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. 

Monday, December 29, 2014

RIP: Richard English - July 25, 1942 - December 23, 2014

This is a re-posting of a tribute I made to my friend; he was found dead in his Provincetown apartment on Dec. 23, 2014. I posted a version of this on Facebook in announcing his death and am stunned at the huge number of wonderful comments that have been made by those who knew him, respected him, and loved him.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Happy Birthday to Richard English

On a dark and snowy evening in February 1961, at an Army post in Germany, I'd gone to the Mess Hall office I worked in to use the government-issued typewriter to compose a long letter about a trip I'd just made to Zurich, Florence, and Rome, with my friend Henry Bradbury Coons III. There was a rap at the window. I looked up. It was a soldier I'd seen around; he was sort of new to the base. I unlocked a door to let him in. I'm glad I did. We became friends. I have not had, over these many years, a more loyal friend.

One time (before the 1965 picture above was taken near Saugatuck, Michigan) he told me he wanted to be a painter but he didn't think his imagination could be confined within the boundaries of frames. 

After stints as a merchant seaman on the Great Lakes, Richard would arrive at my Ann Arbor apartment with fat wads of cash; he was the first person I knew to buy an entire pound of weed at once. He dumped it on a spread-newspaper on the floor for sorting; it was an astonishing volume of contraband to one like me who was accustomed to nickel bags, dime bags. (The newspaper on the floor would have been The Ann Arbor News -- a good newspaper; it printed its last issue just the other day.)

Several of my Michigan friends migrated to Provincetown, a fishing village/artists colony at the tip of Cape Cod. Richard, hopping onto a Greyhound bus with another of those wads of cash in his pocket, was the first of us to do so. He wanted to become "a simple fisherman" as he'd heard John Lennon say he sometimes longed to be. In Provincetown, as evidenced above, Richard came to accept the boundaries of frames. He also caught a good many fish. I've had mako shark just once ... it was at Richard's table. I love fish, and I've had some amazingly good fish, but that mako shark was the best ever.

Happy Birthday my friend!

Friday, December 5, 2014

RIP: Jay Moran - Dec. 5, 1944 - Oct. 28, 1990

  • When I posted a mini-memoir about my friend Jay three years ago, his cousin came across it and wrote: "Jay was my first cousin. I think of him often and miss him so much. He was blessed with a wicked sense of humor. Years ago, I had a brick paver inscribed with his name added to a patio at King's College in Wilkes-Barre, PA. Jay received his undergraduate degree at King's."

  • I don't know when this was taken, or where,
    and I never saw a wider collar.

    This is my favorite picture of Jay, taken in my
    apartment at 801 East Huron in Ann Arbor.
    A man named Bernard wrote, "In 1984, our Union Rep with Actors Equity in San Francisco was a dear sweet generous soul named Jay Moran. He was kind, gentle, caring, generous, sincere, funny, and overworked. I thought everyone in the Union was like him, genuinely concerned, and (as corny as it sounds) willing to make the extra effort to support each of us in our pursuit of our dreams. He was a rare soul in his thoughtfulness. Than you, Jay, wherever you are in the cosmos. "

    Me & Jay on ferry in Seattle, 1976

    Seattle, 1976

    On ferry, Seattle, 1976

    Clambake in my cottage, Provincetown, 1978 ;
    my brother, Bernard, Bill Haushalter, and Jay

    Me, Bill, Jay

    I miss him every day.

    Sunday, November 30, 2014

    Lucky Guy

    I'm a lucky guy. I'd just returned from a cheeseburger and a beer at a nearby bar when my friend Jack from work came in with a turkey sandwich, a piece of pumpkin pie, two apples, a fresh tomato, a pomegranate, and a little jug of cider.  My dinner for tomorrow night is all set. Thanks Jack & Jane!

    Saturday, November 29, 2014

    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."