Monday, November 23, 2015

Celebrating the Start of Another Season of College Basketball

… by looking at the programs from some of the Tip-Off Classic games Abby and I got to attend, thanks to our friends Drew and Will, who live out Springfield way.

1987 - I have a friend who is a retired Syracuse policewoman;
she told me that if any of the officers happened to arrest
the great center, Rony Seikaly, they were to excuse him and
send him on his way. The North Carolina team included
Rick Fox, who led Indiana's Warsaw High School
to the State Championship.

1988 - Duke's team included 6'10" Danny Ferry and Christian
"Shot of the Century" Laettner. Abby and I had front row seats. Ferry was pushed
out of bounds and came crashing into my lap. Kentucky was coached
by one of the all-time slime bags, Eddie Sutton.  On Sunday morning I was up

early, sitting in the lobby drinking coffee, when Coach Krzyzewski walked out of
an elevator, crossed the lobby, and asked the desk clerk where the nearest Catholic
church was.  Goodness and a certain obedience can be very touching.

1989 - Arizona coached by the great Lute Olsen; led by the 6'11"
Brian Williams, who was the son of the great Tony Williams of
The Platters.  Brian was eccentric, walking away from a contract
with the Pistons that had close to $35-million left on it. While sailing
in the middle of the Pacific in 2002 he is believed to have been murdered
and thrown overboard by his brother. The brother intentionally
overdosed on insulin before he could stand trial.

1990 is the year I was watching Shaquille O'Neal and LSU lose to Villanova, but I
suddenly felt really flu-lousy and had to leave at half-time to puke in

the courtyard, and then returned to the hotel. I must have been so
ill that I left my program behind. Many hours later Drew and Abby
brought me a pint of Haagen-Dazs vanilla.

1991 - Indiana was always my favorite team until Bobby
Knight was fired. These 1991 Hoosiers included Damon Bailey
and Calbert Cheney.

1992 - I wasn't fond of either Purdue's Gene Keady
or Connecticut's Jim Calhoun; and I don't remember
a single player from either team. Course, they probably
don't remember me either, so it's okay.

1993 - Four of Michigan's Fab Five were back. I wanted to tell Georgia
Tech's coach, Bobby Cremins, that his haircut was really stupid.

I ordered tickets late; though the venue for the Tip-Off Classic
games was small -- the Springfield Civic Center -- it still
wasn't fun sitting in the rafters.

Well, I never liked Rick Pitino, and I liked Gary Williams.
Again, I don't remember any outstanding players on either team.

Two great coaches, Lute Olson and Dean Smith. Abby had
a crush on Arizona's Mike Bibby; after the game he noticed
her ogling him and he smiled at her; she melted. Bonus:

Having John Havlicek there as the Grand Marshal of
the Festival.

The great John Thompson! I don't remember the
Wake Forest coach or team at all.

I don't remember this game.  I remember Roy Williams
because I didn't like him. I still don't like him.

Indiana again! Dane Fife and Tom Coverdale!  And that,
for me, was the end of a great run of live basketball.  All of a
sudden the Tip-Off Classic was no more.  I heard that it ended
because downtown Springfield had become a dangerous
place to be; I really don't know.  Maybe ten years later
the Tip-Off Classic was revived, but not in the city where
basketball was invented, but in Mohegan Sun Casino in
Connecticut.  It's now a tourney. It's just not right. 

Friday, October 30, 2015

"Take what you have gathered from coincidence …" - Bob Dylan

I love it that the day after I'd been thinking so much about Edward Gorey, and wrote a post on my blog based on him, I got a 2016 Gorey calendar in the mail from a splendid friend! 

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Edward Gorey and Jack's Out Back

For Joy Davis Ripley

Sometimes someone carves out their own little space within which he/she becomes a genius; doing something really original, doing something unlike anything anyone else has ever done.  That would be the class Edward Gorey falls into. Nothing like him, before; nothing like him since. Nothing even resembling him. His work is difficult to describe; you need to check him out, you need to discover the amazement for yourself.
Edward Gorey

When, in 1999, Mark and I bought a small cafe on Whites Path in South Yarmouth, I knew that Edward Gorey lived in Yarmouth Port, not far away (2.2 miles, actually). When a customer who claimed to know Gorey told me that Gorey went out for breakfast everyday it was easy to fantasize that on any morning he might walk into our cafe. What that customer didn't tell me -- maybe he didn't know -- was that Gorey went to the same restaurant everyday, a place called Jack's Out Back.

Gorey died on April 15, 2000, less than a year after we'd bought Cafe Au Lait.  My fantasy died when I read that news in the Cape Cod Times.

I went to Jack's Out Back several times after Gorey's death. The place had tons of character. My favorite facet of the place was the doormat out front that said in bold yellow letters on a green background: GO AWAY.  Inside there were all sorts of signs instructing you how to order -- you had to write your own order slip; much wit was used in the instructions. There was a gigantic copper bowl on the counter near the cash register with a sign, in Gothic font, unmistakably drawn by Gorey, that read FORGET NOT THE WIDOWS AND ORPHANS.  Jack, the owner, already then an old man, tended the grill in the open kitchen, near the cash register. His white hair was always disheveled.

Jack Bragington, owner of Jack's Out Back
One could feel intimidated going there. While writing this I've come across a blog called "The Preppy Times" in which some of the character of Jack's Out Back is charmingly captured:

Jacks back then was a good wake-up call to those with delusions of grandeur who needed a slice of humble pie.  Come to think of it, humble pie might have been on their menu. 

Jack's was set down a lane (of sorts) off Route 6A.  A small sign on the highway, set amongst six or eight similar signs, was the single guide for a stranger to find it. You had to drive slowly and look carefully. But all the locals knew where it was. Again, from "The Preppy Times":

Yet the real appeal for visitors and one not understood by the local diners, is the odd restaurant rules set up by onetime proprietor, Jack Bragington.  These rules are so eccentric that an unaware tourist might think they may have somehow stepped into the twilight zone. Here is what you could expect on any given day; celebratory hooting and hollering by the staff over tips and confused tourists waiting for someone to take their orders, at Jacks you write your own food ticket and place it on the wheel.  You also get your own coffee and silverware and if you do not pick up your food fast enough, expect the wrath of Jack.  You were also expected to wipe down your own table and pay with cash, no credit cards allowed.  Think Mayberry in New England where everyone has gone crazy and you will have a feel for the place.  Honestly, it is all in good fun and no one took Jack seriously.  That was then.  Jack has since passed away, God rest his soul.  

I did not feel intimidated on any of my visits, and was grateful that Jack was always friendly to me. The place is beloved by so many of the old-timers in Yarmouth Port that one can feel like an intruder, certainly an outsider, if you're not one of those old times. Not me. I didn't care. I was too old to care about such matters.

I had a friend in Lansing, Michigan, named Dennis Little. We met in 1964 and, quickly recognizing one another as a kindred soul, became very close. If we were separated, as we were for most of our friendship, we wrote letters regularly. We wanted each other to be the witness of the other's life.
Dennis Little, 1970

It was Dennis who first turned me on to Edward Gorey; he owned, already in 1964, several of Gorey's self-published little masterpieces; they were not, in those days, easy to acquire until you learned that the legendary Frances Steloff, owner of Gotham Book Mart in Manhattan, carried Gorey's books, and did mail orders.

A must-go-to place when in Manhattan.
I was thrilled in 1977 when I was spending a winter in Manhattan and saw Edward Gorey, attired in his long raccoon coat and white tennis shoes, walking on 5th Avenue. I could hardly wait to get back to my room and write Dennis about this astonishing experience.


A month's worth of Gorey's Guest Check orders framed at Jack's Out Back

One morning in the autumn of 2000 at Jack's Out Back I wrote my order up and hung it on the wheel. I poured myself a cup of coffee, grabbed a napkin and silverware, and went to the one vacant seat at the high counter. It was the seat closest to the door. I was wearing my vivid yellow sweatshirt that I had just bought at the Quad-Cities airport after attending the Illinois funeral of a beloved brother. Just as I sat down the man on the next stool, looking to be about sixty, a little heavy, nice-enough looking, said to the grill-tending Jack, pointing at me,"Look! Edward's yellow!" Then he turned to me. "Do you know who Edward Gorey was?" I said that yes, I did, and that I had been a fan since the early sixties -- an unintended exaggeration; I couldn't think quickly just when (1964) Dennis had introduced me to Gorey's marvels.

"Edward had a sweater that color and he gave it to Jack in his will!"


"In fact, your sitting in his chair!" I couldn't help but wonder if I was supposed not to sit in his chair.

"This is where he sat? I'm honored"

"In fact, we're going to be putting a plaque on it soon."

We chatted a bit, without introducing ourselves, and I gathered that this man was very close to Gorey -- probably his neighbor and friend. When I asked where Gorey had been buried the man said, "Some of his ashes are buried in Ohio, and some were scattered at Sandy Neck, and I have a little jar of them which he asked me to scatter in his yard. I haven't done it yet, but we'll do it sometime before the end of the year."

"Why Ohio?" I asked.

"A favorite aunt of Edward's lives there, and she wanted his ashes to be buried there."

"He grew up in Chicago, didn't he?"


There wasn't much more to our small talk than that.  A couple had come in and sat to the man's left, and he said that one of his cats -- he named it but I didn't catch the name -- had returned home the night before after a two-week absence. The woman wondered why the cat left home "like that." The man said that the cat began doing it since he'd taken Edward's cat in, that it doesn't like Edward's cat. I wanted to say, "Oh! Give me Edward Gorey's cat!" but I didn't.

As I walked to my truck after a good breakfast I thought how fascinated Dennis would have been to know that I'd sat in Edward Gorey's chair, and would have listened raptly as I described what kind of place it is that Edward Gorey took his meals in. I would have had to go to the nearest telephone and report it all to him. It couldn't wait until I got home.

But I couldn't tell Dennis because he had died eleven years earlier, at forty-seven, of lung cancer. It still hurts that he's gone.

I wondered, walking to my truck: What are we supposed to do with these sorts of experiences? These sorts of things that need to be communicated to the exactly-right person? These experiences bottle up inside. There's no where to put them. There's no right place for them to live.

Some day you can start a blog; you can put your memories there.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Oakwood Cemetery - Warsaw, Indiana

Blanche Kerr Brock wished to be memorialized by the hymn that, of the many she wrote, was her favorite.  Oakwood Cemetery is twelve miles from my hometown; I would probably do lots of walking there if I lived closer than 970 miles.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Answers from Two Thousand Nine

A post for Johnny - Happy Birthday!

A book reviewer/librarian named Lisa Guidarini, who lives northwest of Chicago, kept a blog called "Bluestalking" that I liked to read.  It was pretty much the inspiration to start my own blog.  We emailed back and forth -- virtual friends.  Lisa often published interviews with other bloggers; in 2009 she asked to interview me (via email), but never published it.  I came across it today at work when I was "cleaning up" my computer, ridding it of personal stuff that really shouldn't be there.  So, since I enjoyed reading it, I'm putting it here.  I have not paid much attention to blogging lately; partly because I bought a new scanner which I didn't know how to use.  Luckily a friend from New York, Ellen, visited me over the long weekend, and her friend, Scott, who has become my friend, gave Ellen a ride up and back; yesterday he -- being really really smart on all things computer -- showed me how to use my new scanner.

I guess my favorite answer is the one of Lisa asking me who is my favorite politician.

(Oddly, being thrilled to have a useful scanner again, this post does not contain anything scanned!)

1.  In a few sentences, describe your blog.

     Serendipitous?  I try to keep on the literature/grave track but I get disorganized or short of time and then will post anything that amuses me, hoping that it might also amuse or interest others.

2.    How long have you been blogging?

     If you publish this on November 30th it will be on my blog's first anniversary.

3.    Why do you blog?

     I was a letter writer all my life.  I loved writing and receiving letters.  I'm still in touch with my Irish penpal, Flo, to whom I first wrote when I was in the 8th grade in 1953!  In fact the most recent letter I received was from Flo.  But somewhere along the way letter writing went away, succumbing to email, or sometimes to the deaths of my correspondents, so that now I write letters to basically just two people ... Flo in Ireland, and a poet friend in New Hampshire ... and I just learned that Flo is going to get a laptop in the very near future, so maybe I’ll be down to one!  But to get back to the question, I think keeping a blog is a good substitute for the letter-writing I used to do.  It makes me feel I'm in touch with others via written words.

4.    What's the most positive aspect of blogging? Most negative?

     The positive is that it's a good past-time.  I have no idea how many people read my blog but when someone from Juneau, then someone from Singapore, and then a young man in Australia, and then even someone stationed in Antarctica, comments on the blog or emails me, it gives me a little thrill.  Since there were some compliments from outside the USA I was able to refer to myself to my nephew, who likes to tease me, as an "internationally acclaimed blogger."

     I'm not sure of any negative except that sometimes I wonder if it's too self-indulgent, ego-based.  I've had aims of avoiding that but in the end, at the bottom line, it seems to be all about me.

    5. What inspires your blog entries?

     A poem or a good book.  Or just whimsy.  I like to say that I used to paste things in scrapbooks or photo albums but now I just put them on my blog.

    6.  Do you compose posts ahead of time, or do you write "on the fly"?

     Usually ahead of time, and sometimes I'll just copy a passage from old journals I've kept.  I like to take a lot of care with composition and now try to make things compact.  If I can successfully make a sentence just as clear with fewer words then that's good; I enjoy trying to do that.  Even if I write a post "on the fly" I go over and over it until I think I got it down as best as I am capable of getting it down, so on occasion “on the fly” ends up being a long flight.

     7. What blogs do you read on a regular basis?

     I read Crooks & Liars for political news and commentary; Andrew Sullivan of The Atlantic; the blog of a Chinese poet whose name is Fan Jingua; one called BlueGal who is politically funny and does the best satirical videos. I also read something named Driftglass, which has great photoshopping political satire, but I read him (her?) mostly because he says really really mean things about Andrew Sullivan.  I guess I love/hate Andrew Sullivan.  Hate him because he was a George Bush cheerer (but has reformed) and like him because he finally saw the light; some of his causes, such as gay marriage, and his Catholic faith, bore me.  If I were asked if I'm pro-gay marriage I'd have to say no because I'm against the government's sanctioning marriage at all, gay or straight ... it should only be doing civil unions, and let the churches do the marrying.  But back to Sullivan, he's a good writer and his stuff is always well thought out.  And I read a blog called "A Celebration This is" done by a guy named Peter Steinberg who seems to be as Sylvia Plath-obsessed as I have been and he's an excellent source for not just the best collection of Plath-related photos but also for news about Plath events and books and so forth.  And I read you!  You're funny and your pictures are great.  I want a camera just like you have but I don't want my cat to get pissed off at me and pee on my camera like your cat did.

8.    What have you been reading lately?  Do you read books, ebooks, or both?

I just finished an excellent novel called "The Uncle From Rome" by a Joseph Caldwell.  It was published in 1992 but I just got turned onto it by a friend who's acquainted with Caldwell and she sent me his novel "The Pig Did It" for my birthday.  And not long ago I read one of the greatest novels I've ever read -- "The Kindly Ones" by Jonathan Littell. It was a thousand pages of really great writing and astonishing events.  Next up is "Garden, Ashes" by Danilo Kis, whom Susan Sontag admired.  I'm an admirer of Sontag and I've learned that it is smart to read anything that she recommended.

And, no, I do not read ebooks and never will.  I love books for themselves, the feel of them, the look of them, the font on the pages, the heft of them. [2015: I just got a Kindle!]

9.     What's your take on the current financial crisis?  Who, or what, is to blame?

     Beyond simple arithmetic, economics is beyond my understanding, but I think I can fairly assume that the ugly heads of greed are to blame ... I believe, for instance, that Bush went to war in Iraq with the aim of making himself look like a conqueror but also to enrich his friends at Halliburton and Black Water et alia.  He supposed it'd be over quicky, but he didn't give it much thought since he wasn't intelligent enough to analyze anything deeply, and then it was handled so badly and has gone on so long that now we're sapped and broke.

10.     What music do you listen to?  Any favorite artists or genres?

     I pay attention to any music and love things from all genres.  Some loves:  Sinead O'Connor, all of Motown, especially The Supremes, Bob Seger, John Mellencamp, Beatles, Stones, Eminem, George Jones, Neil Young, Merle Haggard, Aretha Franklin, Nirvana, Emmylou Harris, and, lately, Celtic Women!  Because the Celtic Women fiddler, Mairead, is my Irish penpal's niece, I had a backstage pass for their concert in Connecticut.  Mairead is gorgeous and lovely and the show was for me a two-hour swoon, beautiful and flawless.

11.         Where do you get your news?

     I read the New York Times every day but Sunday.  I read Huffington Post for free and don't really need the expensive $2 Times but for something like fifty years I've been going out for breakfast and a newspaper.  When the Times went up to $2 I swore I was going to boycott it, but I just can't seem to break the habit.

12.        Are you reliant on any technical devices (iPod, Blackberry, etc.)?

     No.  I don't want to learn further technical stuff.

13. What is your political leaning?  Do you consider yourself affiliated with a particular party?

     Total bleeding-heart liberal.  My favorite politician is Senator Bernie Sanders from Vermont, a Socialist.  I'm registered as an Independent but always vote Democratic.

14. Do you consider yourself religious?

     Not at all.  Kind of spiritual or pantheistic.

15.  Have you done any foreign traveling? Favorite destination?

     Maybe 15 trips to Europe, most of them to Ireland.  I love all of Europe for sight-seeing but there's nothing like forty-nine shades of green.  In May I went to Provence and it was amazingly beautiful.  Mexico twice and Canada countless times.

16.    What is your personal philosophy of life?  Is there a meaning, to you?

     My philosophy is a bunch of scattered ideas from a mixture of disciplines.  I know of no extraneous meaning to life.  I like to say I'm an existentialist but it's difficult for me to even define that beyond saying "there's no meaning prior to existence" but I figure if it was good enough for intellectual giants like Sartre and Camus (some Camus essays I've read 15 or 20 times) it's good enough for me.  So, beyond the mundane such as "do unto others ..." I don't have a particular philosophy.  I do like to say that I am a follower of Christ but not a capital-c Christian.

17.  Aside from your blog, do you do any other writing?

     Not now.  I've written maybe twenty or thirty short stories but think only 2 or 3 are much good.  I'd like to have written novels but, like Sylvia Plath, I have no subject but myself, and a good bit of the time even I find myself tiresome.  I've done lots of mini-memoirs and casual essays which I recycle sometimes for my blog.

18.    If you could orbit the earth in Richard Branson's spaceship (or any other that takes civilians), would you?

     Absolutely not.  I want to go only to places where there's civilization and culture, and I want nothing to do with the likes of Richard Branson.

19.    Do you consider yourself adventurous, in general?

     Only slightly so.

20.    Have you ever met a celebrity?  Who, and when?

     I had dinner with Skeeter Davis in the mid-sixties.  I'm still swooning.  And the film-maker John Waters is my friend since 1973.

21.  Do you watch television?  Favorite programs?

     I'm addicted to college basketball.   Otherwise I love Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow.  I like to say I've never watched a sitcom, they just bore me, but it's not exactly true as once I was a visitor in a home and "Sienfield" was on (and actually funny).  Another time in the sixties "All in the Family" was on someplace I was visiting and that episode was really stupid.

22.    Have you ever been on television?  In the newspaper?

     Never been on television.  Was in the weekly newspaper in a small Indiana town in 1940 because I was born on New Year's Day.  I was born on a Monday; the paper came out on Thursday and it said "the little chap has not been named as yet."  

23.    Who are your favorite writers -- please list three or four.

     Marcel Proust, Violette Leduc, Jean Genet, Sylvia Plath, Albert Camus, Amos Oz, Gunther Grass, Julia Older, Orhan Pamuk (but only for "Istanbul") and V.S. Naipaul (but only for "The Enigma of Arrival".  Sorry not to honor your “three or four” request.

24.    What is your astrological sign?  Does it reveal anything about you?

     Capricorn.  I don't know much about astrology, but I do believe absolutely that some people can see into the future.

25.    What's the single greatest/biggest world event to have happened in your lifetime?

     Sad to say but I suppose that'd be the elevation of George W. Bush to the Presidency, for I think he is a really stupid man, and he set our country, and thus the world, on such a downward spiral that I'm not confident that recovery is possible.  I guess that to bring a country to its knees is a big event.

     Otherwise I was absolutely obsessed with the Patty Hearst kidnapping and trial.  I love all sensational journalism!  Oh, I said I was never on television, but I used to stand over the shoulder of Hearst's lawyer F. Lee Bailey when he was addressing the press and then I'd run to a friend's house to watch me on the evening news.  And now I remember another time when I was sitting in the front row of a basketball game between Duke and Kentucky and Duke's Danny Ferry, 6'10" and 230 pounds, got tripped and stumbled out of bounds and fell on me;  my friend's mother saw it on TV and was worried about me. I guess I'm just an ounce's worth of dignity away from becoming one of those idiots who stand outside 30 Rockefeller Center in the freezing cold and wave at a camera during a morning show.  Oh, god … all in all I'm pitiful. 

26. Who is a personal hero of yours, and why?

     I'll have to get back to you on that.  Not sure I have any. 

27.    Do you enjoy cooking?  Any specialties?

     Not really.  I always imagine I'd like to cook gourmet stuff but so far I haven't progressed beyond a decent Beef Stroganoff.  I make excellent pies.  For dinner tonight I went to the local market and bought a slab of meatloaf in the deli section.

28.    What do you do to relax?

     Read.  Walk in the woods. 

29. Do you have a college degree or degrees?

     Nope.  It hardly seriously occurred to me that I might go to college.  Having a job to make payments on a red convertible with a white top was my priority.

30.  What is your profession, if you're currently employed?

     Was in restaurant business most of my life ... waiter, bartender, bookkeeper, and co-owned three different businesses.  Am now too old to work hard and am an administrative clerk in the Headquarters of a park.  It's the perfect job for me.  It's easy, it gives me reason to get out and be among people, and I find that I'm really good at menial tasks.  I enjoy my job enough that sometimes I'm disappointed when there's a holiday and I don’t get to go to work. 

31. In what area of the world do you live?  What's the best and worst thing about it?

     I live on Cape Cod.  It's gorgeous.  The worst thing is probably that everything is too costly and there're too many golf courses drenched with fertilizer that's spoiling the ponds.  

32.    If money were no object, where would you live?

     Four months of the year in NYC, three months in Ireland, three in France, and two months visiting scattered friends and family.

33. If you were forced to evacuate your home, what possessions would you grab on your way out the door?

     After I got the dog and cats out, I guess I'd grab my computer.  I live on it now.  I've set out to store my entire life on it.  It's a cryin' shame but that's how it is.

34.    What value, moral, or principle do you think is most important in life?

     "Do unto others ..."  Do not be greedy.  Be loyal to good friends and good family.

35.  Any plans for your next vacation?

     Forty-nine shades of green.    

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Ceremony for Richard English

A picture of Richard with his dog, Pie-O-My; a vase of
flowers; a wooden box containing our friend's
earthly remains.  The pink tablecloth is from
Cafe Mews, a restaurant that both Richard and I,
in the early eighties, worked in.

Waiting for people to gather; forefront: Channing Wilroy.
Kevin Johnson chatting with Richard's sister, Darlene.

On left: Richard's brother Vernon and Vernon's girlfriend, who live
in Sonoma, California; on right, Darlene, Richard's sister,
who lives near Mobile, Alabama.
I'm thinking, "Come on, gather round in a semi-circle."

Time to say some nice things about a nice guy.

Thank you all for coming out to honor a good man. And thanks to Mother Nature for this perfect day.

Richard and I were soldiers in Germany when we met 54 years ago. I liked him right away. He was open, ready to laugh, interesting and interested. We were to become buddies for life…together in Muenchweiler, in Lansing, Detroit, Ann Arbor, and, finally, in Provincetown and Wellfleet.

In October of 2013 Richard, Jim Rann, Rodney Reetz, and I celebrated fifty years of friendship by having dinner together at Fanizzi's. I have always thought of these guys as "the core" of my friendships … the ones who go back the furthest, the ones who know the most about the others of us. I've always appreciated that it was through Richard that I met Jim, and through both of them that I met Rodney. These guys have always been special and dear, and it was my friendship with Richard in Germany that set off having a wonderful core set of friends throughout all these years.

Like many of you, I cared for Richard deeply. I loved him like he was an ideal brother, and never doubted that he loved me. Loyalty could have been his middle name. Sometimes I felt like he held me in a higher esteem than I deserved to be held. But I think he did that with others too. That's just how he was … If he liked you he liked you all the way. I honestly can't remember him ever saying an unkind word about another human being. And for a guy who … and this was rare, especially in the seventies and eighties … for a guy who did not socialize in bars, he gathered an amazing and incredibly varied collection of friends. A lot of us, I bet, have almost nothing in common except an admiration for Richard.

I remember a time in Lansing in the early sixties when Richard told me he would like to be a painter but that he didn't think his imagination could be contained within the rectangular lines of any frame. I had no idea that Richard had any artistic talent … I'd never seen him draw, I'd never even seen him doodle … but I thought that was a really neat thing to say. And eventually, in his late thirties, he saw a way to become a painter, using talent more than any wild imagination, just painting what was beautiful to him, and painting it beautifully. I'm one of many who think his paintings are amazingly good.

I also had no clue that Richard had it in him to become a fine finish carpenter. I know a real estate agent in town who's seen the gentrified interiors of a lot of homes here. Often when she saw exceptionally fine cabinetry or beautifully crafted stairs and such, she would ask who'd done the work. The answer was often "Richard English.” His wonderful gift let him "see" results ahead, and he was adept at applying those visions to both woodworking and oil painting. 

Many many times in the sixties I read to Richard poems or bits of literature which I liked. I'm not exaggerating in saying that he glowed with appreciation when I did this. He loved literature but reading was difficult for him … he could write a beautiful letter but reading daunted him. I eventually came to speculate that it was some sort of dyslexia that made reading difficult. But now I would like to read one more poem for him. I'm not sure Richard is approving of this little ceremony in his honor … he was such a private sort of guy … but I know for certain that he will love hearing one more poem. It's by Emily Dickinson.  

Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And immortality.

We slowly drove, he knew no haste,
And I had put away
My leisure and my labor too,
For his civility.

We passed the school where children played
Their lessons scarcely done;
We passed the fields of gazing grain;
We passed the setting sun.

We paused before a house that seemed
A swelling of the ground;
The roof was scarcely visible,
The cornice but a mound.

Since then 'tis centuries, but each
Feels shorter than the day
I first surmised the horses' heads
Were toward eternity.*

A few others spoke; the man on my left, Peter Robert Cook,
mentioned huge amounts of hoota smoked and lots
of fun and laughs.
I loved it that dogs were listening.  Richard was as kind
to animals as a person can be.

Kathy, the woman in pink, remembered Richard
teaching her, in the early seventies,  the correct pronunciation of Scallop,
which happened to be the name of one of his cats.

That's Pie-O-My at the top, now adopted
by Jim Rann and Peter McDonough; and,

in gold,Tom Cullen's Chihuahua.

Darlene carries the ashes and I the flowers
to Tom who is waiting in his kayak.

I loved having one of Richard's dearest friends taking him
out to the sea which Richard loved so much.  Thanks Tom and Kevin
for thinking this would be the best place to have
the ceremony. You were absolutely right.

Darlene and me watching as Tom paddles out to
where a current will carry Richard beyond the breakwater

to open sea.

After the ceremony Tom treated us all to Mediterranean finger foods and dips
at The Harbor Lounge … which is part of the site of the old Cafe Mews where Richard and I
worked at one time.  And I treated myself to a martini. (Of that pink tablecloth from Cafe Mews I said,
"It could be the one that was on one of the tables used by either Eartha Kitt or Grace Jones on the
autumn night each of them came into Cafe Mews with separate parties, sat across the aisle from one another,
without acknowledge the other diva's presence.)

Four Amigos is now Three Amigos.  Jim Rann, Rodney Reetz, and I
celebrated fifty years of friendship with Richard in 2013.
*Anyone familiar with this Dickinson poem will notice that I took liberties; because I'm so fond of Dickinson I've always felt a little guilty that I usually prefer any version of her poems that was edited by one of two other people after Dickinson's death; Dickinson's original of this poem is difficult to recite; the edited version is much easier; my changes make it even easier yet. (I change 'my labor and my leisure too" to 'my leisure and my labor too.' I also like to say 'civilitay' for civility, forcing the rhyme with 'away.'
All photos by Mark Jurentkuff

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

RIP: Grace Metalious, Sept. 8, 1924 - Feb. 25, 1964

The small New Hampshire town where Grace Metalious lived while writing
Peyton Place.  The locals were not pleased when, naturally, most readers
 thought (correctly) that the novel was based on actual Gilmanton folk and real local stories.

"Pandora in Blue Jeans" as the press dubbed her.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014


Except during the three winter months when they are closed, I go to the same deli for coffee and a breakfast sandwich every workday. I call it my "Cheers" because everyone there knows my name … or I like to think they do. It's mostly a to-go business; there are just four stools, usually occupied by me, by a plumber named Steve, by a welder named Jamie, and by a seemingly ne'er-do-well but talented jack-of-all-trades named Paul. We have good-natured chats, but only Steve the Plumber seems to have much curiosity about the world beyond the town of Eastham. One morning, after my visit to the Adams National Historical Park in Quincy, I raved about how much I'd enjoyed the guided tour of the place. A week or so later Steve walked in and handed me David McCullough's gigantic work, the 700-some densely small-fonted pages of the Pulitzer prize winning John Adams, saying "I bought you a present … it was on sale." Though history is not my reading-bag, I expressed enthusiastic gratitude. And I knew I would read it … I was touched that Steve would bring me a gift; I like him.
I read an average of 65 books each year. In 2014 I read just 36 … and that's counting slim volumes of poetry such as the two by Spencer Reece which will be mentioned further along in this post.

The reason my yearly average of books took such a hit is because it took me what seemed like forever … from Oct. 30th to Nov. 2nd … to get through John Adams; aside from the fact that I rarely read other than when I go to bed (unless I'm traveling, or waiting for a tune-up at the Toyota dealership, etc.), or when I wake at 3AM and 4AM, and so forth. Not that the biography of Adams didn't grip my interest; it is excellent. But geez, all those pages, with their small-fonted density.

It kept nagging at me, too, that if I was going to read any Adams stuff I'd probably be better off reading The Education of Henry Adams - An Autobiography. Both Henry's paternal grandfather and great-grandfather had been U.S. Presidents. His autobiography is often cited as one of the greatest books written by an American, and includes a lot about our country's history. Further, a handsome hard-covered early-twentieth-century edition of this book has rested un-read (and pretty much un-dusted) on one or another of my book shelves for twenty-some years. I just never got around to it.

So … here goes: the best of 2014's reads, in the order that I read them.


Graham Swift

 1. Wish You Were Here - Graham Swift. Critics described this novel as "bleak," "unforgettable," and "extraordinary". The Washington Post's Ron Charles, in my opinion (humble, of course), crafted the best description I've come across: "Swift introduces a few characters, a handful of scenes, two or three objects and then ruminates on them for 300 pages, setting aside chronology to cycle through the same events, thoughts and phrases again and again, from this angle and that, building and elaborating toward a crescendo that is absolutely gorgeous." I immensely enjoyed reading toward that crescendo.

Daniel Menaker
2. My Mistake - Daniel Menaker. I wrote about and quoted extensively from this memoir in a post on August 26th.

With John Waters in  Peyton Place  (Gilmanton, NH); July 16, 1994
3. Carsick - John Waters - Disclosure: John Waters has been my friend since 1973. I loved his movie "Pink Flamingos" but, without going into it here, felt bonded to him particularly when I discovered our mutual love for the writings of an obscure French lesbian writer named Violette Leduc; and then further because we found ourselves in San Francisco in 1976 both attending the trial of Patricia Hearst. I love John Waters; he's my favorite movie-maker; he writes the best dialogue; he's an avid reader ("I can count on one hand the number of friends I have who are serious readers," he once told me); and he's one of my favorite truly fun-to-read authors. I love his irreverence, and I think he's an American classic; he should be one of those Kennedy Center honorees.

I'll crib from Jonathan Yardley's Washington Post review of Carsick, saving me from composing an inferior take: "In this, the seventh of his books, John Waters -- the evil genius of Baltimore, the living, breathing embodiment of camp, the man with the bristling pencil-thin mustache and vocabulary that would make a drill sergeant blush -- betrays his deepest and darkest secret. In these pages the apostle of outrage -- the actor, writer and director whose contributions to cinematic glory include "Pink Flamingos," "Mondo Trasho," and "Hairspray" -- reveals himself to be a … sentimentalist … underlying it all is a highly developed sense of fun, a desire to amuse more than to shock …Waters has made a funny engaging and -- of course -- occasionally outrageous book. All in all a cool trip and a delightful book."  

Karl Ove Knausgaard

4. My Struggle - Karl Ove Knausgaard - It was clever to get a lot of attention by giving his autobiographical "novel" the same title -- at least in the original Norwegian -- as Hitler's Mein Kampf. And to get it reviewed, considerably favorably; and, when it is translated into several languages, have it become a best-seller not just in Norway but in a dozen or more other countries. Further, this book I read was just the first of six volumes of the "novel" … all in all, these six tomes total 3500 pages. I'd read much about Knausgaard, and descriptions and reviews of his work always made it seem that his book was fetching me, but I just wasn't willing to commit the time it would take to finish 3500 pages -- and there may come Volume 7 and Volume 8 (and on and on) before he's finished. If Knausgaard, who is now 46, keeps going I will be long dead before he's finished. 

Still, a friend who's recommended so many great books to me, urged me to give My Struggle a try. I set upon it. I could not quite figure out why I was engrossed from the start; it was just that Knausgaard's good prose pulled me along. It does seem to be a narrative of the life Knausgaard actually lived, and it's interesting and well-written. I finished Volume I and got Volume II from the library and was on page 236 when Steve walked into the deli with the gift of McCullough's biography of John Adams, so I returned Knausgaard to the library, expecting to take him up again at a better time.

(I want to mention that Karl Ove Knausgaard is often likened to Marcel Proust, but, frankly, this should be done only jokingly. Knausgaard is prolific, but he doesn't come close to genius (except, perhaps, as a self-publicist); let alone close to the genius of Proust.) 

Spencer Reece

5. The Clerk's Tale and The Road to Emmaus - Spencer Reece. I think it was in an interview with the Inauguration poet Richard Blanco that I first noticed a mention of Spencer Reece. "The Clerk's Tale" -- the poem, not the same-named collection -- immediately became a favorite of mine. You should Google it and read the poem. There are other excellent poems in Reece's two collections. Further, James Franco made a short arty film of "The Clerk's Tale" and you could probably pull that up on the Internet and watch it for free.

Chloe Griffin, on right, with Nan Golden

6. Edgewise: A Picture of Cookie Mueller - Chloe Griffin. On the 8th of March in 2010, I got an email:

Dear George, I am an artist living in Berlin, Germany, and I am currently working on a book about Cookie Mueller. The book consists of interviews, stories, writings, musings and images all paying testimony to the life and work of Cookie. I have been researching over the past three years and have met with over forty of Cookie's friends including people such as John Waters, Amos Poe, Gary Indiana, Mink Stole, just to name a few. I've spent quite a bit of time in Provincetown and remained in close contact with Sharon Niesp [Cookie's best love] and Max Mueller [Cookie's son]. I noticed while looking online that you took a fabulous photograph of Cookie at the premiere of "Female Trouble" and I was curious if you would be interested in contributing any of your work or perhaps your memories of Cookie Mueller. The book I am producing is an homage to Cookie and has an emphasis on visuals as much as text. If you have any questions please feel free to ask. Looking forward to hearing from you. - Chloe.

I replied that of course Chloe could use the picture I'd taken, asking only that I be credited in print. After subsequent emailing I ended up sending Chloe fifteen-or-so pictures that she might want to include. (I think she used twelve or thirteen.)

On August 10, 2014 … over four years later … I got yet another email from Chloe:

Dear George, The book is ready! Where should I post you the book? Can't wait for you to see it! X - Chloe.

The mail carrier brought the book. I was excited. I loved holding it in my hands, seeing my name beneath several pictures, happy to be involved with anything involving Cookie Mueller.

And of course I loved reading the book … over three hundred pages of pictures and stories about Cookie. I zoomed through it so hurriedly, so fascinated, that later I needed, in a less excited state, to read it a second time, paying it slower and closer attention. Thus I, so far as reading goes, loved it twice-over.

Because I knew and loved Cookie -- I imagine that everyone who knew her loved her -- it is really hard for me to imagine how this book would read to someone who didn't know Cookie, or who had no interest in the characters living in Provincetown in the seventies, or in the downtown art scene of the eighties in New York City. I can say that it is a great accomplishment on Chloe's part: she interviewed so many people who knew Cookie, let them tell their stories, kept herself out of it, and edited it with excellence.

My bias is increased because I was invited to various functions in New York City in connection with the launching of the book. City life was great … the Edgewise functions, seeing old friends, eating in great restaurants, seeing the Jeff Koons exhibit at the Whitney Museum, playing Boggle every moment possible with my host/friend Ellen.

So, yes, as an elderly man who sometimes thinks and acts like he's eighteen, and who harbors an unseemly crush on a beautiful and cool and young "artist living in Berlin" I permit myself to say … time and again … what a lucky man I am.

Once I'd written my blog post about the events in New York, I sent Chloe a link to my post; she'd meanwhile returned to Berlin for the launching of the book there.

"I was just speaking about you to Sharon and Max," she emailed on November 5th, "and showed them the beautiful Sylvia Plath card you sent me [I'd sent that card back in August to thank her for the book and to wish her safe travels] … we must be connected! Really! Sharon says a fond hello, she's sorry she didn't have the chance to speak more in NYC but was so happy you came. Max says the same. We were really all just speaking about how wonderful you are! Love - Chloe."

Five days later: "Your blog[post] is one of the sweetest things I've ever read! Thank you for documenting NYC with such soul and heart. Now I have a crush! [I'd said in the blog that I had a crush on her.] Last night was the final book event of the tour. It was held in BBooks, the publisher's bookstore, a modest little shop full of my friends. It was the greatest final reading night of all. We showed a rare recording of Cookie reading a story and then Max read the story of his birth and Sharon told everyone the story of the Octupus (see page 82 in Edgewise). All this on the 25th anniversary of the Berlin Wall falling and Cookie's ascendance to the stars. Unbelievably magical."

When I read the words "Now I have a crush!" I swooned. I'm still swooning. I'll be swooning for the rest of my days.

Frank X. Gaspar
7. Leaving Pico - Frank X. Gaspar - This author grew up in Provincetown, the place I called home from October of 1972 until 1985, so I've been hearing of him for a long time; he gets a lot of publicity in his hometown's newspaper. He's had five collections of poems published. I never got around to reading him until this year. Leaving Pico is a great read; it was described excellently by Erik Burns in a New York Times review. "The poet Frank X. Gaspar's simple and satisfying first novel introduces us to Josie Carvalho, a young man who is growing up in a Portuguese community in Provincetown, Mass. With his feisty, unreliable grandfather John Joseph as his guide, Josie spends a troubled summer exploring life's deepest mysteries, from the power of religion to the pain of loss. Through a combination of prayer and more down-to-earth meddling, Josie leads his mother into a romance with a fisherman, but the scheme goes awry when the couple run away. Left on his own with his dotty great-aunt, Josie turns to his grandfather for support. The old man, like a grizzled Scheherazade, comforts the boy with a drawn-out tale of a supposed Portuguese discovery of America that's led by -- in this version anyway -- a Carvalho family ancestor. Gaspar's novel is an expert portrait of the Portuguese immigrant experience, from its resistance to full integration to its more domestic squabbles. The smaller human drama here is set against the backdrop of Portugal's history. The great Portuguese navigators conquered the seas in huge caravels, while Josie and his grandfather ply the waters off Provincetown in a tiny dory -- ironically, and intentionally, named Caravalla.
8. Stealing Fatima - Frank X. Gaspar - This second novel from Gaspar is set in more recent times. I see from their comments that a lot of readers thought it was too slow-going. I loved it. The main character is a priest suffering from much: pill-popping, alcoholism, a crisis of faith, and the sudden appearance of his best friend from childhood, dying from AIDS, and, in connection with trouble with the law, needing to be hidden in the rectory. Not once did my attention lag. I loved the good-sized cast of characters, the story, and Gaspar's prose skills.