemason who walked the three miles to and from his work in the town every day, were the only ones not employed as agricultural labourers.
Thompson's papers (drafts, letters, etc.) are housed at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center (UT Austin), whence this:
At age 14, she left home to become a post office clerk in a nearby village where she continued her education through reading, writing, and observing the surrounding countryside in her off time. She worked in several post offices before meeting and marrying John Thompson, a fellow clerk, in 1903.

She continued to write while raising her children ... and in 1920 began publishing short stories ... She published her first novel, a fictionalized autobiography titled Lark Rise, in 1939. She continued the biographical theme in her next two works Over to Candleford (1941) and Candleford Green (1943). These three novels received great critical praise as historical accounts of the economic, social, and cultural life of pre-industrial rural Oxfordshire and were published under one cover in 1945 as Lark Rise to Candleford.

I found the pictures at a website devoted to Flora.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Free cat.

From long-toothed hinterland dweller.

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Dog story

A good story via Self-Winding illustrates why One might feel justified in turning us into pillars of salt.

A man was kept awake for several nights by a dog howling in the next door garden. "I can't stand this any more," he said to his wife one morning "I'm going to sort it out."

He knocked on his neighbour, Walter's door and asked him if the dog was for sale. "Well, yes, I suppose so, how much are you willing to pay?"

"Twenty five pounds OK?"

"Not half, you can have him straight away."

The man took the dog home and later on shut him out in the garden for the night. As he closed the door he said to his wife, "Serve old Walter right, now let him have a taste of his own medicine."

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Monday, August 15, 2005

Tar Heel Tavern #25 is up at Captivated by Mandie.

Melina and me in San Juan, Puerto Rico

We picked up our rental car at the airport, fought ugly traffic on Puerto Rico's ring road, and then swept up the first "Old City" street we saw - it climbed steeply to a cliff and turned out to have a spectacular view of a fort and the ocean. I even found a parking space. As it turned out later, this was the last empty parking space in all of the Old Town, so I was quite pleased to have come upon it so casually. I didn't move the car again till we left, many days later.

We dragged our suitcases down the steep hill, down the narrow cobbled streets, to find that our hotel was a crumbling decrepit mess. (Which is a major problem with booking on the Internet.) It was dank and most of its rooms were windowless. Despondent, shirtless Russians carrying toothbrushes wandered the dark corridors.

I asked the manager for more towels (we were each given just one) and he said: "You can't have more towels. This is a business."

Luckily, we had been told in advance to ask for a room overlooking the street, so we had access to light and air and were able to step out on our narrow, dangerously rusted balcony and take in the scene below:

Two plasterers on ladders and one on the sidewalk were working on a building across the street. They were shouting at each other: "You son of a whore!" One of them had, by means of poor ladder technique, somehow torn a big chunk out of the side of the historic building they were replastering; now they were trying, but not very hard, to repair the damage. They had dumped all their plaster on the sidewalk and were mixing more on a piece of cardboard.

We found a little cobble-stone park where hundreds and hundreds of pigeons were roosting in a wall; their cooing was other-worldly. The custodian, who was pleasing the pigeons by filling a pigeon lagoon as he watered the plants, told us San Juan's streets are built of the stones which came over as ballast in the old Spanish ships.

One pigeon was methodically dipping her french-fry in a pool of water leaking from a hydrant.

One night we wandered down to the waterfront to watch drunken tourists stagger back to their magnificent twinkling cruise-ships. 3600 per ship! We were asked again and again to take pictures of the little tourist pods, straggling past us on the way to their gangplanks, happily clutching balloons, green frog totems (from the Green Frog bar I guess), and shopping bags from the Gap.

Near us an extremely skinny man was trying to sell the big grasshoppers he was making out of palm fronds. He told us this is how he supports his family. He was wearing a wedding ring. I bought one of his grasshoppers, but it had withered by the time I got back to North Carolina so I threw it away.

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New Best of Me Symphony is up at Typepad.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Fisher's "Gastronomical Perfection"

Trawling through the archives of About Last Night I found this evocative quote:

"I feel now that gastronomical perfection can be reached in these combinations: one person dining alone, usually upon a couch or a hill side; two people, of no matter what sex or age, dining in a good restaurant; six people, of no matter what sex or age, dining in a good home.

"Three or four people sometimes attain perfection either in public or in private, but they must be very congenial, else the conversation, both spoken and unsaid, which is so essential a counterpoint to the meal’s harmony, will turn dull and forced. Usually six people act as whets, or goads, in this byplay and make the whole more casual, if, perhaps, less significant.

"The six should be capable of decent social behavior: that is, no two of them should be so much in love as to bore the others, nor at the opposite extreme should they be carrying on any sexual or professional feud which could put poison on the plates all must eat from. A good combination would be one married couple, for warm composure; one less firmly established, to add a note of investigation to the talk; and two strangers of either sex, upon whom the better-acquainted diners could sharpen their questioning wits."

M.F.K. Fisher, An Alphabet for Gourmets

When I lived in a group house in North Cambridge, we took turns making dinner; working our way through the "Moosewood Cookbook" we each tried to produce lavish Earth-mother spreads. Soup and bread from scratch were my specialties, and I haven't lost the knack - one Friday in Vermont this summer I baked fourteen much-appreciated loaves of challah.

Ahh, I'm feeling nostalgic for that big Queen Anne house of long ago. There was lovely hippy crockery in that house, and there were hand-woven placemats, and a big antique table, and extra friends on hand, and candles.

Then the mothering years: chaotic, minimalist, functional meals. Kids have such strict and austere tastes. Remember Roz Chast's Children's House of Horrors, which included as an exhibit "the plate where the foods touch"? Melina's White Foods Only phase was a low point: pasta, yogurt, cheese, white bread, vanilla pudding. I gave up cooking anything interesting.

In 2000, when Zed got sick, I was sleepless for months, surfing E-Bay at 4:00 am, buying too many sets of matching placemats and napkins, service for six or eight. These purchases sealed this vow: that someday there would be good times again, and nice dinners. With placemats and matching napkins. But they're still in storage under the stairs.

In a mere fortnight Zed is leaving for college. He survived. There was no dramatic day marking the receding of catastrophe - the exhaustion and desperation abated gradually. Now that I'm going to be an empty-nester, it's time to rethink everything, including dinner.

Although far too often I'm subsisting on bachelor meals, gradually I'm upgrading to some of those lovely solitary dinners Fisher recommends. I'm no longer afraid of dining out alone and have discovered that, for a life-long lurker, covert restaurant observation is delicious. I've also been methodically instigating dinners for two, and been glad for the company.

Now, I realize, it might at last be time for those long-imagined dinner parties.

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Saturday, August 13, 2005

Why the bicycle riders?

A story told at Talmud study group this morning.
In 1936 an elderly Jew was walking down a lonely street in Berlin. Suddenly he was accosted by three burly Nazi ruffians, who taunted him. One demanded angrily: "Isn't it true, old man, that the Jews are the cause of all the problems we now have in Germany?"

The old man, no fool, replied, "Actually, it's the Jews and the bicycle riders."

The irate hooligan looked puzzled and asked "Why the bicycle riders?"

The old man replied: "Why the Jews?"

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J-Walk fun

After writing about Heschel's The Sabbath last week, I'm thinking about trying to make some changes. One is, I'm going cold turkey on the radio Saturday mornings. If the world blows up, I'm sure somebody will call and tell me about it. Another is, I'm not going to fret about feeding my blog.

So, instead - Chris at Cynical-C blog pointed his readers to J-Walk (another hyphenated site).

There you can find notes on The Third Annual Nigerian EMail Conference ("Write better emails. Make more moneys.")

I love much, much more J-walk's spectacular annoying background images. I am particularly fond of #21, #28, and #30.

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Friday, August 12, 2005

Terry Teachout

As you may have noticed, the only newspaper I read is the Wall Street Journal, and Terry Teachout writes drama reviews for that paper. I just discovered Terry also has an absolutely smashing blog called About Last Night. I sent him a mash note and here's a tiny sample from his blog:
... I ran across this wonderful letter sent to Klemperer by Arnold Schoenberg, who may well have been the most arrogant person who ever lived. "After Klemperer had failed to accept an invitation to visit him," Heyworth writes, "Schoenberg wrote a letter of rebuke." Here it is:

I find it inappropriate that the extent of our meetings should be determined by you… Anyone should consider it a pleasure as well as an honour if I enjoy seeing him often… Do not suppose that I am not aware of the gratitude I owe you for your many successful efforts concerning my material affairs. I am very conscious of that, do not and shall not forget it, and will seize every available opportunity to express my thanks practically. But my sense of order tells me..that every Kulturmensch [that is, "civilized person"] owes me tribute for my cultural achievements.

Isn’t that a hoot?

I'm not sure I've ever met anybody with the nerve to write a letter like that. There's no amount of talent on earth which would justify it. They should have sent him to time-out immediately and not let him come back till he'd improved.

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A few more sayings from Norway, Maine

Here is the third and final batch of tidbits from "The Best of Lost & Forgotten Maine & New England Folk & Literary Sayings, Expressions, & Terms" by Peter Lenz, historian of Norway, Maine. (See Part One and Part Two.) Ordering information at the bottom of this post...

There's no pocket in a shroud
You can't take it with you when you die.

For his scandalous behavior he was brought up before the
Deacons and church-mauled
strongly reproved/reprimanded by the Church Board

Enough to gag a maggot
Why, the way he's let his house go it's 'nuf to gag a maggot
Extraordinarily firty, filthy, disgusting, revulsive

Makebayt (makebate)
One who's proven to be a malicious slanderer, a breeder of quarrels.

Now are you gonna wear that dunky suit to meetin' today?
an overly thick, clumsy object

scaramouch (scaramouche)
Why you scaramouch you! I'll not be having meself humiliated any more by the like of you!
A swaggering, lazy coward

suck in
He's been cynical ever since I knowed him and thinks all life's
naught but a giant suck in.
A cheat, fraud, sham, deception

And finally, one that reflects a hope I've been having lately:
Old friends are always best unless you can catch a new one that's fit to make an old one out of

Peter has compiled three more volumes of sayings, plus many other books about Maine. You can contact him at or:
Peter A. Lenz
64 Roberts Road
Norway Maine 04268

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Thursday, August 11, 2005

Churches of New England

These were some of the churches Village Harmony Travel Camp sang in.

Burrito therapy

I like the keen psychological approach Burritophile Dan takes as he answers the question: "If your spouse-to-be doesn't like burritos, what do you do?"
"The first rule is, don't immediately cancel the wedding. ... Try to get to the root of the problem. Ask questions and remember to use lots of "I" statements. Here are some examples to get you started."

"I wonder if you've never had a good burrito. What kind of burritos have you had?"

"I think that your response means that you may have eaten lots of Taco Bell. Why didn't you tell me about this problem, so we could work on it together?

"I feel bad when you talk about burritos in that way. Why do you insist on hurting me?"

"I think that anyone who doesn't like burritos is an idiot. Why did you lie to me about having a college degree?"

"I am wondering why I am sitting here, given that you do not like to eat burritos. Can you give me four good reasons?"

"I am thinking that you are perhaps not the person I'd like to spend my life with. The only way we can change this is by going to get a burrito right now. Where would you like to go?"

"Notice how the conversation is redirected to exactly where you'd like it to be. Any conversation that ends with both parties getting a burrito is a good one."
Read the entire article for more.

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Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Carnival of the Vanities #151 is up.

Today's quote

And while I'm at it, here's today's offering from Quote of the Day, by Gustave Flaubert:

"To be stupid, selfish, and have good health are three requirements for happiness, though if stupidity is lacking, all is lost."

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Blogroll visit

Today, a tour.
  • "Prepare to Meet Your Bakerina" has pix and instructions for the wonderful focaccia she cooked during Blogathon 2005. She's an entertaining writer and I wish she'd invite me over for dinner.

  • Ronni Bennett at "Time Goes By" shared links to bloggers she met at Blogher '05 - I went to visit them all. One example: the all-about-death Legacy Matters, which reminds us: "The only thing you take with you when you're gone is what you leave behind."

  • Here's's most recent example of perplexing Japanese marketing in English.

  • Fred of "Fragments from Floyd" is writing about his writing workshop at Hindman and I'm fascinated. Go to a new place where nobody knows you, and wonder if you can be part of the gang. Remember in grade school, coming out of the cafeteria line with your tray and feeling fearful and ill at ease about where to sit down? If somebody had told you then that decades later you'd still get that feeling, wouldn't you have been discouraged? Isn't it good we can't see into the future?

  • The Little Professor reviewed Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian which is actually a Dracula book. I was into it because our brand new book club started out with this book. (Hmm, we were a little slack. I read the whole book but by the time we met I'd mostly forgotten it. One other had read the whole thing. One young mom had read all but the last ten pages; when she begged her daughter, an hour before the meeting, "Let's both read," thinking parallel play, I can finish the book!, instead the girl hauled out Harry Potter and demanded a chapter. Another young mom had read only the first fifty pages; the fifth person, a guy who edits Vietnamese literature in translation, hadn't read any of it at all. This didn't inhibit our discussion in the slightest, but we weren't up to the Little Professor's level.)

  • Lastly, Isabella at Magnificent Octopus was amused to find out that her blog was Google's answer to the search "where book nerds hang out."

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