Thursday, December 9, 2010
Now, I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV, but I do know that when someone is in the kind of trouble that this man (I’ll call him “John”) was in, you need to remain calm and think things through. The ladies at the salon were begging me to do something to help him get air, but when I asked him several times if he could breathe, his eyes focused on me for a second and he said, in a weak voice, that he could breath. And then his eyes closed and he became unresponsive. One of the stylists began to cry and hugged him and was kissing him on the head and pleading with him not to leave us. I held his hands and asked him to squeeze my fingers if he could hear me. His eyes were still closed but his grip tightened on my hands and it was the best feeling to know that he was alert and responsive. Then, in the middle of all of this, his eyes opened and he did a very curious thing---he yawned. At first I thought he was opening his mouth wide in an attempt to get air but, no, it was indeed a yawn, which he repeated a moment later.
We kept at him, talking to him and keeping him awake as best we could, until the paramedics arrived, which was only a few minutes later. His wife had been called and she arrived shortly afterwards, and she rode in the ambulance with him to the hospital. The last time I saw him he was sitting up slightly in the back of the ambulance, much more alert and talking. I don’t know what happened to him but it was a scary situation.
It got me to thinking about life, and death, and how I want to go out, if I ever do. I have NO plans to ever die, and I figure that all of my losing Megamillions lottery tickets must have some cosmic significance, and that my “lottery” winning will be 500 year life span here on earth. Or not. But if I do go out, I want it to be somewhere that is not a beauty salon, and I don’t want a stranger from next door holding my hand, unless she looks like Morgan Fairchild…
“John”, you had us all scared. I hope you made a full recovery.
Sunday, December 5, 2010
The fire had really done a number on young Jackson. His parathyroid glands, which regulate calcium in the body, had shut down, causing large amounts of calcium to settle in his joints instead of passing out of the body in the usual way. This resulted in a stiffening of his arms, legs, back and hips that was excruciating and permanent. Recovering from his injuries, young Jackson learned how to play the guitar, as part of his physical therapy, and he became quite proficient. He began to write songs.
In 1964, he received an insurance settlement of $80,000, a large amount for the time. He decided to take a trip to England to buy cars. While there, he began to make the rounds of the folk clubs where he had the good fortune to befriend a young American singer/songwriter named Paul Simon. Simon, just arrived on the scene himself, liked Jackson’s music so much that he brought him into a recording studio and recorded a full album’s worth of songs, including one called Blues Run the Game. Columbia-EMI Records released the album in August, 1965, and it quickly became known as a classic, and Jackson C. Frank’s future looked very promising.
Then, life happened. After a successful round of performing around Europe, Jackson began exhibiting unusual behavior, later diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenia, and soon found himself broke and unemployable, both causes for Her Majesty’s Government to send him back to the states, which they did.
Back in the US, Jackson settled into a mundane lifestyle, playing the odd gig, living in and out of psychiatric hospitals, but mostly hanging around the village green in Woodstock, New York. In 1983, he decided to take a bus to New York City to find Paul Simon and get some money from him. There he was picked up by city officials and periodically institutionalized, spending ten years, mostly on the streets but for short periods of time in places like Creedmore. It was a demoralizing existence.
It was at the end of his ten year stretch in New York that our paths crossed, when a mutual friend got a letter to me that Jackson had written to him, asking for help. Unable to do anything, he asked me if I was willing to try. I said yes.
A few days later I drove to New York and met Jackson. He was old, obese, crippled, and in pain. I made arrangements to get him the help he needed, got him out of the city, back to Woodstock, and to a near normal existence for a while until his ailments got to be too much for him, and he needed to be placed in a supervised situation. With help from old royalties due him from various musicians’ performances, his needs were met. A couple dozen new recordings emerged, whetting the appetites of a growing legion of fans, and by the year 1999, his last, he was a full fledged cult legend, his influence acknowledged by people like Paul Simon, Al Stewart, Counting Crows and Sandy Denny and many others .
We would play music together and I like to think his last years were happy ones. He died on March 3, 1999, of pneumonia.
The blues run the game, indeed.
Monday, November 29, 2010
When those people who hijacked those planes nine and a half years ago flew them into those towers and got their misguided point across, they had no idea what they really had wrought. How could they have known that what they really were doing was planting a seed of paranoia that still grows at a fast and furious rate all these years later.
First, our knee-jerk reaction was, correctly, to attack al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, a move that our then-president apparently decided was too difficult, and instead opted for invading Iraq, a famously incorrect and ill-advised move that got rid of a despotic dictator who had no connection to the attacks of 9/11, trashed the infrastructure and centuries of antiquities of one of the great civilizations of the world, and did nothing to help our country get cheaper oil or gas, the prices of which actually rose by more than a little bit.
Then, we find out that the “war on terror” brought us the shameful news that certain agencies and public officials had made the decision that it was okay to use torture in special cases, such as those involving terror suspects. Well, you know something, folks? It’s NOT okay to torture another human being, no matter what they are, or have done. That was why the Geneva Conventions were created, to try to keep a very uncivil act---war---from being any more barbaric than it already is.
Those hijackers also probably didn’t know that they were going to make life very difficult for good, decent practitioners of their own religion, since the less intelligent denizens of the land have decided that it is okay to vilify an entire belief system based on the misdeeds of a relative handful of radicals. Well, folks, that’s NOT okay either.
And now we have the current Big Controversy: the intrusive and invasive tactics of the TSA at our airports. I never thought I would find myself agreeing with Tea Party members, or Republicans, or even Democrats. It appears that NO ONE wants to have their naked body seen by a total stranger in a remote location or be patted down or groped by a different total stranger in front of a line of fellow travelers, who are also strangers.
This latest issue is the one that comes across as something to protest, and that is because it has the possibility to affect them personally, unlike waterboarding, or being threatened or intimidated for wearing Muslim traditional clothing.
I want to fly safely as much as the next person. The stated purpose of the TSA is to prevent would-be terrorists from bringing weapons or explosives aboard. The tally of terrorists caught at the airports by these methods to date: zero. So, am I feeling safer because of this? No. These full body scans of old ladies and little kids are ineffective, a violation of privacy, and just are not necessary. This is where the remaining vestiges of common sense have flown out the window. A friend of mine who works for TSA in Greenville, S.C. told me of having to pat down a flier who set off the machine when she passed through it, necessitating a hands-on search, only to discover that the alarm was from the new artificial hips that the woman---Betty White by name---had recently had put in. To her credit, Ms. White was very cordial about it, but in truth, she never should have been patted down. Folks: it’s NOT okay to search Betty White! Or me. Or you.
A solution: bomb sniffing dogs. They cost about five thousand dollars each, which means that 40 dogs could be purchased for the cost of one body scanner. And dogs, which are used to great effect in Israel, can detect much more than those scanners can.
Let’s not be our own worst enemy, folks. We already have enough.
Sunday, November 21, 2010
It is the last chance we have to give thanks before the orgy of consumption that immediately follows, and lasts until January. And when it is over, we walk away from the table and know we have work to do because taking stock also involves seeing what we don’t have, and where we need to fix the things that need fixing.
It’s not going to be easy, and it’s not going to happen overnight. But if we want it bad enough, it will happen.
We can change things. We don’t need presidents, senators, congressmen or politicians to do it for us, because time and time again they have let us down. Promises made give way to reality all too often, and every year it’s more of the same.
We don’t need them. We need us, and we need each other. We can make change. It doesn’t have to be as Americans, but just as citizens of the world. We have to get off our lazy backsides and get out there and do something. Taking charge of our own destinies is the only way that we can ensure that things will get done.
Being that it will be Thanksgiving, the first image that comes to mind is one of food. It is at this time of year that we often are made aware of the sad truth that in a world with enough food to feed every single human being on this planet, millions and millions of people go to bed hungry, including over 17 million children in this country alone. Proof that not everyone is created equal, despite what a piece of paper somewhere says.
It is time to change that. It is time to begin caring for and about each other. Being responsible for, and caring for others is the purest kind of love, and in recent years it seems that that love has vanished from the foreground. It’s time to change that. One of the great hypocrisies of the last century is this notion of being more holy, more Christian than the next guy and then acting in exact opposite ways. How some people can look at the misery of others, and not want to do something to help a fellow human being, especially when they have tremendous resources to do so, is beyond my level of comprehension. I hope it is also beyond yours too.
So, watch the football games, enjoy your lovely dinners with family and friends, and then go out and fix your country, and your world. Change things. For yourself, for your family, for your community.
Friday, November 19, 2010
— Terri Swearingen
Keep Our Butts Beautiful —Bumper Sticker seen in Jackson, Georgia
You people should be ashamed of yourselves. The guilty know who they are. Those of you who are not guilty, feel free to join me in chastising those who are, because this affects all of us.
I’m taking a break from healthcare and other political issues to focus on something that really hit me hard this week. While taking a little five mile walk between Jackson and Flovilla, training for a planned cross country trek next year, I noticed that there were an awful lot of soda bottles and cans in the ditches along Highways 87 and then 42. As I looked a little closer I could not believe the absolutely massive amounts of trash that people throw out of their cars and trucks, and it’s not just cans and bottles I am referring to, but the entire gamut of garbage. There were pieces of furniture, old baseballs, food, an entire rotisserie chicken, still in its bag, various birth control devices, (and on the other side of that topic several dirty diapers), syringes, little baggies that I hear are used for packaging marijuana (these must have blown in from Griffin, since I have it on good authority that no one in Jackson smokes the evil weed), various business signs that have toppled, rotted and were never re-erected, cups, plastic bags from stores that are not even in Butts County, medicine bottles, clothing, shoes, hats, auto parts, tools (thanks for the wrench, whoever threw it in the grass near American Woodmark), broken plastic pieces that could have been anything, and much more general refuse and junk.
It is understandable that on occasion napkins and pieces of paper will inadvertently blow out of a car window when a passing truck stirs up the air, but they usually break down when it rains. (A note to the state: those losing scratch-off lottery tickets need to be made of a less hearty paper—there were more of them blowing around than any other single item I saw). The junk I passed was deliberately tossed out.
I have also noticed many times that cars and trucks will pull up in store parking lots and even in front of restaurants, doors will open, fast food soda cups and containers and bags will be covertly deposited on the asphalt, while a trash can often sits feet away. Are we that lazy that we can’t be bothered to dispose of our refuse the proper way? I can’t count the times I have gone shopping, and in the store’s parking lot not seen at least one folded up and taped up dirty diaper. To me this is the nastiest act of all, and all I can say is, “You know who you are, and you are a pig.”
I realize that inmates from the prisons are trotted out every so often to clean up the garbage, but, in truth it is not their job to pick up after non-incarcerated slobs. It is the duty of every American, not just in Georgia, but everywhere, to be responsible citizens. That is what we allegedly teach our children in school and at home. What kind of example are we setting by opening the window and tossing our trash out on the highway? A dog won’t soil where it lives, but people do. Who is more evolved?
Beautiful Butts is beginning to look more like butt-ugly to me.
Friday, November 12, 2010
Many years ago, comedian/wordsmith George Carlin performed a routine called “The Seven Words You Can’t Say On Television.” The “heavy seven,” he called them. To be sure, four of them are indeed “heavy” by anyone’s standards, and would be considered vulgar by just about everyone. Of the other three, one of them, a synonym of “bosoms” is just plain crude. Another word, slang for being “ticked off, ” is actually in common usage on television these days and really isn’t what I would call a dirty word.
When WBAI radio in New York played the Carlin routine on the air in 1973, they were taken to task in a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court, where it was determined that the bit was, although indecent, not obscene. That decision lead to the current practice of allowing the use of certain words over the airwaves after a set time in the late evening. The heavy four mentioned above are out completely, but the “bosoms” synonym has been uttered a few times during prime time that I have heard, and the word for “ticked off” is all over the TV and radio, all the time.
Which brings me to my word. It is not what I would call a terribly pleasant word on its face. In fact, you wouldn’t want it on your face. It’s not, however, what I would call a dirty word. I have heard everyone from small children to one hundred old men use it. You, the reader, have used it, I can almost guarantee. Oh, sometimes you might drop your toast butter side down and say, “Shoot” but I can almost bet the farm that when you dropped the hammer on your toe, or slammed your finger in the door, it wasn’t “shoot” that you yelled. It was my word.
It’s not a sexual word, unless you are REALLY sick. It’s not anything that causes some kind of improper thoughts to form, nor is it a cruel word. When we hear something that we don’t agree with, we say, “That’s a lot of bull….” When we step in a pile of it, we often even say the word with two meanings in mind---one describing it and one of anger. Same word, two different uses. How bad can it be?
There is even a TV show on CBS called “$#*! My Dad Says”, starring William Shatner, who has been around a long time and who has appeared in some shows that are really a bunch of… well, you know. I’m not sure how the general public pronounces “$#*!” but I’m fairly certain the context leads them to say my word. I suspect that the use of it by CBS in their title is the first step to the word being more widely used, and that’s fine by me.
All kidding aside, words are just sounds we utter. Their meanings might make some of them objectionable, but my word isn’t one of them. I guess it’s a matter of “Freedom of Speech” as long as you don’t say certain words.
Monday, November 1, 2010
I never talked about the Korean War with my dad, and he never offered up much information to me, or anyone. I guess war is something that is so awful that once you’ve been in one and make it out the other side, you tend to want to not bring it up if at all possible. Some things are best left buried.
That’s too bad, in a way. Sometimes terrible things need to be out there so everyone can see just how terrible they are. For instance, consider the case of our former Vice President. If Dick Cheney, who pushed President Bush hard to go into Iraq, had ever spent one second in combat, instead of applying for, and receiving five or six deferments, maybe the idea of sending young American men and women in to battle wouldn’t have been so appetizing. It kind of reminds me of that “reality show” Undercover Boss, where the heads of big companies take on the role of an employee for a while. They often learn pretty quickly that working in the trenches isn’t too appealing.
My dad got as far as the rank of Sergeant, with three stripes over one stripe. Since he died about 12 years ago I can’t ask him what he did in the war, but old photos that he took show a scene quite a bit like the set of MASH—a lot of tents and barracks in a valley, a lot of Army trucks and vehicles around, very dusty and sandy looking. There are also a bunch of photos of his buddies at some kind of club, apparently in Tokyo. Some of them have attractive young Asian ladies on their laps. I’m certain that the guys with the girls on their laps were the single ones, of course. Later, I wonder what they told their kids when they were asked ,”Daddy, what did you do in the war?”
Seriously though, and all politics aside, Veteran’s Day is a day to remember all the soldiers who fought for this country. I even think of the men and women who are overseas now, putting it all on the line for whatever cause their leaders have sent them over there to fight for. The politics of war are ugly, and often wrongheaded. War itself is ugly. In this world, you always hear about “survival of the fittest” and so on, and that as humans beings we are the most evolved and most successful of the primates because we have the ability to cooperate and get along and make concessions. We have these precious intellects that should make us smarter than we are, and one would hope that those intellects would allow us to be able to avoid ever firing a shot at another human being.
Until that day comes though, we still have men and women fighting for us, for their families and for their country. Honor them, as I do today.
Thank you for your service.
Saturday, October 30, 2010
It’s a small wonder that things are the way they are in Georgia. The state brings in oodles and oodles of money through the oodles and oodles of Georgia Lottery games and tickets, cash that is earmarked for the educational coffers. Yet, the state continues to flounder in the bottom rankings nationwide when it comes to education, and teachers’ salaries. Low paying jobs and poor academics are a result. Where exactly is the money going? Some accountability might be nice, people!
Then comes this week’s election. As the late folk singer Phil Ochs once sang, back in 1969, “It was a used car dealer’s election and the choice was rather small.” Man alive! What the heck was that all about? I swear I almost heard campaign ads saying, “Candidate A is less corrupt than Candidate B, and thus deserves your vote!” It is indeed a sorry state of affairs and the future looks to be just more of the same. While I recognize that there seems to be a determined effort by the southern states to maintain a separate sense of identity, all of this rebellion against “Obamacare,” a “coulda been better but at least it’s a step in the right direction” law that was passed to at least ensure that some form of health insurance is available to all Americans, is counter-productive. Unless someone has a better idea of something that works and is practicable, (Actually Medicaid for all fits that bill, but it takes the blessed insurance companies out of the blessed equation, so it’s a no-go there) then all this swimming against the tide is going to do is make everybody tired.
Locally, nothing much has changed. We can now begin to put the final nail in the coffin of the Wal-Mart or no Wal-Mart discussion, since one is opening soon in Locust Grove, barely five miles from the Butts County line. It actually seems to be the smartest move for that company, since they’ll get spillover customers from Tanger Outlets and the other stores in that area, including a lot of traffic that stops by from Interstate 75. It doesn’t help Butts County much, but will offer some employment opportunities for those ambitious enough to drive the whole fifteen minute drive from Jackson.
Finally, I have to question some strange police behavior that I witnessed last week in the Third Street area near Bank of America, and near my own place of business. It was late afternoon, and a Georgia State Trooper, in one of those blue and orange sporty little numbers, was zooming out of the BOA lot with lights a’blazing. Five times I counted him blasting through the late day traffic and pulling vehicles over. After the fourth time in a half hour I hopped in my car and took Second Street down to Covington Street, where he had pulled over his latest victim in the United Bank parking lot. I pulled into the sandwich shop lot across the street and watched. He was talking to the driver and then left without ticketing him. Afterwards that driver pulled into the sandwich shop lot next to me so I inquired as to why he was pulled over. He told me that it was because his windows were, according to the officer, tinted too darkly, a charge he disputed.
The reason I question this police behavior is because with all of the crime that goes on in other areas and on the interstate, and because we have two very visible and constantly present police departments here in Jackson, it seems to be a big waste of taxpayer money for a state trooper to be killing time worrying about tinted windows, especially when he wasn’t issuing tickets. Better use of taxpayers’ money, especially in this day and age, is encouraged.
Saturday, October 16, 2010
My workout consists of mainly the elliptical machine, a torture device if ever there was one. There are three of them in the gym and I usually use the first one, but this day it was occupied so I took the middle one. I glanced over at my neighbor, a man I figured to be roughly my age (50) that I see occasionally at the gym. I saw that he had been on the machine for about 25 minutes and was already nearing three miles, which is tremendous. I got started and tried to keep pace with him, but it was a huge struggle, and I am a longtime user of those machines. When his time was almost up, I looked at his numbers and congratulated him on his workout. That was when he informed me that that he had just turned 70 years of age, and that he usually aimed for seven miles in 70 minutes, the maximum time the machine allows. I’ve done the elliptical for two years and I’ve only been able to make it to seven miles twice, and just barely when I did. I told him he should be good for another fifty years at least. He shrugged that off and said that he needed to eat better to maximize his health. We talked a bit and he finished—made his seven miles with a few seconds to spare—and left. I soldiered on for another 30 minutes, all the while thinking about what he had said about eating better.
I’ve been conscious of diet for a while now and have noticed something as I make the rounds of grocery stores and gas stations locally---almost everything on the shelves is so loaded with crap that it’s not worth eating. All of the potato chips, candy, pastries, soda, processed meats, the fast food in every one of those places with a drive through window, etc. are poison, people. Look at the ingredient labels of everything you buy. Odds are that they will include high fructose corn syrup, a cheap sweetener that has been proven to trick your body into feeling like you are still hungry, so you eat more. Soda is full of the stuff, as well as caffeine, which is, as we all know, terribly addictive. Caffeine in its pure state is awful tasting stuff, so the decision to add it to soda couldn’t have been for flavor enhancement. Think maybe, just maybe, we’ve all been tricked into an addiction by clever advertising and an addictive chemical? Oh, no, those billion dollar soda companies wouldn’t do that, would they???
Those labels will also include other things almost as bad, and yet we just eat them and suffer the consequences later. It’s time to take action, on an individual level as well as a personal level. While it’s fine to enjoy a barbecue once in a while, there are a lot of folks in this country who enjoy a barbecue every day, and as I watch them waddle and jiggle down the sidewalks of this and other towns, huffing and puffing, I envision their overworked hearts, surrounded by masses of gross, yellow fat, ready to give out. How is this country going to compete in the global market if we all drop dead from obesity before we get to finish college?
Each week I read the obituaries and note how young so many of the deceased were when they passed. I know for certain one name I won’t see there anytime soon: Charlie Holloway, retired military man, who I chanced to meet at the gym today, and who inspired me to hit 7.1 miles for the first time ever. Mr. Holloway, I salute you!
Friday, October 15, 2010
As for how I feel about the way things are done in Georgia, the caller was absolutely correct. While I obviously like the state of Georgia (I do live here and make a living here) I don’t like a lot of what I see here. I see a state with a lot of problems in critical areas. In the “Smartest State “ nationwide rankings, Georgia comes in at a shameful 41st, joining several other southern states in the bottom ten. In the Forbes Magazine’s rankings of healthiest states, Georgia does even worse, coming in at number 43. So in health and education, it ain’t a pretty picture, folks. Can you begin to understand why I don’t like what I see in Georgia?
Did you know that Medicaid, a federal program regulated by the states, is only available in Georgia to people who make less than $14,000 annually? In Vermont, you can make as much as $42,000 and still qualify for Medicaid. This disparity is mostly because of the people you elect. The ones you keep electing in a rotation, year after year. They do the very best they can to represent themselves while the ship of state, with all its passengers, goes floundering around, lost at sea. They just do not care about your basic well-being. Another reason I don’t like the way things are done in Georgia.
As for education and all that follows: It’s a form of child abuse to shove kids through the school system, (a school system that should be one of the best based on the amount of money pumped into it by the state lottery) and then turn them loose with nothing to offer them. They emerge, blinking in the sunlight, with a sub-par education and are left to fend for themselves. The percentage of college bound high school graduates is low and the percentage of those who do go to college and don’t finish is abysmal, about 40 percent, or close to half. With an unemployment rate of ten percent, they end up doing menial tasks or take up a life of crime. I’m not sure that there is any relevance but a quick note here: a friend of mine moved to the Atlanta area. He has been here a few years now and recently told me that he can’t believe how senseless and violent the crime here is compared to where he is from. He is from the BRONX! Home of violent crime! Is this something that Georgians can be proud of??
Speaking of “pride” there is another issue I take umbrage with: the Confederate flags that I see a lot of people flying or stuck to the bumpers of their trucks. Never mind the racist insinuation of that flag in general but there is another aspect that is also disturbing. I hear a lot of Georgians calling themselves true “Americans “ while waving their Confederate flags around. Don’t they know that people who fought under that flag were traitors to the United States of America? They wanted out so bad that they made their own country. It is actually a form of treason to be flying that old rag. You can be southern and proud of it without that old relic. No real American wants to see it.
What I do want to see is the south that I heard about as a kid---hospitable and friendly, caring about each other, all sweet tea and gravy. I know it’s a fantasy but does it have to be such an impossible one?
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Since Passover had just ended and it was very slow at the hotel, I didn't really care, so I collected my final paycheck and departed. I had been thinking about leaving anyway so it was no big deal to me, really. The very next day I went to Schrade Cutlery, located then at 30 Canal Street in Ellenville and applied for a job in the knife manufacturing business. I was accepted for a job that same day, after a brief interview. I was quickly led to my new area, given a pair of safety glasses and some gloves and give a short expanation of what I was going to be doing. I still can't believe that after all these years---32, in fact---I can recall almost everyone who worked in my department.
The supervisor was an elderly redneck kind of character named Leo Hansen, from Walden, New York. The assistant supervisor was Frank Ficsor, from Napanoch. Their job, and ours, was to take various blades and springs that were in basically almost the first stage of the process, having just been stamped out from large sheets of metal and heat treated by dipping them in molten lead pots in the department next to ours. My job was basically taking bunches of springs, which are the spine of a pocket knife, and grind them, in groups of ten, by hand, shining up one side of the spring and cutting down the amount of metal on them. Other jobs involved both hand sanding and machine cutting of both springs and blades. There were two women, Christine James and Barbara Waite, who worked all day just putting the blades and springs on pins and flattening the ends to hold them all on as a group. Eddie O'Dell was the porter whose job it was to bring finished boxes of product to the next department in the process. There were guys like Tony Garcia, Al Murdock, Jimmy Bruce, Vernon Stevens, Keith Hymes and a guy named John from Plattsburgh, New York, near where I was born. The work was hard and mostly was what is called "piecework," which meant that you got paid a certain amount for every hundred pieces you did. If a job paid seven dollars per hundred and you did two hundred in an hour then you made fourteen dollars an hour. It was always a battle to keep from making too much money because if you did it consistently you would get a visit from Beverly Buley, who would re-calculate the job and you would end up making less money per hundred. If you did that you risked making the other guys angry because it then meant that if a certain part was re-assessed too low it no longer had any appeal to them and was no longer a viable money maker. Frank Ficsor, even though he was technically management, did a remarkable job of making sure that no one got too out of hand with the money making aspects. It was acceptable to average around fifteen bucks an hour but if you got going too much more above that it would arounse suspicion and prices would go down. Frank Ficsor was a great boss, (he took over as supervisor after Leo retired, shortly after I came on board) in that he would let us get a head start on jobs, and if we did happen to have burned through several hundred pieces in an hour we could go take an extra long break outside, to let things even out a bit. The lead pot guys, mostly black, were usually outside in the sun cooling off from the heat of their department. I mention that they were black only because I am mentioning that on the side of one of their big machines they had a huge sticker that said, "THIS IS WALLACE COUNTRY" in reference to the racist Alabama governor. Funny stuff, funny guys, especially Lou Wright, who once replied to being called a spearchucker, "Hell no, I got me a rifle."
Across from our department was another one run by Bill Pomeroy, from Kerhonkson. His porter there was named Tom, and old Tom had a small and apparently side business going selling knives. To prevent theft the company made it very difficult to get one's hands on finished product. They did offer us a great price on knives but there were always some guys who still wanted to rip off the company and Tom was one of them. He's dead now and the place is out of business so I'm not getting anyone in trouble, but Tom used to sell finished knives by the handfulls to we fellow employees. He would make the rounds with his pushcart, taking orders secretly and by the end of the day you'd have your knife foe a pittance. I remember once Tom got caught by management. He was fired immediately and yet a month later was rehired because he had been there so long and knew his job so well that the company figured that the would just have him back and would keep a better eye on him.
My job was very physical. I began to notice that my fingers were becoming misshapen and hurt all the time. I spent a year and a half at Schrade. It was tough work, honest work, and as I write this all these years later it still is the toughest job Ive ever had. Were it not for the boring repetition and the fact that I was also teaching myself to be a musician as well, and my hands were becoming disfigured, I might have stayed on a little too long. I had had enough though and decided that I needed to move up in the world. I felt like I was wasting my intellect and needed to do something else. I left Schrade at the very end of 1979, after which my friends and I took a trip to Florida. When I returned in mid January, I started my first go-round at college.
Sunday, October 10, 2010
I knew the Granit Hotel fairly well. As a child I used to ice skate there and occasionally would play tennis when guests weren’t using the courts. In 1975 when Chuck Wepner was training there to fight Muhammad Ali I was there every single day after school, and got to know Wepner, who was Sylvester Stallone’s inspiration for Rocky, on a first name basis, although he tended to call me “kid” more than “Jim”.
It would be the Granit Hotel that would be the locale for my second job, working as a bellhop. Our jobs were to meet guests as they came in, carry their luggage to their rooms, make sure they were comfortable and if necessary, provide room service if they called for anything that we were able to provide.
The manager of the bellman’s desk was a man named Jim Kroot. He wore bad suits and had been in the same job at a place in NYC called the Hotel New Yorker in Hell’s Kitchen. A nice guy with a perpetually confused look, he was easygoing and clueless about what his bell hops were doing half the time. At various times they were outside smoking weed or sneaking booze from the cabanas out near the pool.
The hotel in those days was run by three families---the Cohens, (Milton and his wife, whose name escapes me,) Michael Hopson and Henry Zabatta. Mrs. Cohen was in wheelchair for unknown reasons and would often be seen tooling along through the lobby chit-chatting with guests. Bellhops and staff were generally ignored with a purpose.
I recall an incident that could have ended in disaster. Bellhops and staff were allowed to eat dinner or lunch with leftover food from the kitchen after the guests had been served. One day, I was in the bellhop’s little office eating some chicken, rather greasy. I heard the bell ring out at the desk, and ran out, looking for a napkin or towel to wipe my very greasy hands on. It was Mrs. Cohen, who said, “I am late for my hair appointment and need help getting to the salon.”
The salon was about 50 feet away, but it was down a 4 or 5 step stairway and she needed me to hold the plastic handles on the chair and lower her down to the salon level. I frantically looked for a towel but couldn’t find a single thing with which to clean my hands. And when Mrs. Cohen said, “Now” she meant it. I gave up the quest for the towel and took Mrs. Cohen’s wheelchair by the handles and guided it towards the salon. So far so good. As we reached the steps she instructed me to just tilt the chair back a bit and hold tight to the handles as I lowered her, step by step. Each step brought a little more slippage of my hands from the chicken grease and by the next to last step I basically had no grip on her at all. She hit the bottom with a little bigger bump than she was used to. She looked at me pathetically as I apologized. I opened the door for her and she glided on in. I was done for the day so it was up to another bellhop to get her out of there later.
Occasionally things in life happen that we have no explanation for. What follows is one such occurrence.
I was still fairly new as a bellhop---no more than a month on the job. I was in the back room behind the bellman’s desk when Mr. Kroot called for me. I came out and there were customers, a man and his wife, mid-forties in age, waiting with their luggage. They had requested that “Jimmy” be their bellhop. Now, I had never seen these people before, so I’m still wondering all these years later how in the hell they knew my name or to ask for me. I grabbed their single, large suitcase and escorted them to their room.
Later that evening the phone rang. It was my friends who requested “Jimmy”. They needed a bag of ice in their room. A bag of ice was about a buck and a half or so. I grabbed the ice and headed up to the fifth floor where their room was. I knocked on the door and the husband’s voice called out for me to come on in. I opened the door, and there, directly in front of me on the bed, sat Mrs. Guest, naked as the day she was born, except for a see thru chiffon type garment. Mr. Guest was standing off to the side, with a smile on his face. I did a Ralph Kramden-esque “Humanahumanahumana” and as quickly as possible set the ice down and didn’t even wait for the money or my tip. Perhaps the sight of the rather attractive Mrs. Guest in her natural state was my tip. Later, when they left after the weekend was over they again requested me and tipped me a crisp twenty dollar bill for one suitcase. I don’t know how or why it all happened , but looking back, I treasure that moment as one of the strangest and coolest things that has ever happened to me.
My bellhop career lasted for several months until late spring of 1978, after Passover, when things died down and I decided to go for a real, adult job. I was going to be a knifemaker.
Saturday, October 9, 2010
The next day I showed up at 6 AM and was introduced to the night cook, an older woman named Sarah, with a headful of black hair and a disdain for young dishwashers. The first hour of every morning was going to be hell, as a tired Sarah would go on a daily rant about the idiots who came in during the night, mostly truckers. I just gathered trays full of dishes and washed them, in three sinks—one for washing, one for rinsing and one for disinfecting. The silverware was done differently. It was placed in a galvanized bucket full of a very strong bleach and water solution and shaken vigorously in a rotating motion for about 30 turns, then dumped and refilled with hot water and disinfectant. Another 30 rotations and the silverware was deemed clean and sent out for use again. I was skeptical that the process worked but save for a few stubborn bits of eggs on some fork tines, they looked good.
At 7 AM Sarah’s replacement came in. Anna Pagliaroni was her name and she was a large jolly woman with a large family and even larger bunch of stories to tell. I enjoyed her immensely and discovered that I knew a son of hers, Tim, from school. Occasionally I would stay longer than Anna’s shift and would have to work with , and for, a cook who I will call only Ron. Ron would come in for the late afternoon and evening shift and was often fairly in his cups. Several times customers got their orders cooked by a 17 year old dishwasher, but since no one complained, I guess I did alright. My cue to take over was usually when Ron was so drunk that he would drop hamburgers on the floor right before replacing them on the buns and serving them. There was also a weekend cook named Don, a rotund man who lived alone and who later was discovered to be a pedophile.
We had a couple of waitresses there who were memorable, Sherry , a lovely woman, was one, and there was also Darlene. Sherry’s husband had been killed in a tragic fire several years earlier at the Pine Grove Resort Dude Ranch when the staff quarters caught on fire, killing him and others, to the best of my recollection.
I recall a customer of special note as well. The brother of legendary local State Trooper Doug Dymond, Dennis Dymond was somewhat impaired in some way. This was understood by all and not a factor as he went about his business, which included coming in for coffee every morning at the same time. In fact , you could set your watch by “Diner Dennis” as he was affectionately known.
Dishwashing being an “off the books” type of job, Mrs. Bendell, when it was paytime, would call me over to a little closet just off the kitchen area. In there, with her back to the outside world, she would carefully count out my small stipend for each week’s clean dishes. It was almost comical in the amount of secrecy she did the payment under.
The job went along fine until one winter morning, on Easter Sunday, when a rather large snowfall hit the area. I had been told to expect a busier than normal Sunday and that I should be there by 4 AM. Not having a car, and no way to ride a bike that far in the snow. I had to wait til the roads were cleared. I arrived at about 8 AM to find Donnie Williams, a local kid, already hired in my place. No amount of pleading could convince the Bendells to hire me back, so I wrote it off as a lousy job I wouldn’t miss and moved on to my next adventure: a bellhop at the Granit Hotel.
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
The trouble is that, like in a bad marriage, people become accustomed to just getting through the day and that would appear to be the case here. A collective apathy, like much of what has stricken the country, is occurring on the local level, and unless someone makes the decision to step up and change things, they will remain the same.
And what is the current status of Kerhonkson? Of course, any comments about Kerhonkson must, by necessity, include Wawarsing, a section of Accord, Napanoch and Ellenville, since they are all at least part of the Town of Wawarsing, and ultimately anything administrative has to be approved by the Town Board in Ellenville, where the Town of Wawarsing government is housed. As I visited all four of those villages recently I was dismayed to see that the once busy former Jamesway, formerly Whites, formerly Grants, formerly Ames ( I think) Plaza looks like it is a radioactive “stay out zone” with what appears to be a flea market in its place. From a lifetime of experience I know that when a place reaches flea market status the body is almost cold…and they tend to look like flea markets, cheap, trashy garbage masquerading as merchandise once you can get the mildew smell out of it. It’s not funny, but the flea market/auction subculture is a strange cycle of buying and reselling that makes no sense but keeps a certain group of people busy. Years ago I worked for a couple of summers and winters with Vic Zolinksy at Trader Vic’s Napanoch Auction Barn. His faithful followers were buying the same items over and over, selling them to each other and then having Vic sell them again at the auction. A strange, probably unique American experience that would, if it wasn’t so pathetic, be funny.
So, I digress again. Kerhonkson is in the flea market stage. Same old crap every day, same unemployment, same ugly and abandoned buildings, same drug problems, same everything. Almost ready for a new bridge that connects…what?
Reader David Witkus had a great idea to turn what is left of Main Street into a type of culinary row, refurbishing or rebuilding the remaining buildings to house cooking schools for local teens. Free tuition as long as they promise or agree to operate restaurants on the street after they have graduated. Money certainly would be problematic (Where the HELL is all that tax money going????) but it’s possible that someone with the capital would be able to seize the moment and build something memorable. Heck, they could even name the thing after themselves: Schoonmaker Row, or Kortright Korner, or any number of well to do families who have a vested interest in keeping their hometown alive.
Another reader reminded me of the fact that there is another resort, Soyuzivka, on Foordmore Road. It caters to Ukrainians, but has been a thriving and good neighbor to the area. Maybe expanding the Ukrainian theme would help the town a bit--some shops and restaurants with a touch of Ukrainian heritage, perhaps? Down here in Georgia, there is a town called Helen, which has a Bavarian theme going on, amongst beautiful scenery, no more so than Kerhonkson, and the place does extremely well with tourists, especially during Oktoberfest time. The beer and bratwurst are great. Why not adopt something similar in Kerhonkson, playing up Minnewaska as aprt of the mountainous area.
Of course all of this is speculation. Previously I had floated the idea of a grand hotel being built on the mountaintop, but someone reminded me that a large section of the mountain was declared “forever wild” by the Town of Wawarsing. I don’t know if the area above Kerhonkson is part of that but I’m sure someone will tell me.
C’mon folks…let us put our heads together and figure out how to revive this lovely place before its too late.
Monday, October 4, 2010
Well, I’m sad that she agrees with me, since she has been there through it all. But since it seems to be the consensus that the place is close to dead, what can be done to resurrect it? Too many blogs and even traditional media use their space to list and lament problems in an area but never come up with solutions. Let’s dare to be different here.
It’s obvious that the area itself has many strengths—it offers beautiful scenery, is a very large village if you realize that Kerhonkson itself runs from roughly the Lake Minnewaska entrance on Rt 44-55 all the way to Palentown Poad and the former Peg Leg Bates Resort, now owned and operated by another group of people. That is a distance of 15 or 16 miles, plus it runs from Wawarsing to Accord, another 5 or so miles on Rt. 209. It’s a big area, and the mountains, especially the Shawangunk Mountain that Minnewaska is part of and the ridge along its top that runs to Ellenville, along which were the old shacks and huts that housed the denizens of the huckleberry industry of days of old, offer a great resource if rules and regulations can be moderated to accommodate some sort of industry or business up there. Years ago Marriott wanted to put a hotel at Lake Minnewaska. That idea was voted/shouted down. So why not move the site of a nice big hotel to the very top of the mountain, among the scrub pines and granite, keeping it as environmentally friendly as possible, accessible from Rock Haven Road near 44-55? The place could be called Mountain Top Hotel, and if landscaped properly and new, "green" methods of waste disposal were handled in an intelligent way, it could be a huge boon to the area, offering jobs and bringing sorely needed money into the local economy. And who knows what it might lead to?
Local farm stands are another example. The most beautiful and prosperous of these is definitely Saunderskill Farms in Accord, but others are doing well and there is room for more, especially in the Kerhonkson area. Burd Farms on 209 has a nice little stand but it could be bigger and offer more produce and baked goods. Other small, roadside shops and markets of specialty items like maple syrup, arts and crafts (local, not mass produced crap)and more. Look at Woodstock for an example, with a few constraints. Woodstock is Woodstock. Kerhonkson is Kerhonkson. There's a great creek that runs through town. Make use of it! Put a nice restaurant over looking the water somewhere. Clear the crappy looking old trees and woods and open it up. People will come, industry or no industry.
Another suggestion is to play up the fresh water that the area produces. I recently brought back a few bottles of out of the ground pure goodness from Upper Cherrytown Road. Someone shold bottle this stuff for the tourist trade. Doesn't have to be a huge production, but water that pure can get top dollar as a specialty item for tourists. Nice bottle, fancy label, sell it in town, and a lot of cash will flow like that water. People come to the Catskills for the scenery. Let's give them a show. (Of course we don’t tell the tourists exactly where the water comes from---can’t let that cat out of the bag, cuz it needs to be left alone for the locals who already drink it).
C’mon, people. A few of you read this blog, and more read my facebook page. Gimme more ideas so I can submit them to the proper authorities. There is no need for all of this to get bogged down in beaureaucratic red tape, as I’m sure it will, per the usual way of things getting not done in Kerhonkson, but for the town’s sake, let’s try.
Saturday, October 2, 2010
I grew up there. When my family moved south in 1968 from Brainardsville, NY, an even smaller town on the northern edge of the Adirondack Mountains, we were excited. Kerhonkson was exciting. It was bigger, more lively, and had a cast of characters that would rival those anywhere. The Granit Hotel was a mile from my house and was one of the few of the Catskills hotels still thriving, and had a great set of tennis courts and stuff to do. Ten miles up Samsonville Road, Peg Leg Bates ran a country club that everyone was welcome to but that catered mostly to blacks. It was not unusual to see 30 to 40 chartered busloads of folks up from New York for a great weekend of good food and entertainment. Jobs were readily available in the hotels and in nearby Ellenville, where other hotels like the Nevele and the Fallsview stood. The famous Schrade Cutlery knife factory was running on Canal Street and Channel Master and VAW were right up the street. In Napanoch, a mile north of Ellenville, the Eastern New York Correctional Facility, formerly an institution for juveniles with behavioral problems, employed hundreds of corrections officers.
In Kerhonkson, there were many stores and shops to check out. There were Aversano’s, Lipton’s, and Lytwyn’s, (later Sirico’s) Markets for food shopping, Marty Shuster’s Pharmacy, and much more. The Cassino Restaurant was open and busy, as was the Rainbow Diner run by Henry and Ramona Bendell. Nick Previll’s Shell Station offered good service. Tom Gewant sold Fords at his dealership and the mechanics around town were all mostly reliable. It was a pretty typical small town in a nice section of the state of New York, and a good place to live.
Kerhonkson, if you’ve never been there, is located on Route 209 as it runs north and south from the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge on the Hudson River to parts south and ends (I think) in Pennsylvania. The Rainbow Diner, Aversano’s and other businesses were located on 209 and there is a street called Old Minnewaska Trail that runs perpendicular to 209 and off of which runs Main Street, just over a steel bridge that spans the Rondout Creek. Main Street housed the Fire House, the Post Office and several more shops and markets, as well as McGillicuddy’s Tavern and a bunch of apartment buildings. It wasn’t a wealthy town by any stretch of the imagination but it was a happy place to live and things were good.
There were many characters around town and the surrounding hills. Up on Shawangunk Drive, Fletcher, Earl and Nellie Mae VanWagener lived in a small house together—siblings, they were born in the house and would eventually die in the house. Nellie Mae would be the last to go, a tough mountain woman who chopped her own firewood, shingled her own roof and took no crap from anyone. In her bedroom closet she kept a rifle hidden in a cardboard tube. And she wasn’t afraid to shoot first and ask questions later. She had been a part of the once flourishing blueberry picking industry that existed on the mountain that stretched from Kerhonkson to Ellenville. She would eventually die alone in her small ramshackle house, with dozens of cats running rampant inside and out, stubborn to the end. A fall had broken her hip and because she had refused to wear a life alert button that friends had acquired for her, she was unable to call for help. She died a terrible death in the same house that she was born in. She was cremated by the county, having died intestate, and her ashes were spread around her beloved property by myself and a woman named Donna Spano, who had also looked in on Nellie once in a while, as I had, frequently having to take her shopping when her old car finally died and she couldn’t afford another one. At one point Nellie, who was on a limited income, complained that her light bill had approached six hundred dollars the previous month and she wasn’t able to pay it. She usually had a bill of around thirty five dollars, using very little electricity, but it had spiked for an unknown reason for a month and she was worried about how to pay for it. I called Central Hudson and when they looked back through her records noted to me that she had not missed a payment or been even late with one since 1948. And they couldn’t help her. I think eventually they relented whe nit was discovered that her freezer had gone wacky and was burning up the juice at a furious rate. Donna (or I) made arrangements for a used but good fridge/freezer combo to be delivered to her at no charge.
Jigs Crose was another character. I only met him once and have a vague memory of that encounter but he was famous around town for his ability (?) to chew and eat a shotglass with no obvious ill effects.
Another guy I recall from my childhood was a mentally challenged man named Art Decker, who dressed like a hillbilly and rode a very old bicycle around town all the time. He usually had drool on his mouth and didn’t smell too great, and little girls were warned to stay away from him. I write this cautiously, not wanting to libel the man, but it was a concern in our circle of families and friends,
Other people and events are recounted in a nice new book called Closed Until Further Notice , written by a local author and resident Art Stockin. More a memoir and recollection of a lot of the author’s acquaintances than a history of the village itself, it is nonetheless a very interesting look at the area and its people. Proceeds from it go to help rebuild the village.
Kerhonkson is a tough place to describe in a brief piece like this one, but if one word could do it, for me it would be “home.”
And when I recently visited Kerhonkson again this past week after a 4 year absence, I felt the pain from a double edged sword through my heart when I saw not only the decrepit state of my old house on Foordmore Road, but Kerhonkson itself. The bridge connecting Main Street to the rest of the town had been torn down and is finally in the last stages of being rebuilt. During its absence the fire department has had to take long detours just to get to short, as the crow flies, distances away. Main Street now consists of three buildings, the rest having been torn down. The Granit Hotel had been sold to a Korean concern and is now the Hudson Valley Resort and is facing serious financial problems, leaving it, along with the former Peg Leg Bates Resort and the Pine Grove Resort Ranch, a “dude ranch” for city folks who want to ride horses and get a little country in them, as the last functioning resorts in the area.
The job market in the area now consists mostly of corrections officers and yard sales. I know it’s an exaggeration but folks, there ain’t much there. Channel Master left town long ago. Schrade Cutlery, which employed hundreds, went out of business several years ago, as did VAW. The Nevele and Fallsview Hotels finally folded, the last of the famous Catskills Borscht Belt hotles to fall, although up in Sullivan County a few still hang on.
I guess as long as there are criminals the prisons will always need guards, but what does it mean when guarding bad guys is the cottage industry of a region? I used to think that we shouldn’t be spending money to build more prisons all the time but it also occurs to me that as a society we keep producing criminals so as a society it is our responsibility to keep them off the streets and focus on producing more good citizens. Better schools plus better parenting equals better people equals less need for prisons.
But I digress.
So my hometown is dying. It’s a sad but true commentary that nothing lasts forever but dammit, it’s a vital and lovely place and can’t be left to rot. Post 9/11 incursions of city folks changed the face of the area forever with their big city money. Houses that once were selling for $80,000 all of a sudden became half million dollar homes as asking prices, usually a place to start as you bargained it down, became starting points in bidding wars for the wealthy who wanted out of the city. The tax base shot up at record speed and only the wealthiest locals could keep up. Here’s an eye opener: A friend in Rosendale, NY, about 10 miles away, has a small house on .18 of an acre. She and her husband pay around 4200 bucks annually in taxes. That’s like adding 350 bucks a month extra to your rent or mortgage payment. Down here in Georgia another friend has a big house, on a lake with 8 acres, and pays about 1200 dollars a year in taxes. The job situation here in the south is pretty dire, but at least the taxes aren’t criminally high.
So I went home. I’m glad I did. And I’m sad that I did. I often harbor thoughts of moving back but to what? I guess time will tell.
Friday, October 1, 2010
As I walk around town, not just here in Georgia, but even back in my hometown of Kerhonkson, New York, (a small town the size of Jackson) where I just visited this week, I see signs, literally and figuratively, that are disturbing,. The very basics of our educational system are falling by the wayside and it’s something that needs to be corrected immediately. I’m talking about our rapidly failing ability to read and write properly. It’s everywhere.
A friend recently put an ad in her local paper in north Georgia. She was looking for a job, and phrased the ad that way. She also gave her qualifications and described her “skill set” and left her phone number in the ad. Calls started coming in….from people who did not read the ad properly and who were looking for a job, not offering one. It happens all the time.
Another friend recently took on the task of reading and rating entries in a youth writing challenge sponsored by Positive Impact Magazine. The contest is open to school children of all ages. To her dismay, she discovered that the best writing came from children in grades four through six, and that they wrote on a higher level than the average high school student. It’s just one person’s observation, but it is indicative of a greater problem that has helped drop this country’s status in the world rankings further and futher down the list. This country is getting dumber. Why is that?
I was a school teacher for six years. I taught all subjects, but the one I stressed and focused on most was reading. If you never learn another subject, you must learn to read. Reading, and writing, are the keys that open all doors. Don’t know how to make an apple pie? Read the recipe. Don’t know when the Civil War was? Get a book and READ.
And write. The simplest errors are often the ones that stand out the most. As a writer, when I see a sign that says, “Puppie’s for sale” or “free kitten’s,” I cringe. Folks, apostrophes are possessive, as, “The puppies are Larry’s. ” It’s a small error but just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the dumbing down of America. When the signs say, “Puppy’s for sale,” then I get even more worried.
In an era where everyone has a blog and technology and internet use has increased a million-fold, lazy habits become more and more commonplace. “Texting” has created a whole new language, adding to the mess. Audio books have reduced the number of actual books read, and the country as a whole seems to be dumbing down and getting lazier. In the meantime, our competition in the world market seem to be sharpening their collective axes and are just waiting for us to get to the point where they can chop our heads off and take over as the dominant world power, if they have not already.
It’s not a simple solution to regain our position as a world superpower overnight , but learning the basics all over again would be a good start. Readin’ and writin’ people! Do it!
Friday, September 17, 2010
Although the next short bit of time seemed like an eternity, I’m pretty certain that only about 60 seconds elapsed. The man kept telling me to jab, jab, jab. I jab, jab, jabbed, connecting with his bobbing head a few times, eliciting a “nice shot” response once or twice. He jabbed back, connecting more frequently, eliciting only grunts from me, and a few wild jabs back in self-defense. When one of my wild jabs connected pretty good, he turned up the heat and in a few seconds a shot to my solar plexus had me on the canvas, sucking wind and wondering, humorously, if death was around the corner. Time!, the voice said again. A minute later, once I had regained my wind, a gloved hand reached down and helped me to my feet, where I was wobbly but no worse for the wear.
“Nice job, “ said Floyd Patterson, who only a year and a half earlier had retired from his own boxing career after losing for the second time to Muhammad Ali, and who had just knocked me down. “I laid it on you a little to see if you’d turn away but you hung in there. There’s hope…” he said, laughing a little.
And so my boxing career began, and I faithfully visited Floyd’s house and gym almost every day for about a year, until a cyst in my wrist became too large and painful, and I stopped.
Floyd Patterson was one of those rare human beings who dragged himself up from a bad childhood and made himself, through sheer willpower, into a two time heavyweight champion, although he was the size of a light heavyweight. After his retirement, he opened up his training center (a three story barn on his property in New Paltz, NY, 12 miles from my house) to local kids, where he let them come every weekday and train, work out and spar, often with him. The charge for all of this expertise and experience: 20 bucks a month to help heat the barn. Countless young people came through Floyd’s barn, and many of them went on to have respectable careers in the pugilistic world, while others continued their own paths. I can say that, good or bad, their experience at Floyd’s was only beneficial. Life is all about choices, and Floyd Patterson equipped many young people with the skills and character that they needed to be able to make good choices.
As brutal and as savage as the idea of beating people up is, there is a certain dignity, decorum and class to boxing that mixed martial arts will never have. Floyd Patterson personified all three of those qualities, and it was an honor to be knocked down and later trained by him. Many, many years later, I stopped by his house, after not having seen him in 20 plus years (and I didn’t delude myself that he even knew my name---just called me “kid” back then) to get an autograph for a friend. It was 11AM and Floyd answered the door himself. It had been rumored that he was slipping mentally, but he invited me in, asked me right away how my wrist was, and signed a photo for my friend, a standard boxing pose. When I thanked him, he said, “You want one too?” He rummaged through his briefcase, found a great shot of himself landing a flying hook on the great Ali back in 1975, and said, “This is my last one.” And signed it, without ever asking my name, “To Jim Abbott, from your friend, Floyd Patterson.”
Friday, September 10, 2010
The class was to be called “Lying For a Living” and was to be conducted in Los Angeles by the late and great Marlon Brando. The name of the class echoed what Brando had referred to his profession in an interview years earlier. Auditions for the classes, which were free, and which would feature guest instructors, big names from the film world, had been announced in a small item in the New York Daily News that same morning. They were being held at an off-off Broadway theater in lower Manhattan. I was visiting friends in Brooklyn, so it was only a 30 minute subway ride into the city.
It was a cold and wet day, the kind of cold and damp that penetrates to the bone. When I arrived the line went nearly around the block, with all sizes and shapes of future thespian hopefuls talking acting techniques and practicing soliloquies. It was interesting watching them all, since I had no experience at all in any kind of performance, except for a chorale gig as a small kid in school, where I soloed on “Edelweis” in front of a hall full of patient parents. As I stood quietly, I began to lose patience, and body heat. I Was not alone and after a while the recitations stopped and the slightly annoyed tones of voice began to get more annoyed. The doors were supposed to open at 11AM but it was nearing noon when the first applicants were allowed in. Once inside, we were obliged to fill out several pages of short autobiographical info, given a number and made to wait. As we were only allowed in three at a time, and were kept inside of a lobby, it was a mystery as to what was going on beyond the door that, one at a time, we were herded like lambs to an uncertain future.
I entered the door. Bright lights glared, and the unmistakable sounds of an audience were present through the lights and the nerves. I was also aware that a video camera was mounted on a tripod and pointed in my general direction, and that there was a man behind it. The more interesting man, though, was sitting in a cheap lawn chair, decked out with full beard and turban and looking for all the world like Osama Bin Laden, complete with a small American flag poking out of his turban. Two months post-9/11, I should have been offended but due to nerves was more confused than angry. I stared at him.
“What are you looking at?” he asked, in a British accent. I stammered some kind of dumb remark, which he ignored. He shook my hand, introduced himself to me as Tony Kaye, (director of the classic film American History X) and we were off. He asked me what special talents I possessed. I told him I played guitar, and within seconds a cheap Yamaha acoustic guitar was in my hands. Kaye told me that he wanted me to play a song. I thought, “This is gonna be easy,” since I am proficient on the guitar, until he said, and the lyrics to the song are, “Marlon Brando ate my car.” Those were the only words. My frozen hands weren’t as limber as they usually are but I began to fingerpick a folksy sounding pattern, and started singing the one line that he had provided me, changing the melody for each line, until he finally told me to stop. From the darkness there was a loud burst of applause from about 30 people who were sitting watching, unseen. Thirty seconds later I was out the door and back out on the street, shellshocked.
In the end, Brando didn’t use anyone from the auditions for his classes. He picked random passerby off the streets and that was that. Kaye’s video of the auditions and the classes is tied up in legal wrangling and might never see the light of day.
Weirdest day of my life, and one of the most fun.
Monday, August 23, 2010
There’s a reason education stinks, and it’s the same reason that it will never be fixed. It’s never going to get any better, don’t look for it, be happy with what you’ve got , because the owners of this country don’t want that --- I’m talking about the real owners now, the big wealthy business interests that control things and make all the important decisions. Forget the politicians. They are irrelevant. The politicians are put there to give you the idea that you have freedom of choice. You don’t. You have no choice! You have OWNERS! They own you. They own everything. They own all the important land. They own and control the corporations. They’ve long since bought and paid for the Senate, the Congress, the state houses, the city halls, they got the judges in their back pockets and they own all the big media companies, so they control just about all of the news and information you get to hear. They spend billions of dollars every year lobbying to get what they want. Well, we know what they want. They want more for themselves and less for everybody else, but I’ll tell you what they don’t want. They don’t want a population of well informed, well educated people capable of critical thinking. They’re not interested in that because that doesn’t help them. That’s against their interests. That’s right. They don’t want people who are smart enough to sit around a kitchen table and think about how badly they’re getting railroaded by a system that threw them overboard thirty years ago. They don’t want that! You know what they want? They want obedient workers, people who are just smart enough to run the machines and do the paperwork, and who are just dumb enough to passively accept all these increasingly lousy jobs with lower pay, longer hours, reduced benefits, the end of overtime and a vanishing pension that disappears the minute you go to collect it, and now they’re coming for your Social Security , your retirement money. They want it back so they can give it to their criminal friends on Wall Street, and you know something? They’ll get it, sooner or later because they own this stinking place! It’s a big club, and you’re’re not in it! By the way, it’s the same big club they use to beat you over the head with all day long when they tell you what to believe, what to think and what to buy. The table has tilted, folks. The game is rigged and nobody seems to notice. Nobody seems to care! White collar, blue collar, it doesn’t matter what color shirt you have on. Good honest hard-working people of modest means continue to elect these rich pigs who don’t give a crap about you. They don’t care about you at all and nobody seems to notice. Nobody seems to care. That’s what the owners count on. The fact that Americans will probably remain willfully ignorant of the way they are being shafted everyday, because the owners of this country know the truth. It’s called the American Dream, because you have to be asleep to believe it.
Right on target, George. Rest in Peace.
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Apparently freedom of religion doesn’t include Muslims. The men who flew those planes into the World Trade Center happened to be Muslims. So are Muhammad Ali, Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens, composer of Peace Train)and many other men and women of dignity and peace. Should we wish death and destruction on them as well? This anti-Muslim hysteria is just the latest episode in the never ceasing battle between religious factions. My god is better than your god, or this religion is a gutter religion, or this holy book calls for the death of this group of people. It’s time to say it:
Organized religions need to go. Plainly and simply they have caused, or have been the reason for most of the wars in this world’s history and have been responsible for more deaths than in these wars than any naturally occurring disease. Every single one of them is the creation of human beings with their own agendas. Christianity? It wasn’t even started by Jesus, whose existence historically is dubious, but by a group of people who heard a legend and decided to run with it. Islam was based on the teachings of a man named Mohammed. Mormonism? Look up the story of Joseph Smith and decide for yourself. The Jewish religion, 4000 years old, began as more of a unity of a culture whose entire civilization were enslaved. The point is that not one of these religions was created by God, but by people, and because of the problems they have caused, they all should go.
I’m not religious. I don’t believe a word of it, to be honest, and without having a dog in this fight can only offer up a question for you to ponder, and I hope you do. If there is a god, and if you believe that that god created you and knows your every thought, then why do you need to have religions? What is the purpose of a church? Great place for bake sales, admittedly, but not much else. Any tenet you may have with a god, real or unreal, is between you and him. Some human being wrote the following: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. “ Wise words for all people , whoever really said them. Much better and certainly truer to the spirit of God that so many of you worship than “Kill all the Muslims.”
You are your own religion. Believe in yourself and your family. And may the senseless wars cease.
Thursday, August 12, 2010
Their names don’t matter. For obvious legal reasons, I can’t use their real names, but I will call one woman Ms. Jones and the other Ms. Smith. They are both real people and are both, to a degree, friends of mine.
I’ll start with Ms. Smith. She grew up almost literally dirt poor, surrounded by the rusting metal hunks of trailer park homes and the constant odor of cigarettes, booze and decay. She is not traditionally pretty, and her teeth are less than perfect—far less, in fact. Her parents were both alcoholics and her mother bears the telltale “chicken lady” appearance that chronic crystal meth users develop, toothless, thin and gaunt. Her father works for a local contractor when he can, but her mother wanders the streets, back and forth to the local store for smokes and booze. A pretty depressing world, and young Ms. Smith could hardly be blamed for falling into a cycle of alcoholism and addiction, given the role models she had at home. The poor girl hardly stood a chance.
Ms. Jones, on the other hand, grew up in a nice home. Pretty—extremely pretty, in fact, she had her choice of careers, and of who she dated. She found a guy she really liked and soon found herself pregnant with what would turn out to be a beautiful child. She also found herself in college, studying hard in pursuit of what can only be described as one of the most noble of professions. Degree in hand she achieved her goal when she was hired at a nearby school as a teacher and shaper of young minds. Her life was set.
Ms. Smith, on the other hand, had it rough. With her poor background, and imperfect appearance, the best she could do was a minimum wage gig at a local convenience store, where what money she did make was then taken by her parents for their vices. Then ownership of the place changed hands and soon Ms. Smith, who had been doing a surprisingly good job, was out of work.
Then life pulled one of its nasty little tricks. While Ms. Smith was being let go from the only job she had ever had, Ms. Jones, well paid educator, with a bright future, nice car and house, made the decision that she just had to try crystal meth. Just one time. One auto accident and charges of erratic behavior later, all of a sudden Ms. Jones found herself out of a job and with a sick craving for a drug that would soon leave her not only selling her child’s toys and computer for meth money, but frantically looking for hair products that would fool DFCS when they tested her hair for signs of meth use. Her good looks were beginning to fade. Her child had been taken away. Then earlier this summer she was arrested at a roadblock for possession with intent to distribute a large amount of crystal meth. Life in the gutter, life in the trash, life almost over.
Ms. Smith, on the other hand, took the high road and moved out of her addicted, leeching parents’ trailer and in with good relatives in a neighboring county. She never did fall into the vicious cycle of addiction. Instead,she showed what true character is all about: she found another job, met a nice young man and is thriving. Things are good.
Isn’t life funny that way?
Thursday, August 5, 2010
There are also others walking around—lost souls, burned out from too much booze or drugs the night before are slowly pacing the same sidewalks as the walkers getting their exercise. Opposite ends of the spectrum but still all part of the same community.
Even though it’s just seven in the morning there are already two cars being worked on at Chuck’s Tires, and a lot of people are coming in and out of the “Pig.” Jackson is busy early. It’s the same story in other small towns and cities---working people trying to make the rent. And trusting our leaders to lead us the way we deserve to be led.
Almost two years ago this country elected a president who had more promise and potential than any president in recent memory—maybe since the days of John F. Kennedy. He was preceded by a man who managed to almost overnight make this country the laughing stock of the world. Now our new president has a tremendous job to do making our country respectable again, but he has had to battle untold forces within his own country, a Republican party who seem lie with every breath and whose members seem determined to drag this country back to the stone age. He has handled his job fairly well, certainly much better than his predecessor, and while not perfect, has certainly done an admirable job of winding his way through the mess he was left to clean up. A house can be torn down in minutes but takes much longer to rebuild. So it goes with countries. These things take time, sometimes lots of it, and you have to spend money to do these things.
I read a lot of magazines and online newspapers and watch a lot of news reports. I see political leaders and hopefuls here in Georgia spouting silliness on television about how they will turn down any stimulus money headed for Georgia, or they will proudly exclaim that they will protect Georgians from the dreaded “Obamacare” and other programs designed to help the average American. In the next breath they will say that the economy here in Georgia hasn’t improved. You can’t have it both ways, folks. The federal government isn’t going to force feed its medicine to little Georgia, like a mother has to with a child’s cough syrup. If your leaders are shortsighted to the point of wanting to cut off YOUR nose to spite your face, it’s up to you to find leaders who have vision and who really want what is best for all of you. A governor who goes to Dubai looking to bring jobs to Georgia (and only manages to secure up to 300 high-paying jobs over the course of a ten year period) is really just looking for a nice vacation. Thirty jobs a year? C’mon, Sonny. Leave already.
Back in Jackson, a truck from Dave’s Corner Lot rolls by with a customer’s car in tow. Hard working people, dealing with the cards, or cars, they have been dealt. I hope for all our sakes we get a better hand soon…..
Saturday, July 17, 2010
Recently the literary world lost an icon with the passing of Jerome David (J.D.) Salinger. If you went to high school in this country you almost were forced to read his classic novel of teenage disillusionment, The Catcher in the Rye, featuring the anti-hero Holden Caulfield. After huge praise was heaped on Salinger for writing what many call the great American novel, he retreated into the shadows, shunning celebrity and all its trappings and rarely appearing in public. His reputation as a recluse and hermit gradually grew to epic proportions and he became almost legendary for his ability to avoid being photographed.
Ever the seeker of unusual things to do, I decided I would try to get a picture of the elusive author. I figured that it would be relatively simple to find him—Cornish, New Hampshire, where he lived, is a small New England town and how hard could it be to find one house? I drove across the bridge over the river that separates Cornish from Windsor, Vermont and made my way to the Cornish Town Hall, where I could just take a look at the tax records for the area and would get the address. A nice man in the assessor’s office asked me why I was there and when I told him he said the following, slowly and deliberately: “When someone pulls into Mr. Salinger’s driveway, there are two people in town who know about it…Mr. Salinger and myself. I’m also the police chief. I’m not going to help you. Do not bother Mr.Salinger.”
I had no intentions of bothering Mr. Salinger—I just wanted to get a discrete picture of his house, and the man himself if he should happen to be outside. I crossed back into Windsor and stopped at a Goodwill store there, where a bunch of older ladies were gabbing away, in that quaint way that older ladies gab. New England is often like the South in that regard, just with a different accent. Figuring that since they were roughly as old as Salinger, they might know where his house was. They politely directed me to the Vermont Craft Center down the street, and I was informed that Salinger’s wife, Colleen O’Neil, displayed and sold some “very cute” spool dolls that she made herself. At the Craft Center I was shown the spool doll collection, found a really cool red, white and blue one. Ten bucks later I was out the door with my treasure, which incredibly included an unexpected bonus---a tag with not only Colleen O’Neil’s name on it, but incredibly her address, and by default, her husband’s address. Back into Cornish I went, a quick stop at the post office to ask generally where the road was that I was looking for and within five minutes I was staring at J. D. Salinger’s house. Careful to park on the side of the road, not on his property, I snapped a couple pictures—one of his mailbox AND his trashcans (which I didn’t dare peek into) and one of his house.
As I walked up and down the road trying to get a better view of the house, I noticed that seemingly every tree had an orange “No Trespassing “ sign. So did one telephone pole. A furtive glance to the left and one to the right, and I sprung into action. I hereby confess: I stole J. D. Salinger’s “No Trespassing” sign from the telephone pole, where it no right to be.
Don’t you love irony?
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
I’m going to call it like I see it. Or like I saw it yesterday, as I drove the interstate towards Atlanta, hiiiiigh up on a pole, a sign that said “God isn’t a Socialist.”
The sign was paid for by a group that calls itself, “BillboardsagainstObama.com.
What a load of malarkey. There is a better term for it, has to do with male bovine excrement, but since this is a family paper, I’ll stick with the Irish. Always a good bet, and they have public health care, by the way…
So there was the sign, proudly announcing to the world that Georgia proudly lives up to the reputation held by most of the rest of the nation—a reputation for being so far to the right as to be ridiculous, willing to blow off their noses with their silly guns just to spite their faces..
When in the course of American history has any group taken the steps to try to denounce a sitting president in such a cowardly way? Freedom of speech is a right, of course, but This socialist label that they try to pin on him does him, and socialists a real disservice. The sign should correctly read, “Obama is not a Socialist” and to be fair, should also say that God isn’t affiliated with any political party. I know—I checked. He is not on any lists that I can find…
But it would seem that the Republicans have decided to claim Him as their own. I would ask that they produce proof of their claim. It’s my understanding that socialist concepts have something to do with a sense of community taking care of community---in other words, caring for each other, instead of having a society that rates people by how much money they have. People caring for each other, treating others the way they would want to be treated. Sounds a lot more like the concept of God that I was taught at a young age than the kind of people who would torture, lie, humiliate, segregate and discriminate, grab up as much of whatever they can as fast as they can, liked a bunch of fat pigs on some of those game shows, speeding down the aisles of a supermarket with a shopping cart. And wasn’t there something in the Bible about Jesus trashing the moneylenders? You would think, “Like father like son,” wouldn’t you?
I propose that the billboard, and it’s sponsoring website are wrong. I would suggest that everyone step back and take a long deep breath, if you still can, with all of the nasty pollution in the air, and look at how ridiculous this whole charade has become. Snarky and deceptive billboards are not the answer to any of our problems. Thoughtful action after thoughtful debate will do it, and cooperation from the citizens of what used to be a great country will go a long way toward solving the huge set of problems that began thirty years ago when we stupidly elected a mediocre, mob-backed actor for president.
If the tact of the right has had any real impact, it has successfully made the word ‘socialism” sound evil. Maybe it is, when run in the Lenist-Marxist way, (see Russia) but when all anyone really is talking about is health care for everyone, how can that be a bad thing? Ask yourself this question: If providing services like health care and police and schools and firemen and libraries and highway maintenance, etc. is so bad, why aren’t people from France, England, Canada, Denmark, and a good portion if Europe clamoring to come here? Why are they so darned happy?
Wanna see the end of this country as a democracy? Keep up the hate talk. Learn to say, “Ich bin ein Republican!”