Tuesday, December 26, 2006

van morrison chet baker send in the clowns - Google Video

I started Progress Notes about a year ago. My plan then was to write it for a year then give it up and move on. It's been more than a year.

This isn't going to be some long farewell address kind of goodbye. I always liked the way Van Morrison left the stage. Threw his mike onto the boards and stormed off in mid-song...

Andrew Sullivan | The Daily Dish

As the year draws to a close, we're going to be thinking more and more of our amigo, Terry, who's moving to Mexico. This one's for you, amigo. Feliz Navidad and all that...Andrew Sullivan | The Daily Dish

Monday, December 25, 2006

Number One ( With a bullet ) on the New York Times paperback best seller list is:

" The Iraq Study Group Report "

Number Two is:

" Running with Scissors " by Northampton, Massachusetts based writer Augusten Burroughs.

The number two title could very well be the sub title for the number one book.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

The Pogues Fairytale In New York - Google Video

Christmas Eves are, perhaps, best spent in large cities. Alone. Surrounded by millions of strangers...The Pogues Fairytale In New York - Google Video
Donna and I are busy traveling back and forth between Connecticut and western Massachusetts this weekend. Getting together with the NASAs and the Nascars. Back in 1969, I spent Christmas Eve in London with the Bennetts.

I'd been in England for about two months. Stationed at RAF Chicksands, I'd met Jeanette Bennett a few days after I'd arrived in the UK. She worked at an orphanage in Bedford during the week, then took the bus back to London where she stayed with her family for the weekend.

Chicksands was an intelligence gathering base located about an hour's bus and train ride from London. My security clearance hadn't come through, so I wasn't able to work in the communication center yet. I did odd jobs around the barracks during the week and had weekends off.

I headed down to London and got a room in a hotel just off Piccadilly Circus. Then I took a cab up to where Jeanette's family lived at 40 Balmour Street. The Bennetts lived in a small flat in the city's north end. I recall that the living room was warm and cozy. But when I went upstairs to the bathroom, the temperature dropped. It was freezing up there; there was no central heating. The " telly " was on, but the picture was black and white. The " Beeb, " the British Broadcasting Corporation ( BBC ) had yet to start broadcasting their programs in color.

My date with Jeanette began with a walk with her father and mother to the neighborhood pub. The place was packed. A lot of the blokes were hoisting their pints of lager and singing Christmas songs loudly.

Jeanette's father ordered a Guinness.

We spent about a half an hour there, bid farewell to Jeanette's parents and took a cab to London's West End. Went to a movie showing at a theater on Regent Street. Then took a walk around Soho.

Dating a girl who worked in an orphanage. Spending time in a pub with gaggles of cockeyed Cockneys. Christmas Eve in London. It was all very Dickensian.

I love nascar - Google Video

And here's to the Nascars...

I love nascar - Google Video

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Elton John performing Rocket Man at Sacramento's Arco Arena, 9/15/06 - Google Video

Here's to the NASAs. Sir Elton John, seen through the Hubble Telescope...Elton John performing Rocket Man at Sacramento's Arco Arena, 9/15/06 - Google Video
" Everything in life is somewhere else, and you get there in a car. "

E.B. White

Somewhere else today is our nephew Mark's and his wife Mel's place in Connecticut. Donna and I will hop in the car this afternoon and drive northwest to spend some time with her side of the family. The party's purpose: to celebrate Hanukkah.

Tomorrow we'll drive to western Massachusetts to celebrate Christmas with my side of the family.

Our two familiies are as different as can be, in some ways. In others they're exactly alike.

I joke around with Donna. Say, " Your family's the Rocket Scientists. Mine? They're the Car Guys. Donna's family: The NASA's. Mine? The Nascars.

One member of Donna's side of the family is, or was, literally a rocket scientist. Lisa recently got her Masters from Brown University. A few years back she spent some time in Houston, interning at the NASA facility there. While at Brown she worked on a team of geologists who were trying to figure out the best site to land on Mars.

Lisa's just one of the brainy bunch. Her dad's a Ph.D. in psychology. Her brother and sister are very smart, too.

Mark and Mel? Very smart. Quick to get the joke, take it early, as they say.

And, of course, there's Donna. The smartest of them all.

I've left some names off the list. Suffice it to say they're all very smart.

We'll see them later today.

Tomorrow we'll drive north and spend Christmas Eve with The Nascars. One of my favorite writers, E.B. White said, " I never look under the hood. " I'm like that. Opening the hood of a car, at least for me, is like opening Pandora's box. I open it up, take a step back, and the car looks from a short distance like a monster with its mouth open. I can almost hear the monster scream:

" You don't know shit about me, do ya, ya dumb bastard! "

I know very little about cars. When Donna first informed me a few months ago that she needed some work done on her rotator cuff, I thought she was talking about something gone wrong under the hood of her Volvo.

I know now that it was her right shoulder she was talking about.

As Montaigne might have written, " What do I know( about cars? ) "

I know as much about cars as I know about rockets and the surface of Mars. OK, I know the surface is red. It's called The Red Planet. But I have no idea why.

The folks on my side of the family know about cars. Todd, Chris and Jeff, the three sons of my first cousin, Judy. These guys know about cars. The Car Talk guys on NPR. That's who they remind me of. The Car Talk guys went to MIT. They could have been rocket scientists, but they chose to get into cars.

They have to be two of the smartest guys I know of. People call in with a problem. The Car Talk guys ask them what the car sounds like when the problem rears its ugly head.

" Vroom, clackity, clack, clack. "

" Chika,chika, chika... "

" Kachowwww. Kachowwwww! "

That's all these guys need to hear. They listen to the sound, ask a few questions, then nail the diagnosis. Smart. Very smart.

Like the folks on my side of the family.

Rocket scientists and car mechanics. Those are two differences between my side of the family and Donna's. Whose side of the family is smarter?

I'm not going to go there!

But if I did, I'd take the car.

Blogs Into ‘Blooks’: The Cranky and the Chaste - New York Times

People sometimes ask me: What are you writing? Well I, uh, wrote newspaper stories for three years. And I, uh, er, wrote ad copy for nine years. And I, um, uuggh, cough, cough, still write the occassional op-ed piece.

And I'm writing this blog...

My answer reflects much of what I did in the past. Newspaper reporting and advertising copywriting. I get a little tense when I speak of what I'm writing right now.

The present tense makes me nervous. Writing a blog? Who isn't? Big deal.


In actual fact, most of what I've been writing for the past year is this blog. It's a strange thing writing this blog, the words to a sermon no one, or nearly no one, will hear. There are millions of blogs out there, some of which fall into a new literary category. Blooks. Here's what the Times has to say about this 21st century form.

Blogs Into ‘Blooks’: The Cranky and the Chaste - New York Times

Friday, December 22, 2006

Martin Conroy, 84, Ad Writer Famous for a Mail Campaign, Is Dead - New York Times

I'm no Scrooge, but these inflatable snowmen and Santas on the lawns around here are annoying me no end.

Go ahead and protest that nativity scene. But hey! At least Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the sheep don't look like freakin' Macy's parade balloons.

Two guys from Cincinnati were in the news this week. They attacked one of the abominable snowmen with screwdrivers. Good for them. Let's nip this " Airblown " craze in the bud. Before we start seeing inflatable lawn jockies and six foot pink flamingos proliferating in the yards of our neighbors.

Where might this all lead? People as obsessed with celebrity as they are now with holidays annoying us with Airblown Donald Trumps and Oprah Winfreys on their lawns?

Inflatable egos ripe for attack.

By ego-terrorists.

Mark my words, that's where we're headed. I snow you not.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Neil Young - A man needs a maid - London BBC - Google Video

One of the first things I remember Donna saying to me - this must have been in the spring of 1973, a few months after we met -

" I'll always remember you were the one who liked Neil Young... "

She said this to me after we'd just walked out of a bar in the Smith's Ferry section of Easthampton, my hometown. As I write this, I'm listening to a Neil Young song. " A Man Needs A Maid. " There's a line in that one.

" When will I see you again? "

That was a good question back then. Donna had been seeing a guy, a great looking, nice guy named Kreiger. Krieger was the guy with whom I was competing for this beautiful brown eyed girl's attention. Toss of the coin. Heads I win.

I had no idea where this thing was going. And neither did Donna.

We'd met a few months earlier, in a dive called The Broadview. It was an icy, stormy night, a night into which we'd both been reluctant to venture. Her friend had called her and encouraged her to go out. Jim Manning, my friend, did the same with me.

Beckett could have written the script for the night on which Donna and I met.

Jim: Wanna go out?

Me: Go out?

Jim: Yeah.

Me: Go where?

Jim: The Broadview?

Me: Let's go.

And we did. And Donna did,too. This was on a Thursday night in 1972. A guy by the name of Jeff Lyman was playing acoustic guitar and covering Neil Young songs that icy night. I was lost in the music, gazing into the frosting of the cold Bud I was drinking, when I saw her talking to Jim. She was wearing a black shirt and blue jeans. Black boots on her feet. Long dark hair and big brown eyes. Flashing a smile as bright as the neon lights outside.

Long story short. It's 33 years later. The Broadview? Burned down years ago. Fire and ice and all that stuff a good Irish writer might make something of...

The place we met is gone, but we're still together. And yeah, I'm still listening to Neil.

Neil Young - A man needs a maid - London BBC - Google Video
" We're not winning. We're not losing. "

Latest official line re: the situation in Iraq

I know. I know. It's not a situation; it's a war. But what kind of war? Civil?

Words. Semantics. Bullshit. I'm so tired of this.

Nobody stops and thinks anymore. I mean, stop and think about it, this war in Iraq. It's part of a process, a global war on terrorism. Here's an analogy. It's like a football game. Your team, say, the Patriots are trailing the Jets 21-7. It's the third quarter. The Patriots coach is heard to say to some reporter whose beat is the sideline:

" We're winning this game. "

One of his media handlers would surely sidle up to the coach and whisper in his ear, " Another way to put that is, ' We CAN win. ' "

When your team is behind by 14 points in the third quarter, " We're winning " isn't just a stupid thing to say. It's insane.

Saying " We can win, " suggests that we're in the midst of a process. We may lose, but we may win. In the end. Now? It's too early to say. Our team hasn't even started to play the fourth quarter.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Frenchy burrito - Mexico Music Video - Google Video

This one's for you, Uncle Terrance...Frenchy burrito - Mexico Music Video - Google Video
Thirty five years ago, guys like me were considering taking leave of the USA and heading north to Canada. A lot of guys did just that. Who are these guys? Give your long lost uncle a call. If he asks you, " What's this aboot? "

He might just be one of those guys.

Going north. That was then. Now going south is the trend. There's a growing population of expatriots living south of the border, in Mexico. Baby boomer ex-pats, spending their nights with iguanas.

Donna and I have a friend who recently purchased a hacienda south of the border. He's our age. Same age as those guys who bolted and are now calling places like Montreal and Toronto home.

Who are these guys, these guys who are crossing the border, driving over that bridge spanning the Rio Grande?

Give your long lost uncle a call. If he asks you, " Que Pasa? "

He might just be one of those guys.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

I was taken home from the hospital in which I was born by a woman driving without a license.

The woman was my mother's sister, Ella. Ella lived on Pleasant Street with her husband, Donald and her daughter, Judy. An old journalism professor of mine always used to tell us fledglings:

" The trinity is always with us. "

Indeed it is, and was. Ella, Donald and Judy. My mother, my father and me.

What professor Larry Pinkham didn't tell us was this: Irony is always with us. Pleasant Street, the street on which Ella lived, was far from pleasant. Pleasant Street was one of two streets in town that were lined with red brick mills and bars.

Ella lived on the third floor of an apartment building within short walking distance of a factory called Stanley Home Products. Her husband, Donald, in the year I was born, drove a tractor trailer truck loaded with products manufactured in the Pleasant Street mill. This was 1947, nearly a decade before Eisenhower would propose that an interstate highway system be built.

My uncle Donald's territory was vast. He drove as far west as Omaha, Nebraska. He was a professional truck driver. Remember, this was before the country had I-91, I-95, I-84, I-81, I-75. This was a time when roads like highway 301 and Route 66 were the veins that cut through America. This was before the major arteries existed.

To be a professional truck driver in those days took some guts and required some skills...

And, of course, it required a driver's license.

Ella didn't have that. And I never knew that. Until recently, when I had my mother down here, at our place on the south coast of Rhode Island.

Ella's been a topic of conversation recently. She's 85 now. Fell recently. Doesn't get out much anymore. Had been driving her Ford Taurus, but hasn't been doing that...

Ella's reached that point in life when a major decision needs to be made. To drive or not to drive, that is the question. Don't get me wrong. She has a license with her mug shot and her signature right there in her wallet. If she were to decide to get out of that chair, walk out the door, walk down the driveway, open the Taurus's door, get in and turn the old key...

She could do that. It's legal.

To drive or not to drive, that is the question. Leave this apartment? Go? Not go?

Did Samuel Beckett deal with these issues when he was in his mid eighties? Did those who loved him have to deal with this?

Drive? Or not?

59 years ago, if you'd asked me that question - I'd have said drive. I needed a lift home. Break the rules, I might have said. Break all the fucking rules.
" It doesn't get any better than this! "

From ad for house a few miles southeast of here.

Another dispatch from the south coast of Rhode Island. The global war on terror is in its, what, fifth year? I'm doing my part. I'm alert. I'm observant. My feet are often planted in the sand and my eyes are often trained on the sea.

If the enemy's out there, I'll spot him. Before he can do us harm. Because I'm a patriot. This land is my land, etc...

Speaking of land. ( I warned you; I'm working on my segues. )

I wrote about a house on the beach a few entries back. The house that had been built sometime around the time Donna and I had this place built. Twenty or so years ago, the house on the beach had a back yard thick with spartina grass. At high tide, there was still a considerable patch of sand you could walk on. Lay a towel on.

Now, thanks to Al Gore...

Strike that. He's just the messenger, the bearer of bad news...

Now, thanks to global warming, the house on the beach is the house in the water. At high tide you need a dory to make your way to the back door.

Donna just called me into the study. " Look at this , " she said.

The house on the beach is for sale. Asking price: $1,500,000. That's right. One million, five hundred thousand dollars.

The lying bastards who placed the ad say this in the ad.

" Surf! Sand! It doesn't get any better than this! "

The house, at high tide, is surrounded by salt water. John Dunne wrote, " No man is an island. "

Well, John Dunne, I hate to burst your literary bubble, but the guy who owns this place is.

I'd give some money to see the look on the face of the poor bastard who drives down from Providence to take a look at the house in which he's shown interest. And I'd like to be a gull on the deck, listening to the conversation between the prospect and the realtor.

Actually, I can guess how the conversation might start:

" You gotta be kidding me. "

And the realtor responds:

" It's a steal. Water views from every window... "

It doesn't get wetter than this.

Monday, December 18, 2006

There are times, and they are many, when I think I should be doing a better job in this blog of making the leap from one entry to another. I need to work on my segues, I say to myself. Then again...

Life's messy. It's not like a book. Life goes here, goes there. Jumps around. Whirls like a dervish, spins like a top. Goes round and round and where the next stop is nobody knows.

Life's more like an essay. A 1,500 mile trip sans triptyk. A journey without a plan. The important thing isn't the There. The important thing is getting there.

It's the trip, Bunky. It's the ride.
They have been called news " stories " for a very long time. The word has taken on new meaning.

Last week it was the story of the guy who left his family and tried to find help. Lost in the mountains out west. Missing in action.

This week it's the three people gone missing on a mountain out west. For days now the cable news ghouls have focused on this story. The focusing on one story magnifies the story. Makes this story more important than that story, which is paid less attention than this story.

Quick. How many American GIs died in Iraq today?

Quicker. How many mountain climbers died on that mountain?

You know the answer to the second question, but you don't have a clue re: the first question asked.

Shame on you, fool.

P.T. Barnum said a sucker is born every minute. That was 100 or so years ago. Now the breed's being delivered at a much faster rate.

Joan Didion wrote in her collection of essays, " The White Album " :

" We tell ourselves stories in order to live. "

These days, we sit around the cable news campfire and listen to the stories told by the Shep Smiths, Wolf Blitzers, et al. They tell us their stories, which are fed to them by young producers, most of whom wouldn't know the difference between, say, Joyce Carol Oates and Warren Oates.

My question is this: Are they news stories, these stories to which we're paying so much fucking attention? Or are they merely stories made up, like tales told by idiots. Full of sound and fury and signifying absolutely nothing.

Time Magazine just announced its annual Person of the Year: Me.

Actually it's " You " that appears on this week's cover of Time. But what they mean is me. It's moi. Yours truly. None other than Himself.

Terrence Michael McCarthy.

What possessed Time to name me Person of the Year? They liked what I've been doing online this year. What have I been doing online this year? A lot. But most of the time I've been spending online has been devoted to writing this blog: Progress Notes.

I started writing the blog in the final days of 2005. I named the blog Progress Notes after the notes I used to write when I was working on a psychiatric unit unit in western Massachusetts.

Little did I know how much progress I'd make during the year in which my blog has been out there in cyberspace. Who would have thought that as a result of me writing all this stuff down, downloading music and videos...

I'd be named Time's Person of the Year.

I have to go to work now. And give my notice. Tell them, " Take this part-time job and shove it! " I have a full Time job now. The appearances on Today, Larry King, O'Reilly and Bill Mahar's show, et al are going to be keeping be very busy.

Gotta go!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

It's that time of year. The Christmas carolers are coming. I live on a dead end street, no exit. It's a strange hood to be sure. The people who come to carol are weird, too.

They belong to some conservative right wing group. Stand outside, near our deck, and sing stuff like:

Arrest Ye Married Gentlemen

Listen to an interview with John Feinstein on "The Punch"

Listen to this. Then listen to what happens to the morons involved in last night's NBA fight at Madison Square Off Garden...Listen to an interview with John Feinstein on "The Punch"
First, the good news. There was a peaceful protest on the streets of New York City yesterday. The protest was against " police brutality. " The brutality in question was the shooting by police recently of a man on the streets of New York.

Again, the protest was peaceful.

Now the bad news. A riot broke out last night in the closing minutes of a professional basketball game between The New York Knicks and the Denver Nuggets. The Knicks were said to be angry because they were getting beat handily on their home court. The Nuggets were up by 19 points with a minute left, yet the Denver team still had all of its starters on the floor. According to the Knicks, this was a Big D " Dis. "

Which is street slang for " Disrespect. "

The Knicks, respectfully, disagreed with the way the game was being played. By starting a riot.

The streets of New York were safe yesterday. Maybe that's because all the thugs were holed up in Madison Square Garden.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

The following is a rerun of an entry made this time last year. A few days after I started Progress Notes.

Dear President Bush:

I am eight years old. Some of my little friends say there is no good reason why we are at war in Iraq. Papa says, if you see it in The New York Times, it's so. Please tell me the truth, is there a reason why our troops are in Iraq?


Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepicism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be liberals or Democrats, are little. In this great country of ours, some men and women are mere insects, ants, in their intellect compared with the boundless red states around them, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole truth and knowledge.

Yes, Virgina, there is a reason.

It exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist. Alas, how dreary would be the country if there were no reason for our troops to be in Iraq.

It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, like my favorite poet, Rod McKuen, wrote.

Not believe in a reason for the course we're on?

You might as well not believe in fairies. You might get your papa ( Or mine ) to have men to watch all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in my world are those that neither liberal nor Democreats can see.

Did you ever see fairies dancing on the White House lawn? Of course not. But that is no proof that they are not there.

Is it all real?

Ah, Virginia, in all this country, there is nothing else real and abiding.

The reason lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay ten times 10,000 years from now, my reason will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

Sincerely yours,

President George W. Bush

Friday, December 15, 2006

Rex's Blues - Jay Farrar & Kelly Willis - Google Video

I drove north this week, parallel to the river that runs like a spine through the state of Connecticut. I drove north to pick up my mother, to bring her down here to spend a few days. One of the towns through which I motored was Suffield, where my wife, Donna, and I lived for a while. Suffield is changing. Where once there were farms and barns, there are, now, subdivisions. Big houses, where farms once stood proudly...

Rex's Blues - Jay Farrar & Kelly Willis - Google Video

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Kinda amazing what the music can do. We tend not to think that much of songs, once we're past a certain age. You can listen to your oldies but goodies stations. I hate that shit. But there is something to be said ( Or sung ) about songs that stick to us like barnacles on a water logged pier.

I'm no Church goer. So from from that it makes Londonderry, New Hampshire seem like a stone's throw from its sister city on the Emerald Isle. Still..

To each his own hymms.

Like a bloody Jesuit, I confess:

I was a fan once of the music of, uh, er, ahem, cough...

Rod McKuen.

There. I've said it. I'm out of the closet, free, free at last.

Rod Mckuen. Yes! THAT Rod McKuen.

I was a young airman stationed at Myrtle Beach Air Force Base in South Carolina. Lucked out after basic. Didn't get shipped, immediately, off to Nam. Shipped instead to Myrtle Beach.

The winters were long there, longer than you'd think the winters in South Carolina would be. How did I spend those long South Carolina winters? Reading the novels and the non-fiction of Norman Mailer and John Hersey. And listening to music.

There was this album I bought: The Sea. Words by Rod McKuen. Music by the Anita Kerr Singers.

There's a scene in the old Woody Allen flick, Sleeper. It makes fun of those who appreciate the " poetry " of Mr. McKuen.

McKuen then had as much cultural respect as, say, Rush Limbaugh has now.

McKuen's most popular book of poetry back in the late 60s was something called: " Listen to the Warm. "

After that book was published, more then 3,000 people were treated in emergency rooms. For burns after they placed their ears on the burners of stoves...

Yeah. I made that up.

What I'm not making up is the fact that I was a Rod McKuen fan in the late 1960s. I was a big fan of his album " The Sea. "

Which described a middle aged man living in a place very much like the place in which I live now. Two semi-retired writers in the sun. That's what we are.

The power of music, even bad music. It pulls you in, like the tide. It transforms you, makes you wet. Then tosses you onto the sand where the sun dries you out...

Then you're taken again.
My mother was here visiting. Picked her up Tuesday and drove her back home today. Mary Eva McCarthy lives in Easthampton, Massachusetts. It's about a two and a half hour drive from here. The trip up to western Massachusetts seems long, the trip back goes by quickly. Driving her back home it's the opposite. When Mom's in the car the time flies.

Because we're talking, laughing. We're in a quality time zone.

One of the things my mother and I like to do when she's down here is watch Jeopardy. I'm pretty good at getting the questions right. Every time I do that, Mom looks at me like I'm some kind of genius.

" How do you know that?! " she says.

I kind of amaze her with the amount of trivia I have stored on my hard drive. I amaze myself at times.

" How do I know that? " I ask myself when the right question escapes from my lips.

" What is China? "

" Who is Jenny Lind? "

" Who was J. Robert Oppenheimer? "

" How do you know that? " my mother asks.

" Mom, " I say. " You have the best memory of anyone I've ever met. I have an answer for you. Give me the question:

" Terrence Michael McCarthy. "

" Who is my son? "

" Bingo, " I say.

" Wrong game, " she says.

" But right answer, " says me.
In an effort to take this blog to the next step, I've hired a fact checker. Any blog entries you readers think might contain factual errors, don't blame me. Blame the guy I'm paying to check the facts. It's my job to write this stuff. It's his job to make sure what I write rings true. If it ain't true, he ain't doing his job.

What am I paying this guy? The Progress Notes Human Resources Department won't let me reveal that. All I can say is this: Whatever he's paid, it's worth it to me.

My ass is covered, and that's all that really matters these days, isn't it?

What's Good (Video) - Lou Reed - Google Video

Ladies and Gentlemen. Lou Reed..What's Good (Video) - Lou Reed - Google Video
Sometimes I wish the Times was thick with nothing but fluff pieces and stories of missing children and men gone missing and misses north of London offed by a Jack the Ripper like madman.

Those are the kind of stories I can easily skip over. Read the headlines. First grafs. Then turn the page.

But today's Times had a profile of Lou Reed and a story about Vaclav Havel. I can't get enough of these guys. The Velvet Underground and the Velvet Revolution.

This is going to be a brief Progress Notes Entry. I have things to do, stories to read...

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

blondie - the tide is high - Google Video

Castles in the Sand - New York Times

We took the dog for a run yesterday. She ran on a stretch of beach about a mile southeast of where I write this, high and dry. Our house is a mile inland.

The past few years we have been seeing more beach erosion that we've ever seen. There's this one house on the beach where Gracie ran. It gives new meaning to having a house on the beach.

At high tide you'd need a pair of knee hugging rubber boots to get into the house. I'd guess the place was built around the time Donna and I had our house built. 1986, 87. Somewhere around there.

That's when those folks built their castle in the sand...

Castles in the Sand - New York Times

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

I picked up Lawrence of Arabia at the library the other day. Wanted to get a different perspective on what's been happening ( For the past 90 years or so ) in the middle east.

The Lawrence of Arabia I picked up is the director's cut; it's longer than the original version of 1962's Best Picture of the Year.

This one has some scenes in which something called the Arabia Study Group advises T.E. Lawrence to change camels in mid stream...

Monday, December 11, 2006

blondie - call me - Google Video

According to Dr. Louann Brizendine, a professor of neuropsychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, there is a reason why women like to talk on the phone.

" The hormone of intimacy is oxytocin, and when women talk to each other, they get a rush of it. Fot teen girls especially, when they are talking about who's hooking up with whom, who's not talking to whom, who you like and don't like - that's bedrock, that excites the girl's brain. "

OK. That speaks volumes about 21st century women. How they're so much like the teenage girls in " Bye Bye Birdie. "

But what does it say about men? I cannot believe how many men I see with cell phones stuck to their ears. Who are they talking to? What are they talking about?

A word escapes from my lips every time I see a man on a cell phone.

Girly Man.

Cell phones. They make me think of long hair. Back in the 60s, men started growing their hair long. They started looking like women. Now it's the 21st century.

Mens' hair is short. It does't cover their ears. Better to hear the moron on the other end of the line. But it's like the 60s. Men behaving like women. And, in this century's case, worse.

Grown men behaving like teenage girls.

I have a cell phone. But you won't see me pull it out of my pocket and use it in public. Like you wouldn't see me pull a comb from my pocket and neaten my hair.

That's what teenage girls do.

Real men don't eat quiche. And they don't have cell phones stuck to their ears.

What's that? You can't hear me? Get a haircut Sally.

Can ya hear me now?
This just in...

Traces of radioactive polonium have been found in Aruba, sparking speculation that Natalee Holloway was killed by agents of the former Soviet Union...

Traces of the radioactive substance have also reportedly been found in " nearly 67 percent " of the areas from which American children have gone missing. This is according to a report relased by A.M.B.E.R., a government agency charged with tracking down and prosecuting those who stalk and kidnap young children.

And a further development: Sources close to Ralph Lauren report that the fashion mavin will soon start marketing a new line of Mens' fragrances:


The new product will be introduced first in Great Britain, a Lauren spokesman said.

The spokesman said POLO-NIUM 210 will be " very expensive, but just a tiny splash will do the trick. "

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Beatles - eleanor rigby - Google Video

Ah yes. It was Father McKenzie. Writing the words to a sermon...

The Beatles - eleanor rigby - Google Video
Navel gazing. That's what blogging is, or can be. What would Montaigne have done with the tools that make blogging possible?

The blog takes the essay to the next step. Is it up a rung? Or down?

I received an email tonight, a comment on my blog from an anonymous source. The reader whispered:

" A lot of work. But nearly no one is reading it. "

The reader chose not to identify himself ( Or herself ) So here I am, writing words to a sermon no one will hear. Almost no one that is. Someone's out there. Listening to me. Reading what's on my mind. Reading what a non entity like me is shouting into the wind.

A man with no name, no portfolio, no constituency, shouts. Like a tree falling in the forest. Does anyone hear?

Well, yeah.

But he doesn't sign his name.

When I was a newspaper reporter, I had anonymous sources. They were valuable. I couldn't have done my job without them. Maybe this is like that.

The Czech playwright Tom Stoppard wrote that writers write to know and be known. I majored in English and journalism and was fortunate to land a job or two or three or four in which I was paid to write things down.

I've had a lot of stuff published. In places like the Wall Street Journal, Hartford Courant, Providence Journal, Los Angeles Times, Ad Age magazine. A lot of work. A lot of readers.

This blog?

If I can get just one person to read it - that's OK.

Even if he doesn't tell me his name.
What the profile of Monica Hickey did not mention was her experiences living in London, during the blitz. There was a Rolls Royce factory nearby, so her neighborhood was a prime target for the Nazis. You uttered " Rolls Royce " back then and the association was airplane engines. The war ended and Monica ended up living and working in Manhattan. Getting to know folks who drove Rolls Royces...
It never ceases to amaze me how interesting the people in my creative writing workshop are. Here's a profile of a woman who joined the group about a year ago...

Fitting For Every Bride
Pleasing The ‘Universal Bride’

Despite the passing of time, millenniums, styles and fashions, there still exists a "universal bride" and they all want one thing, according to Monica Hickey, vice president and director of custom and couture designs at Kleinfeld, who has committed herself to the happiness and beauty of brides for over thirty years.

"All brides are the same. It is the eternal bride in search of the perfect dress," Hickey said. "And of course, the society and various fashions are clearly reflected into the bride’s choices," she added.

‘When the mother cries, you know that’s the dress.’

–Monica Hickey
vice president, director of custom and culture designs, Kleinfeld

Originally from Scotland, Hickey came to America in the early ‘50s and started her career in New York City working for the famous Henri Bendel’s. There she discovered her true passion for fashion design and the pleasure of working behind the curtains to make the most magic moment in a woman’s life — her wedding day — unforgettable.

"In those days, everybody who wanted something unusual, something very beautiful, came to Bendel," Hickey recalled. "I started going to Europe, Italy, England, and France because I wanted to add my personal creative contribution to Bendel’s."

After four years at the boutique, Hickey was invited to go to Bergdorf-Goodman on Fifth Avenue, where she had her own large department named "The Bridal World of Monica Hickey." The times were changing rapidly, and Hickey had to mold the bridal fashions to fit the hard-to-please ‘60s.

"Then came the days of the big social revolution in America, the hippies and all sort of crazy things. We invented the new style — we brought in dresses from India, beautiful white cotton dresses from Mexico, we put flowers into the brides’ hair, made them go barefoot. We bent to the new social changes, but also preserving the tradition" and still meeting the needs of that universal bride, Hickey said.

For many years, Saks Fifth Avenue held Hickey’s creative concepts in their store window, with a brief stop at the bridal emporium called Klienfeld. She has now returned to Kleinfeld, and she believes that her current opportunity to create for the universal bride are limitless.

"Changes are a very good thing for me. I have been here and there. Now I am at Kleinfeld and I find it very exciting. They have more dresses than I have ever seen in my entire career: from Milan, Paris, London. I flourish in the energy and true diversity that is Kleinfeld. I am here to bring life. To give my point of view," she said.

Advising a bride on what is better for her the day of her wedding is a delicate operation. It requires tact, style and sensitivity, Hickey said.

"Trust and honesty; this is what I give the girl. We can never tell a bride that she’s marvelous if she is not. We are not just trying to sell a dress, but to sell trust, commitment and the perfect fit," Hickey said. "You don’t always follow beyond the aisle, but up to that moment, you are the person they [the brides] cling to, they trust and confide all their hopes, and ask advice about everything."

The best advice that Hickey never forgets to impart to her clients is "to really love the dress," and that the universal bride should never settle until the one thing that links her to the styles and ages that came before her has been met.

As for knowing when you’ve found your perfect dress, Hickey said it’s simple. "When the mother cries, you know that’s the dress."
There are times when I think I should stop writing about anything that has nothing to do with the work I did, and the work I'm doing, with mentally ill people. The ones I've known, and know, were and are kind of invisible. Voiceless.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Home - Theater - Review - New York Times

" It's about seeing people who are generally kept invisible. "

From a December 8, 2006 review of " Home " a play staged at the Samuel Beckett Theater, 410 West 42nd Street in NYC

Home - Theater - Review - New York Times
I'm not going to dwell on this. It's ( Nearly ) time to move on. But...

I've been listening to the music of Paul Simon today. Simon was with Garfunkle when Elkin and I roomed together. I recall listening to S&G's " Homeward Bound " back then. I was a slightly homesick kid whose hometown was an hour and a half north of Hartford. Elkin's hometown was Durban, South Africa. From which he was in exile because of a policy called Apartheid.

In 1986, Paul Simon released an album called " Graceland. " He conspired with some South African musicians to produce one of the greatest records of all time. At that time, Paul Simon was accused by some politically correct morons of " stealing " the music of South Africa, using it to make himself richer.

I framed it in a slightly different way. I thought it was a good idea to share this kind of music with people who would otherwise never get the chance to hear it.

You can call be naive.

Graceland was released around the time I last connected with Elkin. I didn't get a chance to ask him what he thought. If I'd asked the question, he would have had an interesting answer. He was a scholar. Music was his passion and his area of expertise.

All those years, when I thought about Elkin, I thought of something he said to me once. He wanted to go back to South Africa, " When things got better there. "

Elkin Sithole. Homeward bound at last.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Cyndi Lauper - Who Let In The Rain - Google Video

I just did a search for Zulu music and landed on this Cindi Lauper tune. At first I thought it didn't fit my mood. Didn't speak to Elkin, about him. Then I played it again, and again and...
Cyndi Lauper - Who Let In The Rain - Google Video
Sometimes a blog can reflect the state of mind of the person writing it. The last few entries of Progress Notes are chaotic. Forgive me, dear readers. And let me explain.

Last night I Googled an old friend, Elkin Sithole. Elkin was my college roommate. A native of Durban, South Africa, he was studying music. When I was in the advertising business in Hartford, I drove up to the University of Hartford campus. Went to the alumni office to see if I could track down my old friend. I got his address and wrote to him. He wrote back. This was in the late 1980s, more than twenty years after Elkin and I had roomed together on Farmington Avenue.

I hadn't heard from Elkin since we exchanged those letters. I was curious about where he was now. Was he still in Chicago, where he was living and teaching when I wrote to him? Had he returned to South Africa?

What I learned last night was that Elkin was one of 68 people who died in a plane crash in Indiana in 1994. He was returning to Chicago from a speaking engagement.

Elkin was a Zulu. Among the things I remember learning from him was a characteristic of the language his people spoke. He spoke the language, said the words, which were punctuated every now and then by clicks he made with his tongue.

Among the news stories I read online about the plane crash in which Elkin died was one about the last words of the men in the cockpit. The men were Americans. They were speaking English. But the dialog, the transcript of the words exchanged between the pilot and co-pilot, were punctuated by a series of " clicks. "

That word, " click " appears many times in the transcript. The click of the instruments. The click of seatbelts being fastened.

Click. Click. Click.

One of the stories I read last night reported that Elkin was a " close friend of Nelson Mandela. "

I hope I've cleared this up. My mind was confused as I wrote in the blog last night. I'd just learned that an old friend had died. I'd Googled his name, then clicked on one of the items on a list of items.


Thursday, December 07, 2006

Roselawn Plane Crash

Roselawn Plane Crash Kills 68

Newton County residents are used to hearing the drone of airplanes overhead. After all, they live right under the flight holding pattern for O'Hare International Airport, some 50 miles away.
But Mon. afternoon Oct. 31, when Roselawn residents heard what sounded like thunder, a "big roar" and a loud shrieking noise, they knew there was something very wrong. Their worst fears were realized when they rushed to a nearby soybean field between SR 55 and I-65 and found the scattered debris of American Eagle Flight 4184, a twin-engine turboprop commuter airplane with 68 on board.

Larry Midkiff, a Roselawn man driving home from work on SR 55, witnessed the crash at about 4:30 p.m. He told reporters and investigators that he almost couldn't believe what he saw -- an airplane falling from the sky at a 45-degree angle, nose down, disappearing behind a wooded area into a farm field. The last thing Midkiff saw was a puff of smoke coming up from behind the trees before he hurried to the site.

Once Indiana State Police were notified about the crash they contacted O'Hare and learned that Flight 4184 from Indianapolis had disappeared from radar screens at about 4 p.m., just after the crew was told they could descend from an altitude of 10,000 feet to 8,000 feet while in a holding pattern awaiting clearance to land in Chicago.

Emergency vehicles and rescue units were dispatched to the scene, but soon realized that after a full day of cold, windy and rainy weather, the bean field where the wreckage lay was virtually inaccessible by vehicle.

Those trying to reach the crash site on foot found themselves sinking ankle-deep in mud, while only farm tractors could enter the field without getting stuck.

Police quickly sealed off an area of about 640 acres, and as media around the Midwest began learning about the crash and clamoring for information about the fate of the 64 passengers and four crew members, rescue workers rushed into the area seeking survivors.

Almost immediately, however, it became apparent that no human being could have survived the impact of the horrifying crash, which caused the plane to almost disintegrate.

"Utter devastation" was the term used by a federal investigator who visited the scene. The only recognizable piece of wreckage was a chunk of the vertical tail section, while another 6-by-6-foot sheet of metal was also found.

The first rescuers on the scene determined quickly that no bodies were intact and most refused to describe what they had seen.

During Monday evening, there were conflicting reports about whether or not the search and recovery mission had been called off until morning due to the severe weather conditions and deep darkness.

Sgt. Jerry Parker of the ISP said early Nov. 1 that his troopers were at the scene all night long, and it was also revealed that Governor Evan Bayh had asked rescuers to keep searching for any possible survivors despite the desolate conditions.

A team of over 90 investigators forming a "go team" from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) arrived in the area late Monday night and set up headquarters at a Merrillville hotel, heading to the site early Tuesday morning after a 7 a.m. press briefing on their plans.

Meanwhile, the Village Inn restaurant near the crash site became a haven for media from around the country, as well as local rescue workers from the Lincoln Twp.Volunteer Fire Department, Newton County Emergency Medical Service, American Red Cross and Newton County Highway workers. Hundreds of sandwiches were made and gallons of coffee were served to workers when they stopped for a breather.

Classes at North Newton Junior-Senior High School were canceled Nov. 1 as investigators chose the school's new gymnasium as the site for a temporary morgue, covering the floor area with plastic sheeting. Later in the day, when it became evident that the painstaking recovery of body parts and other evidence would take a week or more, the site of the morgue was switched to the Remington National Guard Armory, and families of the victims were told they would be provided with food, lodging, and counseling if they chose to come to Jasper County.

As dawn broke Nov. 1, serial photos of the crash site showed a recently harvested farm field of about 40 acres with debris resembling confetti scattered in an oval pattern, and a bullet-shaped indentation in the soft soil, marking the path of the airplane as it dug into the ground. There was little debris recognizable except for the tail section.

Crews worked to lay a gravel road to the site so investigators and recovery workers could reach the field, starting during the cold, wet night and finishing about 7 a.m. Tuesday.

Later Tuesday, both the flight voice recorder and flight data recorder, the famous "black boxes" carried aboard all commercial aircraft, were recovered and sent to Washington, D.C. for investigation. Those at the scene were originally concerned, said the NTSB official Jim Hall, because the flight data recorder box was damaged, but the tape itself was apparently unharmed.

By Wednesday morning, Nov. 2 National Transportation Safety Board officials had learned some startling information from the voluminous information kept by the flight data recorder. It appears the ailerons, flaps on the wings that provide lateral control, began to retract from 15 degrees up to zero degrees after the crew received an audio warning that the plane was moving too fast at 213 miles per hour for the flap setting.

Once the flaps began to retract, the plane began to roll to the right, however, and the pilots were apparently able to regain control and initiate a recovery after turning off the auto-pilot. However, almost immediately the plane rolled again to the right violently and turned over completely on its back, and the pilots were unable to pull out of a 36-second dive that sent the plane crashing to the ground at over 200 mph.

Investigators began studying whether icing of the plane wings caused a malfunction with the ailerons, although they refused to come to any quick conclusions.

Another pilot who landed the same model of plane in South Bend after flying over the same territory on the afternoon of the crash reported that his plane also experienced over-steering problems to the right while the autopilot was on and ice was forming on the wings.

By midweek, the NTSB had issued a directive to pilots of ATR 72 and ATR 42 planes not to use the autopilot while flying in conditions which could cause icing of the wings.

Families of the victims, meanwhile, began to arrive at the crash site and travel to the temporary morgue in Remington in an effort to learn more about the fate of their loved ones and claim the remains and any identifiable possessions.

Police kept the families away from the immediate recovery site, while officials in Remington explained that it could be weeks before the painstaking process of matching tooth fragments to dental X-rays and completing other forensic work is completed and bodies are released to the families.

Over 1,000 body parts had been recovered by late last week, although rain again hampered recovery efforts on Friday and Saturday. Rescue crews are now trying to pump water from two, six-foot-deep trenches caused by the initial impact, believing they will find additional remains in the two holes.

Firefighters from Lincoln Twp. and surrounding communities like Lowell, Lake Dalecarlia, Shelby and Wheatfield are headquartered at the Thayer fire station, where they report for work shifts and come to rest and relax after completing their work for the day.

While memorial services for individual victims have already begun in many communities around the county, and Chicago and Indianapolis hosted special services Nov. 8, American Eagle Airlines has announced that a multi-denominational community memorial service will be held this Sat., Nov. 12, at 10:30 a.m. in the Merrillville High School gymnasium. The service is planning to honor the 68 victims of Flight 4184 and their families, and also recognize the efforts of all the volunteers and supporters who have participated in the recovery effort.

* * * * *
This article came from the same issue of the paper, page 8, columns 4-6:
Victims Mourned By Family And Friends
While the crash of Flight 4184 on October 31 put Roselawn, Indiana, on the map, it also focused the spotlight on the 68 victims who lost their lives in a rural farm field.
When somber rescue crews came to the realization Monday night that there were no survivors, airport and airline personnel began the grim task of verifying the identity of the victims, notifying their families and providing counselors and clergy members to offer comfort and assistance.

Soon, it became evident the victims came from all over the world, not just the Midwest. Forty-three of the passengers were using Flight 4184 as a connecting flight to reach Chicago, where they would catch another flight to their destination, About a dozen of the passengers and two crew members were from the Chicago area, including flight attendant Sandi Modaff, 27, who joined American Eagle in 1988, after three sisters had already become flight attendants. Her father said one sister stayed near the phone Tuesday, still awaiting a call from Sandi, still refusing to believe her sister is gone.

Elkin Sithole, a Northeastern Illinois University professor returning home from a speaking engagement, was a South African who proudly helped organize local voting in South African elections last spring. He was a personal friend of Nelson Mandela who looked forward to helping improve education programs in his native country.

Those are small glimpses at the lives of just a few of the Chicagoland residents who perished in the Oct. 31 crash. Others on the flight came from California, Canada, Massachusetts, Arizona, England, Sweden, and Columbia. The release of the official flight list was delayed the night of the crash when airline officials phoned the home of one passenger whose name was on the flight list only to have the call answered by that person. Officials found out another family member had used the ticket, and caused airline officials to delay the release of the names.


Last updated on March 10, 2006.
Return to Lowell Biographies.

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Early February 1966. Late Sunday afternoon. I'm checking into the room in which I'll be living during this spring semester at the University of Hartford, Connecticut. The room 's on the third floor. There's a man in the room. A short, black man wearing gray slacks and a blue sweater.

I introduce myself. He says, " I am Elkin Sithole."

I was 18 years old. Elkin Sithole was 35. My hometown was Easthampton, Massachusetts, forty miles north of where I'd be living for a while. Elkin's hometown was Durban, South Africa.

In 1966 apartheid was in full flower. Elkin was in exile. Studying music, he wanted to go back to south Africa. To teach.

A word comes to mind. Harmony. Sure, it's trite. Might not even be a word for it in Zulu.

Elkin spoke every now and then in his native tongue. It was a strange language, one in which a series of clicks were made by the tongue.

I was 18 and Elkin was 35. The term " nontraditional student hadn't been coined back then, but that's what he was. A nontraditional student. Outside the boundries, older, more mature. He had a wife and two young daughters.

It was more like living with a teacher than a student. Elkin was old enough to be my teacher. Hell. He was old enough to be my father.

Not your typical college roommate.

I didn't know a lot about that word " Apartheid. " And Elkin didn't know about sunburns.

Memorial Day weekend, I went to Maine with my parents. Spent three days at Old Orchard Beach. Great weather. Blue sky. Stong sun.

I returned to the room I shared with Elkin Sithole. Said " Hey Elkin, how was your weekend? "

" What happened to your face!!? Elkin asked.

" Got a little sunburn, " I said.

Elkin had never seen a sunburn before. The color of my skin had upset him.

It was the only time the color of our skins came up in conversation.

I was playing around with my laptop tonight. Elkin's name came to mind for some reason. I googled him. Wanted to see where he was, what he was doing after all these years.

This is what I found.

Coroner: Kim died of exposure, hypothermia - CNN.com

CSI Merlin, Oregon. I told ya so.
Coroner: Kim died of exposure, hypothermia - CNN.com
" ... Frank Bascombe isn't supposed to add up. He's supposed to be a dunderheaded bullshitter, a fraudulent Everyman, a failed novelist who's sublimated his creativity into a life that's an art performance. "

From a review of Richard Ford's novel " Lay of the Land. " The review, written by Joseph O'Neill, appeared in the December 2006 issue of The Atlantic

For the past twenty years, I've been seeing a lot of myself in Frank Bascombe, a man created out of whole cloth by the writer Richard Ford. I first met Frank ( That sounds real. Like I actually met him. See what a dunderheaded bullshitter I am? )

I first met Frank back in 1986, the year my father died.

More on this later...
Anyone know where I can get an application for the Complaints Choir? ( See previous entry ). Where do I begin? How about starting with cable news. I really shouldn't watch it. I get so pissed off so often; it's not good for my health.

It's my own fault. I don't know how to watch cable news. I watch cable news like I read the newspaper. I expect to be informed about stuff that has relevance to my life. I expect news to be presented as it's presented in newspaper form. In other words I expect stories that wouldn't have legs in your local paper not to have legs on national newscasts, like CNN, MSNBC and Fox ( hole ) News.

Take this story out in Oregon. The one about the family that got lost in the woods. The family got more attention yesterday than the Iraq Study Group. I wonder how the cable guys would respond if one or two members of the Iraq Study Group went missing.

Would that story have legs?

Like the freakin' Rockettes it would.

But this Oregon family story. Donna and I were at one of those big Indian casinos in Connecticut yesterday. There are TVs everywhere. Many of them tuned into, you guessed it, cable news. All day and into the evening, every time I looked up, there they were: Members of that family that got lost in the woods.

It was like watching a TV show. Oregon Family Robinson. Or some bastardized version of the Waltons in which the Waltons morphs into that other show, Lost.

I say this because the narrative moved along like a TV show. First it was the whole family that was lost. Then part of the family was found. But the father had left the family unit and gone off to get help. I swear I heard at some point yesterday that his pants had been found.

This was framed in a positive manner by the cable news people. Some source said that tracking the father would be easier now...

That he wasn't wearing any pants???

Hope. Emily Dickinson wrote " hope is the thing with feathers. "

Yesterday it was the thing without trousers. But as is true with all TV shows, hope is the carrot at the end of the stick. We all gotta have hope. That dad will be found. That the family unit will survive intact.

Around 3 p.m., I went back to the hotel room. Turned the TV on. Turned down the sound. That's the compromise I make. Sure, I'm watching cable news. But damned if I'll listen to it. I know, I know. I'm in a state of denial. Which is a state somewhere near Oregon...

Where was I?

In our hotel room. Watching ( Not listening! ) to the news. It was breaking. There was a new development. A body had been found in the mountains in Oregon. Details were sketchy. Authorities weren't sure if it was the body of the missing father.

" Was the body wearing pants?! " I yelled at the screen.

To make a long story about a news story ( That should have been shorter ) short...

It was the body of the missing father. Story over?

Hardly. This is the era of CSI Miami and CSI New York. In the past, death was the end of the story. Now it's just the beginning. Everybody and his brother and sister these days is a forensic pathologist. At least on TV.

Waltons/Lost, CSI Portland, whatever you want to call it, was still being shown on the cable channels today. On and on it goes...

James Baker? Lee Hamilton? Sandra Day O'Connor. The rest of the Iraq Study Group? I didn't see hide nor hair of them today. Maybe they're missing.

Stay tuned...

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

" Traditionally confined to works of nonfiction, the bibliography has lately been creeping into novels, rankling critics who call it a pretentious extension of the acknowledgements page, which began appearing more than a decade ago and was roundly derided as the tacky literary equivalent of the Oscar speech. "

From December 5 New York Times story

At the reading I gave the other night in Westerly, I admitted I've yet to have a book published. " It's coming soon, " I told the small audience that showed up to hear me read my essays.

" I'm working on it, " I said. " It's a work in progress. "

What I didn't say was that I'll probably never get to writing the novel that's been " in my top drawer, " for decades. I'm way too busy reading the books I'm using as sources for the book I've yet to write.

The novel I've been planning to write was to be about 500 pages long. That's a decent length for a novel. Anything more than 500 pages and readers start getting bored. They're all used to watching TV shows in which everything is resolved in 50 minutes or so.

But I'm running into a problem. The bibliography for the novel I'm writing is already 200 pages long.

Do the math. That's right, Fermat. That leaves me with 300 pages in which to get my story told. Less than that actually. Because I'm not nearly through reading the source books.

What's in my bibliograohy so far?

Pirsig, Robert. " Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. "
Mailer, Norman. " The Armies of the Night. "
Mailer, Norman. " Why Are We In Vietnam? "
Mailer, Norman. " The Executioner's Song. "
Field, Sally. " You Love Me! How Winning an Oscar Changed My Life. "
Pynchon, Thomas. " Gravity's Rainbow. "
LaGasse, Emiril. " Up a Notch. Garlic's Role in the History of Cooking. "
Simpson, O.J. " If I Did It... "
Summers, Suzanne. " Poetry, Sort Of. "

That's just a partial list. I'd add more, but I have to get back to the book I'm reading this week:

" A Million Little Pieces. " By James Frey

A Newspaper Chain Sees Its Future, And It's Online and Hyper-Local - washingtonpost.com

Monday, December 04, 2006

Steven Johnson - Books - The Ghost Map - Report - New York Times

The connection between books and blogs. Information about neighborhoods gathered by people who live in those neighborhoods. People in the same zip code sharing ideas. I was going to write about this guy, Steven Johnson, but it's late and I'm tired. Thank God for cut and paste...

Steven Johnson - Books - The Ghost Map - Report - New York Times

Sunday, December 03, 2006

I walked into the old white church today, feeling like someone crashing a party. It wasn't the first time I'd done this since moving down here, to the south coast of Rhode Island.

If I knew how to do it, I'd have a link for readers to click on. Rhode Island. Rogers Williams. Religious freedom. Wikpedia. But I don't know how to do that. I worship the internet gods. But not all that much.

The first time I opened the door to this church was in the winter of 2003. I was working 12 hours a week as a counselor for an adult education program captained by a guy by the name of Tom. Tom and I had connected a month after I moved to Rhode Island. We had some things in common. About the same age. He'd graduated from the Naval Academy. I went to the nation's oldest miltary college. He did some writing; was a storyteller who was making a name for himself doing that.

The part-time gig I had with Tom required me to visit locations in which GED and ESL ( English as a Second Language ) classes were held. Two of the ESL classes were taught at the Congregational Church in Kingston.

Most of the students in those classes were Chinese women, the wives of men studying at the University of Rhode Island. URI is located in Kingston.

Every now and then I would drop in on the classes. Ask if my help was needed in any way. There's a word that comes to mind when I think back on those visits. It's an English word; I don't know what the word is in Chinese.


There was a reluctance to talk to me. And it went beyond the shyness I saw in all of the young women in the ESL classes. Something else was afoot, and I wasn't at all sure what it was.

In July I went to a memorial service held for a writer in the writing workshop I facilitate. The service was held in the church to which she belonged. Jane was a poet, a genre with which I have never felt all that comfortable. And, of course, she was a Congregationalist.

The library at which I gave a reading the other night billed me as an " Essayist. " Essays are said to be the literary genre most closely related to poetry.


Anything I've written seems, at least to me, as far from poetry as Zanzibar is from Bayonne. But who am I to argue with the experts?

Where was I?

Oh yeah. At the church. The Congregational Church in Kingston, Rhode Island. The church to which Jane Clayton belonged. To which my friend Tom now belongs.

I'm glad I went to that service for Jane. But I didn't feel comfortable there in the pew. I should have felt like I belonged. Jane was in a workshop I facilitated. Jane was a Congregationalist, and so am I. I joined the Easthampton, Massachusetts Congregationalist Church in the early 1960s. I was the first president of a newly formed Pilgrim Youth Fellowship. I was popular there. The church was across the street from where I and my parents lived. It was familiar territory.

Which can be the scariest territory of all.

Like father like son. My father kissed the Roman Catholic Church goodbye after he married my mother. Who's protestant.

I was back at that church in Kingston today. My friend Tom had a storytelling gig there. I parked the car in the lot. Walked up to the church. Tried a door. It was locked. Walked over to another door. It was not locked. I opened that door and entered the church.

I thought Tom would be telling his stories in the auditorium. I was wrong. Tom was in the church, near the pulpit, busy setting things up. I walked down the aisle. Said, " Hi, " Tom. He said " Hi " back. Looked a little flustered. Had a boom box that was sitting there silent. Tom had a cord in his hand. He was plugging the cord into the wall and pulling it out. Plugging it in and pulling it out.

" There's no power here! " he said.

" God help us! " I thought. But said nothing.

Tom was going to need some music to accompany his storytelling. But he wasn't going to get it if the boombox wasn't working. He'd billed the storytelling gig as a way to " Get you through the holiday season. "

Silent night. If everyone can just think of the words and the music. Imagine the music. I think we'll all get through this just fine.

The kingdom, sans the power.

I said hello to Tom. Felt for him. I'd just given a reading a few days before this and I knew how you want everything to go smoothly. You want to be in control, the captain of the ship.

Tom figured it out. The boombox was working. The music would play. I walked to the back of the church and found a place to sit down. Sat in a pew. This was a very old church. To get into the pew, I had to open a small gate, a small door. Old churches had these. The small doors have small latches. You let yourself in and you let yourself out.

Once into the pew, I tried the latch. I remembered how I'd felt in July. At Jane Clayton's memorial service. I tried the latch and felt a small surge, like electricity. I couldn't get it to work.

I felt trapped in the pew.

Tom told three stories, then announced he needed a break.

" There will be a short intermission, " he said.

People got up, started leaving the pews. I tried to get out, had trouble getting out, but I did. Said to Tom, " Gotta go. "

And I did.

Green & Seifter CPAs :: Article

Every now and then I get this Oprah like narcissistic urge and Google myself. Or I do it when someone yells, " Why doncha go Googgle yourself! " I did that this morning, and lo and behold...

Green & Seifter CPAs :: Article
Newspapers are in trouble. More and more people are getting their news by other means: The internet, cable TV, etc. As one whose degree is in journalism, and as one who has worked in journalism, I'm sadden by this trend. But, as Pogo said, " We've met the enemy, and he is us. "

Yes, I'm part of the problem. I read newspapers every day. The New York Times and The Providence Journal. I read some local newspapers as well. But my eyes are frequently glued to the tube. And the internet, the so called Information Superhighway? I have to admit I travel it often; and I'm no casual Sunday driver.

I try to balance my intake of news. But more and more people are opting not to go the newspaper route.

There are a lot of reasons why newspapers are a better delivery system for the information we need. One of them came to mind this morning as I was watching MSNBC. One minute I was watching Donald Rumsfeld getting off a plane; he's in the news again because of a memo he wrote concerning the waging of the ( Civil? ) war in Iraq. In the blink of an eye I was watching Danny DeVito doing Three Stooges schtick on The View.

The cable news channels give Rummy and Danny equal weight. The message is: Both these stories are very important; it's information you need to know.

Newspapers handle the news differently. With newspapers, there are front page stories and stories " buried " somewhere in the run of the paper. The most important stories on the front page are located " Above the fold. " The most important stories above the fold are over there on the right hand side of the page. If it's a big story, there's a big headline. If it's a huge story - an attack ob Pearl Harbor or the Twin Towers for example - there's a " banner headline " spread coast to coast on top of the page.

Danny DeVito getting bombed and making an ass of himself on Rosie O'Donnell's show. That is not a major news story. But you wouldn't know it by watching cable news.

Making Danny, Lindsey, Paris, Michael Richards et all big news isn't the big problem. The real problem is how this hyping of trivia makes what's really important appear to be...


A journalistic Gresham's Law is at work here, I'm afraid. Will this be big news on MSNBC, Fox and CNN tonight?

Not unless Paris Hilton, or Danny DeVito spout off about it.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

James McMurtry - Painting By Numbers - Google Video

And, of course, one of the reasons folks are injured so often by beds, chairs and ceilings, is that beds, chairs and ceilings are so poorly constructed. Quality. Whatever happened to that as a goal? Huh? Painting by numbers, you know you'll get by...James McMurtry - Painting By Numbers - Google Video
As the years slip by, I’m increasingly amazed by how similar life in general is getting to be very much like life on the locked psychiatric unit where I worked, until 2002, as a counselor and human rights officer.

I thought about this when I saw Time Magazine’s recent cover story, whose headline was: Why We Worry About the Wrong Things – The Psychology of Risk.

The Time magazine story wasn’t news to me.

The gist of the report is that we Americans tend to worry about stuff that will probably never happen to us. Like asteroids. E Coli outbreaks. Mad Cow Disease. Tsunamis. Strangers lurking in the shadows, bent on kidnapping our children. The odds are these things and these people won’t do us harm.

We tend not to worry about and do little or nothing to prevent that which really lurks around the corner, waiting to hurt or kill us. Many of us don’t wear seatbelts. Two thirds of Americans are overweight or obese. Our homes on the coast are damaged or destroyed by storms, and we rebuild on the exact same spot.

Until 2002, I worked as a counselor and human rights officer on a psychiatric unit in Massachusetts. Most of the patients who came to our 28 bed unit arrived from the hospital’s emergency room. Sopping wet bridge jumpers, blood stained wrist cutters and throat slitters , angry husbands and desperate housewives who found disparate ways to do themselves in – and those who merely thought about doing harm to themselves or others - their first stop in the process was the E.R.

Patients arrived at our locked door dressed in hospital clothing. Their street clothes and belongings were contained in a plastic bag the E.R. staff gave them.

We were charged with keeping patients safe. But there were myriad ways they could hurt themselves. Including using the plastic bags they were given by hospital staff.

You could drive yourself crazy thinking about the ways patients could put themselves in harm’s way. Sharps, which included everything from knives and razors to paper clips were verboten. Cigarettes were handed out at smoking times; matches and lighters were kept track of in a log in the nurse’s station. When I started working on the unit I was obsessed with making sure patients didn’t have anything in their possession with which they could hurt or kill themselves. I got angry at staff who didn’t share my obsession. The log book in which we kept track of who had lighters was never an accurate reflection of who did and who did not have lighters. Lighters and matches were commonly found around the unit. This upset me greatly, for a while. Then I came to accept the reality of a unit like ours. At any given time, three or four patients probably had lighters and/or matches in their rooms or on the person. Of that I was pretty sure.

After working on the unit for a few months I realized that there was just so much we could do to keep people safe. “ Where there’s a will, there’s a way. “ I often heard staff utter that cliché, quietly, I said it to myself sometimes.

Working on the unit was like what it must be serving in Baghdad. You could say I was part of an army of occupation. I worked there. The patients lived there. I picked my battles with the understanding that the insurgents were going to win a few.

Patients came to our unit lost in the fog of major depression. Others arrived at our door tormented by voices commanding them to kill themselves or others. This is a safe place, I told them.

But truth be told: I lied.

The unit wasn’t safe. But not for the reasons you might think.

According to the Statistical Abstract of the United States, nearly forty thousand Americans are injured each year by beds, mattresses and sofas. More than 100,000 Americans land in emergency rooms each year because of injuries caused by the clothes they wear. Don’t laugh. You might be the next victim of a pair of ill fitting corduroy pants.

We had nearly thirty beds. According to the Statistical Abstract, hundreds of thousands of Americans are injured each year. By beds.

Every room on the unit had at least one chair in it. Double rooms had two chairs. Hundreds of thousands of people in the United States are injured every year by chairs.

We tried to keep the patients busy, but they still spent a lot of time in bed, sitting back in their chairs and staring at the ceiling. According to the Statistical Abstract tens of thousands of people are injured every year by falling ceilings.

We kept close track of razors. Yet, according to the Statistical Abstract, razors cause far fewer injuries than do beds, chairs, ceilings and clothing.

The things we deemed harmless were, in fact, more dangerous than the things we kept close track of. Things weren’t what they seemed. Which, when I think about it, sums up the entire experience of working on a locked unit.

So if you ever find yourself on a locked unit, working as, say, a counselor ( No way you say? Well, that’s what I would have said before I made a career change – from the advertising business to mental health ) and you’re in the process of admitting a patient to the unit, and the patient asks you, “ Is this a safe place? “ Say this.

“ Yes, as long as you don’t sit down, lay down, or walk fully clothed under a ceiling. “