Wednesday, November 19, 2014

RIP: Martha Rose Fitzgerald McKinney Gorham - November 19, 1932 - June 6, 2005


AKA "Sis" … always car-proud back in the fifties; I think this one was a lime-green 1947 Plymouth.  And she could be damn funny -- my brother Bernard and I quote her quite often. If, out on the highway, another car overtook her, she was apt to take it personally. "Where the hell does he think he's going in such a hurry?" she'd ask as she haunched herself forward, her forehead just above the steering wheel, put the petal to the metal, and overtook the offender in turn, "to show him that he ain't the only one that's got someplace to git to."  And, we thought, just because she considered a highway a speedway with -- who knew? -- some reward known-only-to-her waiting at the end of the road.

And she was wonderful to her "three little brothers" after we'd all lost our dad.  If I needed 15-cents so I could buy a root beer float at Denton's Drug Store on Boy Scout meeting night, I knew where I could get it.  And she'd be so pleased that she could do these sweet things.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

RIP: Marcel Proust - July 10, 1871 - November 18, 1922

"Everything great in the world comes from neurotics.
They alone have founded our religions and composed our masterpieces."

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Proletariat


I liked this bar.  Ellen and I stopped in twice for nightcaps.  They specialize in very small batches from all over, but especially from Belgium.  But if you're really a proletarian you probably can't afford $6.50 for four ounces of beer.  But it was great taste.  And the bartender … well, on the first night it was the guy in the foreground of this picture.  Then I looked at the guy to his left and I thought … no … he was the guy who told me "Pretty Girl" was a great beer.  Now I think they're brothers, maybe twins.









Wednesday, November 12, 2014

RIP: John D. Fitzgerald - Aug. 30, 1934 - Nov. 14, 2000


My brother. Gone way too soon. He and his beautiful wife, Helen, gave me a wonderful batch of four nephews and a niece and now countless great- and great-great nieces and nephews. 
Brother, I would have given you some of my years if such a trade-off were possible.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Day Before Veteran's Day, 2009

The Day Before Veteran’s Day, 2009

Lately, I’ve been feeling lonesome;
I don’t quite know why.
Maybe because it’s dark when I drive home from work,
and there’s usually no one to greet me
but one dog and two cats.

For most of my life I was all
the company I needed;
I coveted quiet.
I didn’t need a lover; I didn’t need a radio; no teevee.
I kept my own counsel, I had paper to write on,
and great books on all kinds of shelves,
but tonight it'd be nice to sit and chat with someone.

I drove downtown
to return some books to the library.
I checked out a book of Donald Hall’s poems.
Then I drove on up Main Street and saw lights on
in the town’s most run-down restaurant.

I guessed I was hungry. I pulled up out front.
They’ve made it more of a Sports Bar
since last I was here;
a large square of counter and stools are plonked down
smack dab in the middle of the dining room.
Four huge TVs are tuned to ESPN.
I order Alfredo pasta with chicken.

Some loud-mouthed guy on the far side of the bar
whines for twenty minutes about the Yankees.
Their payroll, he says, is a crying shame --
it’s that Steinbrenner who’s to blame.
On and on he whines. The World Series
ended over a week ago.
I wish he’d get over it!

I guess he’s one of those die-hard Red Sox fans
whose hearts have been broken again and again;
but I don’t want to hear about it.
I’m trying to read.

Fat chance they’ll change channels
for the likes of me. I'd rather watch the news.
I lowered the flag to half-staff this morning.
The President attended a memorial at Fort Hood today.
I was stationed there for four months in fifty-eight.
I saw Elvis the day after I got there;
he was coming out of the dental clinic
and, with a Colonel, got into a white Cadillac.
Next day he shipped out to Germany.
My buddies and I, bored in Fort Hood,
killed rattlesnakes for sport
on Sunday afternoons in the hot Texas sun.
Life was empty. I got out of there just in time.
Like Elvis, I shipped out to Germany.

I'm done with the pasta.  It was barely edible. A cup’s worth
of Alfredo sauce remains in the bowl, thin as milk.
I pay with my credit card. As I’m heading for the door
I hear that guy say, “A-Rod makes more in one year
than the whole Kansas City team makes.
Where’s the sport in that?”

I turn toward him; it’s my turn at last,
he’s been motor-mouthing too much
about last week's loss.
Why don’t you get a fuckin’ life ,” I yell,
and shut the fuck up?”
 
Well, not really. Only in my imagination.
No way do I have the guts to say any such thing.
I’m mild-mannered, I’m meek,
and at my age I’m comparatively weak.
I’d be filled with apprehension
that he might punch me
into the middle of next week.
I keep my mouth shut, I hurry on out.

Back on Route Six,
heading for the sticks of the sticks,
I turn onto a lonesome Gross Hill Road.
After a mile I pull into
the secluded Gull Haven Lane;
even Dylan’s Desolation Row,
where I could buy one of those
postcards of the hanging”
sounds like a great place to be.
There’s certainly
nothing for the lonely to buy
on Gull Haven Lane.

Jodie-Dog is thrilled to see me;
there’s some wiggles and there’s a prance.
I rub her haunches, I scratch her ears.
The cats glance my way and,
unimpressed, glance askance.
They have their airs.

I find my manuscript book,
the one that Donna gave me in Keene.
On its cover, in elaborate script, is stamped,
Discover answers with your pen and a little quiet.”
I’ve got the quiet down pat,
and I own a hundred pens.

I pull a chair up to the table and sit.
I try to come up with a question
to see if the book’s cover can answer it;
I’ve got one: How can anyone give a shit
about A-Rod and the Yankees
and a small round white ball?

My notebook,
like a poem that doesn’t quite work,
has nothing to say.
It's just another fuckin' piece
of another lousy day.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

An Artist in Berlin

The genesis of the a great time I had recently in New York City was an email I received some four and a half years ago, on Monday, March 8th, 2010:

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 and Max Mueller.  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.  [signed] Chloe

It was exciting that someone -- whoever Chloe might be -- that someone halfway across the world thought enough of Cookie to think she deserved a book devoted to her. Cookie was one of the most unique people I'd ever been around. I lived in Provincetown from 1972 to 1984, and during some of that time Cookie did too, and I was Cookie's friend. That does not make me special -- everyone was Cookie's friend. Everyone who knew her loved Cookie. I wanted the book written already but had to wait.

I told Chloe that I'd be honored to have a picture I'd taken of Cookie in her book. As it turned out, in the process of about fifteen more email exchanges, Chloe ended up using about a dozen photographs I'd taken of Cookie and friends of Cookie.

I could tell just from her several emails that Chloe was a class act. And then, in this past August, after what was surely a tremendous amount of work, she sent me a copy of the book:


Later an invitation came for four events in Manhattan in connection with the launching of Edgewise: A Picture of Cookie Mueller. On the first night, I entered the venue -- The Participant Gallery on Houston Street ... approached Chloe and said, "Hi … I'm George Fitzgerald." I got a warm hug, and person-to-person thanks for the use of my pictures.

She's attractive. You realize right away that you probably just want to hang with her forever. Isn't that what love is? Or was it just a crush? A great big gigantic mammoth super-wide, super-deep, super-high crush. Maybe I just wanted to be her. Seriously … she's lovely, she's cool.


Chloe in Berlin, biking in high heels just as Cookie did.

OCT. 15th - OPENING NIGHT: "PICTURES IN THE SMOKE"

From left: Susan Lowe, Sharon Niesp, and John Waters
reading "Just Three Sluts" from Edgewise. The organizers had sat up chairs for about twenty people but the large room filled up; there must have been close to two hundred people there.  It got hot. I was sweating.

Chloe autographing books after the readings.

If I liked the styles of other attendees I sometimes asked if I could take a picture of them; my skills with my iPad camera suck; only a few came out good.
I'm a groupie for Michael Stipe so was thrilled to shake his hand and say, "Thanks for a lot of great music in my life." Then I hurried to tell Chloe "Guess what!!? Michael Stipe is here!!!" "I know," she said. "He's my friend! He spends a lot of time in Berlin!"

Two more whose styles I liked.
In one of the three vitrines, a b&w still that I happen to love; it's from a John Waters film; in the corner is a photo I took of Channing Wilroy and Howard Gruber on Halloween 1981 at Cafe Mews.

With Sharon Niesp. Though I never met Cookie's husband, I like to think that Sharon was Cookie's best lover. Sharon is also a great actor and a great singer (even Aaron Neville, I hear, was impressed by her voice).
A picture of Sharon in her younger days, taken by photographer David Armstrong (whose obituary just happened to be in Saturday's New York Times).
I loved running into Dennis Dermody and Susan Lowe, two friends I hadn't seen for a long time.
Sharon Niesp with Chloe's mother; the latter's height, chic attire, and extraordinary poise were a sight to behold. I went up to her out front and told her I understood that she was Chloe's mother and that she was absolutely beautiful and had reared a remarkable daughter.  She said, "Thank you ... so you know who I am, but I don't know who you are?" I said my name and that I'd given Chloe a dozen pictures for her book. She took both my hands in hers and said, "Let's go -- you must show them to me."
I led her to another of the vitrines, all of which contained Cookie memorabilia, and said, "These … all the colored ones … are mine. Look, she even saved the envelope in which I mailed them to her back in 2010!"
More of my photos in another vitrine which are in Edgewise: A Picture of Cookie Mueller.
Just after the 9pm closing, as my friend Ellen and I were waiting for a friend, I looked at a woman off to the left and said "That's Nan Goldin!" She's a famous photographer. Ellen went up to her and asked, "Are you who you used to be?"
Inside, Nan Goldin and Chloe Griffin had a .. uh.. chat?
Lots of pictures on the walls, mostly of Cookie.







Cookie's son, Max, showed me how to take a selfie.

OCT. 16th - Thursday: No Credit, Cash Only; Cookie in Film and Video


Bradford Nordeen

On the night following the opening party, clips from several movies Cookie appeared in were screened.  Many more chairs were set out than had been the night before, but there were still not enough, and the room was jam-packed again.  Fortunately, though, the heat had been turned down.  The presentation was written and read by Bradford Nordeen, the young man pictured above.  He was interesting and clever and funny.  He knew Cookie's writing inside-out and he knew her acting inside-out.  You can out more of him at www.dirtylooksnyc.org/author/bradford-nordeen ….



OCT. 17th - FRIDAY

On Friday, way over on Tenth Avenue, the Edgewise event was of filmmaker Amos Poe interviewing Chloe.  Ellen and I didn't go because we'd been invited to dinner by a friend.  This friend made it an absolutely delightful night!  His stories are astonishingly entertaining; he's lived a very eventful life, and knows everybody and everything!  His apartment is like a museum!  Who but he would own, and have nicely framed, the original Sears & Roebuck receipt for the $25.00 down-payment on a freezer sold to a guy named Jeffrey Dahmer?  His stories are way way way entertaining.

OCT. 18th - SATURDAY


Saturday seemed like a day off from the fun of joining Chloe in the launching of her book.  I met two friends at one p.m. at the Whitney Museum for the Jeff Koons exhibition. (Ellen, booted from foot surgery, could not have handled all the walking we'd be doing.)  I was interested only in Koons' salacious work involving his Italian girlfriend/wife; only two pictures fit that narrow category so I wandered around five floors of art caring very little about 98% of it.  But there were lots of reflecting things so I could take lots of weird pictures, and it was fun hanging out with Scott (short) and Patrick (tall). 


*******

OCT. 19th - SUNDAY - "ANOTHER BORING DAY -  A NIGHT OF READINGS FROM COOKIE MUELLER'S WRITINGS" -- a return to The Participant Gallery on Houston Street.

Chloe Griffin


Richard Hell - After the readings I told him I had seen his punk group Richard Hell and the Voidoids at CBGB in 1977.  "Thanks for remembering!" he said.

Max Mueller reading Cookie's story about giving birth to him.

Sharon Niesp


Unidentified

Max Blagg

Linda Yablonsky
*********

And so it went … from an email four and a half years ago to a great time in Manhattan just a couple of weeks ago.  All because I posted one of my favorite pictures of Cookie on my blog in 2009 and a cool woman in Berlin came across it.




Edgewise: A Picture of Cookie Mueller is a great accomplishment.  I loved Cookie and you might end up loving Cookie too just from reading this book.  You can become the book's friend on Facebook!  You can follow it on tour at www.cookiemuellerbook.com.  You can order it on Amazon.  You can ask Santa to bring it to you.  You can do lots of things.  But I don't know if you can get a Chloe Griffin kiss on your cheek unless you have the good luck of meeting her and the nerve to ask for one!

Thanks Chloe and Ellen and Dennis and Scott and Patrick!




Saturday, October 4, 2014

Dead Poets Remembrance Day - Oct. 4, 2014

I read -- or thought I'd read -- that the 2014 Dead Poets Remembrance Day was going to be observed 186 miles from my home on Oct. 4th at various sites in Amherst. I was glad. I love that area of mid-Massachusetts … The Pioneer Valley … the Connecticut River Valley; an area of many esteemed colleges and universities, of culture, of rich rich farmland. I've visited there a hundred times and more; I have dear friends there, both dead and alive, including, of course, Emily Dickinson.

I made a handy little list of the street addresses of seven sites we would visit and plugged them into my GPS. Once near Amherst, I drove way into the sticks to pick up my friend, Lisa, a former co-worker whose regular stops by my desk for fun chit-chat I miss a lot.

Then, with a entertaining passenger, I entered the first address into the Garmain device ... 156 Bridge Street, Amherst.

I love the device's smartness, even if in, say, downtown Boston, your satellite reception might be interrupted by your being amongst too many tall buildings. But this is central Massachusetts, wide open -- it took Lisa and me directly to Bridge Street. Smart as the device is though, it didn't know that Bridge Street's bridge was closed. I'd have to approach the cemetery from the other side of the bridge. This seemed to be a test of Mr. GPS's patience. Recalculate. Recalculate. It didn't help that it started raining. Then it didn't help that it started raining really hard. It didn't help that, as we followed directions, we seemed just to be going in a circle. It did help that Mr. GPS kept mispronouncing Pine ... a street that we came across twice or thrice too often to feel convinced that we were getting to where we wanted to be. Our aimless circles and the mispronunciation of Pine made us giggly. (You should have heard it pronounce Chequessett Neck Road in Wellfleet when I visited friends there this past August.)

But of all that didn't help, what most didn't help was that I had not read the schedule of events carefully. "Are you sure it's in Amherst?" Lisa asked.  She'd wisely brought along a local atlas. "There's a Bridge Street in Northampton too."

Now I read the schedule carefully. Yup, we were supposed to be eight miles away. We were supposed to be on Bridge Street in Northampton. While re-reading the schedule I noted also: "In case of HEAVY rain ...." the gravesite visits would be cancelled; we were to meet at 2pm in the Jones Library in Amherst.

Zip, zip, we're at the library on Amity Street. We might not be parked legally but we're at the library.
***

Google Image
The grave in Northampton's Bridge Cemetery which we never got to was that of Agha Shahid Ali. I'd not heard of him, but part of the pleasure of Dead Poets Society is getting to know new poets and their poems. Agha Shahid Ali was an immigrant from New Delhi. He died in 2001 … young, 52 years old, brain tumor. I've since read some of his poems and learned some of his biography … I'm richer for even the little bit I now know of him, and want to know more.
***
Elaine Goodale Eastman
Being indoors for Dead Poets Day seemed strange, and there were not many people, maybe 12, maybe 14; a semi-circle of chairs set up in front of a table. We're supposed to be tromping through graveyards in the sunshine.

The first speaker was Theodore Sargent who has written a biography of Elaine Goodale Eastman (1863-1953). A book of poems by Elaine and her sister Dora was published (and became a gigantic seller) in 1878 when Elaine was 16 and Dora just 12!

In adulthood Elaine's passion was to educate and better the lives of black people and Native Americans. She eventually married a Dr. Charles Eastman, who was part Indian. Elaine helped him write stories of his childhood and of Indian culture; he became popular on the lucrative lecture circuit. From her biography on Wikipedia: "In 1921, after allegations that Charles had an affair and an illegitimate child, the couple separated, although they never divorced or acknowledged the separation publicly. Eastman did not publish any books after their separation."
I've not succeeded in finding a picture of Elaine Goodale's grave, though it is said to be in Florence, a town adjacent to Northampton at the west.

(Also these couple of biographical details trivialize what was a life of many and various and admirable accomplishments ... if you find her interesting you can always buy Sargent's book.)
***
Rhina Espaillat is pretty and so sweetly-countenanced that I heard someone, upon seeing her, exclaim, "Oh! I want her to be my grandmother!" Born in the Dominican Republic, she's a very accomplished poet, writing in both Spanish and English. After monumental work, she has succeeded in getting a large selection of Robert Frost's poems translated into Spanish, and I heard that the collection will soon be published in Mexico City. She and another poet, Toni Treadway, as announced by Walter Skold, "do polyphonic readings in Spanish and English of some Robert Frost poems," -- just as they'd done two years ago at Newburyport's observance of Dead Poets Remembrance Day.

Espaillat's own poems can be playful or serious, or, as in the following, both:

                               Bra

What a good fit! But the label says Honduras:
Alas, I am Union forever, yes, both breasts
and the heart between them committed to U.S. labor.
But such a splendid fit! And the label tells me
the woman who made it, bronze as the breasts now in it,
speaks the language I dream in; I count in Spanish
the pesos she made stitching this breast-divider:
will they go for her son's tuition, her daughter's wedding?
The thought is a lovely fit, but oh, the label!
And oh, those pesos that may be pennies, and hard-earned.
Was it son or daughter who made this, unschooled, unwedded?
How old? Fourteen? Ten? That fear is a tight fit.
 If only the heart could be worn like the breast, divided,
nosing in two directions for news of the wide world,
sniffing here and there for justice, for mercy.
 How burdened every choice is with politics, guilt,
expensive with duty, heavy as breasts in need of
this perfect fit whose label says Honduras.
                                 
Newburyport readers Toni Treadway and Rhina Espaillat, Oct. 7, 2012

***
Dead Poets Society founder Walter Skold, can -- so to speak -- dig up the most obscure of the obsure dead poets; today he read from the work of Marjorie Frost Fraser, "whose book of poetry," he said, "was published by her parents after her death at age 29." One of those parents was Robert Frost.
***
An event which was planned to be held at Emily Dickinson's grave -- stories by Jane Wald, Executive Director of the Dickinson Homestead in Amherst -- was next. Anecdotes about the visitors, and, yes, there is a mailbox at Dickinson's grave (though I never saw it the several times I've been there), plus Emily gets lots of mail at the home she lived in, now a museum dedicated to her. (In 1975, a time when the home had not yet become a museum, I took a walnut from Emily's yard, and still have it.)
***

Pictured to the left is Henry Lyman; he interviewed many poets for a 1976 to 1994 series on New England Public Radio; and, along that way, became a friend of poet Robert Francis (1901-1987).After playing for us a tape of Francis reading a few of his own poems we were then invited to drive north about three miles to Fort Juniper, a small house built by Francis himself, and a place where Robert Frost often visited because he enjoyed the company of Francis, whom Frost publicly referred to as America's "best neglected poet."

Fort Juniper has for some time been made available as a residence for artists -- painters, poets, novelists, photographers -- rent-free, for various lengths of time; rarely, I'm told, for more than a year. It's an ideally small place … just the necessities … and I found myself envying Francis for knowing what was best for him and, in 1940, making it happen by buying half an acre of land and building on it a home that wouldn't bankrupt him; nor would it cry out to him for huge maintenance projects. He could be what he needed to be -- a poet -- and he wouldn't need to make a fortune to live in a beautiful place in a beautiful setting.



My friend Lisa later sent me a card thanking me for "a lovely day" and copied out a Robert Francis poem:



False Flowers



False Solomon's Seal? False Lily of the Valley?
Whoever heard of such a villainy --
To call an unsuspecting flower false
Merely because it isn't something else!
To be oneself, this is Original Sin
Whether we speak of flowers or men.


Lisa (my sunshine on a rainy day) inside Fort Juniper.
Thanks for the photo: Walter Skold



***
The last segment belonged to me. Walter had asked if I would read two poems by Deborah Digges, a woman who, right here in Amherst, took her own life on April 10, 2009. I didn't know her poems that well, and sometimes found them difficult to fathom, but had enjoyed the two memoirs she'd written. So, basically, I just grabbed two of her shorter poems from the Internet, interested mostly that they be easy to read.

As we'd left Fort Juniper it was again raining, raining harder than it had rained all day, and the grey sky made it seem that dusk was about to settle in. It turned out that none of the others followed us to Wildwood Cemetery. I had an audience of three: Lisa, Walter, and the beautiful horse sculpture that adorns the grave.



Sopping with Walter


GREETER OF SOULS
Ponds are spring-fed, lakes run off rivers
Here souls pass, not one deified,
and sometimes this is terrible to know
three floors below the street, where light drinks the world,
siphoned like music through portals.
How fed, that dark, the octaves framed faceless.
A memory of water.
The trees more beautiful not themselves.
Souls who have passed here, tired, brightening.
Dumpsters of linen,
empty gurneys along corridors to parking garages.
Who wonders, is it morning?
Who washes these blankets?
Can I not be the greeter of souls?
What's to be done with the envelopes of hair?
If the inlets are frozen, can I walk across?
When I look down into myself to see a scattering of birds,
do I put on the new garments?
On which side of the river should I wait?

DARWIN'S FINCHES
1
My mother always called it a nest,
the multi-colored mass harvested
from her six daughters' brushes,
and handed it to one of us
after she had shaped it, as we sat in front
of the fire drying our hair.

She said some birds steal anything, a strand
of spider's web, or horse's mane,
the residue of sheep's wool in the grasses
near a fold
where every summer of her girlhood
hundreds nested.

Since then I've seen it for myself, their genius –
how they transform the useless.
I've seen plastics stripped and whittled
into a brilliant straw,
and newspapers – the dates, the years –
supporting the underweavings.
2
As tonight in our bed by the window
you brush my hair to help me sleep, and clean
the brush as my mother did, offering
the nest to the updraft.

I'd like to think it will be lifted as far
as the river, and catch in some white sycamore,
or drift, too light to sink, into the shaded inlets,
the bank-moss, where small fish, frogs, and insects
lay their eggs.
Would this constitute an afterlife?

The story goes that sailors, moored for weeks
off islands they called paradise,
stood in the early sunlight
cutting their hair. And the rare
birds there, nameless, almost extinct,
came down around them
and cleaned the decks
and disappeared into the trees above the sea.

It seemed odd to me that in my randomness I chose poems that both used the word 'inlets' and both used strong images of hair.


I eventually got dry.  Even my sheets of Digges' poetry eventually got crinkly-dry. Thanks to all who enjoyed the day with me; I enjoyed everyone I met or re-met and all the presentations; and I thank especially Walter Skold, founder of Dead Poets Remembrance Day, superior organizer, and Digger-Upper-of-the-Obscure Extraordinaire.

And thank you Lisa. You truly did make the day sunshine-bright!