3000 Beatniks Riot in Park

April 25, 2012

Hillbilly, citybilly, folkbilly *

The attraction of folk music for those who lurched into puberty during the Eisenhower years was, in retrospect, a trauma. Backward-glancing astonishments are the stuff of déjà vu, not heart-stopping infarction, so let me hang onto my purple prose license for yet a few lines more. There was no proper rock ‘n’ roll, sanitized for white youth, but there had been an explosion of radio frequency availabilities immediately after the Second World War. And the new FM, a static-free, high fidelity phenomenon. Our questing radio dials discovered the Wayne Raney Talkin’ Harmonica, AM stations that bounced black and po’ white iterations of roots music off the Van Allen Belt. With all due reverence to Weird Al Yankovic, the music of polka spheres as expounded by his dad Frank (and his Flyin’ Yanks), Fritz the Plumber and John Michaels on WMIL in Milwaukee did not rip my divot. Decades later, they would. Again, go figure.

The Happy Folk Singing Days

My name is John Johnson / I come from Wisconsin / I work in a lumber yard dere

Allan Block and I came from the same town in Wisconsin—Fond du Lac. For you SCUBA enthusiasts that’s French (loosely translated) for “Bottom of the Lake.” I escaped as an infant, a babe in my mother’s arms. Thus Allan and I were not to meet until I joined the hangers-on at his shop. He was older than I. At age 20 a few years lead time still can mean a lot, this a holdover from high school. Allan had been an ambulance driver for the American Field Service in WWII; two years marching out behind the fieldhouse with the ROTC kept me out of Korea. I did not ponder this as on a Saturday afternoon in 1961 I carried two Mason jars of freshly pulled ale, a premium take-away from McSorley’s Old Ale House on East 7th Street. The downtown crosstown walk in lower Manhattan is a lark. Uptown the crosstown blocks were, and still are, I understand, a good quarter mile. I packed a banjo case over one shoulder, balancing its large round lollipop end while most of my attention was on keeping McSorley’s bubbling suds from spilling. The Allan Block Sandal Shop was a refuge from an increasingly déclassé Washington Square Park. But the Square was a Sunday event—if you were discreet, you might fraternize.

3000 Beatniks Riot

Click the picture to get the story

The title of this item, The Happy Folk Singing Days, is a direct borrowing from the latest book by a vanished friend from the glamour days of being broke and artsy whilst at the same time holding down a full time job midtown. Ralph Lee Smith was among the regulars at Allan’s shop. And unlike many, me f’rinstance, who strayed from playing, Ralph is still going strong and is a highly-regarded proponent of the American Dulcimer. I put in my time and chucked it after forty-plus years. I had carved out a career in minor league radio and was a pretty good rock ‘n’ roll disc jockey. At age fifty, I bagged it in New York City and retired to WQDY in Downeast Maine where the local station boasted the same equipment I had learned on at WINS in New York 30 years before. A piece of cake, I would teach myself to write, I thought. Ah, but the past awaits—Rust never sleeps, to quote Neil Young—and the meter is running.

“The Regular [Washington Square] get-togethers had actually started somewhere in the 1940s when a few friends took to meeting in the park for loose song sessions. These had grown until the police began taking notice and there were all sorts of arguments, leading eventually to an inner core of musicians arranging to get regular permits. Naturally, a lot of us despised the idea of needing an official permit, but it did have one advantage: the rule was that everyone was allowed to sing and play from two until five as long as they had no drums, and that kept out the bongo players…”

—Dave Van Ronk*

Allan Block Sandal Shop

1961. That’s me with the banjo, Ray Boguslav guitar,
Allan Block fiddle and Ramblin’ Jack Elliot hanging out
if memory serves. The radiator on wood blocks hissed
all winter long. Cozy. (photo: Marvin Lichtner)

1980. That’s Ken Haferman with the banjo, Bill Bannon
fiddle, me with the guitar and Ken’s kids hanging out.
The Haferman clan: Ben, Augie, Jonas, Emma and
Anna, wearing the photographer’s Lolita glasses.
The neighborhood kid is after the skateboard he
caromed off our garbage cans. (photo: Barbara Beeman)
more >>

“In the late 1950s and early 1960s, New York’s Greenwich Village was a melting pot, or better yet, a pressure cooker, for musical styles that would transform American popular music. In the Village, the Depression-era music of Woody Guthrie and the socially conscious songs of the Weavers met the Celtic music craze (courtesy of the Clancy Brothers), the country blues revival, and a host of other musical idioms that had long been ignored by the American pop music industry. The result was the “Great Folk Scare” of the 1960s, when—for one brief, glorious moment—bland, predictable pop music was driven to its knees.”

—Liz Milner*

An astounding array of stop-ins, drop-ins and sit-ins, er… sat in at the sandal shop sessions. The small tight circle of the faithful tended to be self-regulating and I don’t recall anyone who was irretrievably banned. Allan Block being of a choleric temperament (any reputable dictionary will guide you past that one), this was surprising.

Dave Van Ronk kept a walkup on MacDougal Street where he and a circle of cronies played cards. In those days he didn’t like Bob Dylan; Dylan cheated at Gin Rummy. I would have cheated too, but no one asked me to sit in. It is very hard to cheat at Gin. The only fail-safe way: hide a card when you get the deal; even at half a cent a point the pot can hit $100.00 in a few hands. I didn’t play cards; I hung out, watched, smoked and drank. Folk music (much like major league baseball for Whitey Herzog) “has been very good to me since I quit trying to play it.”
—Rob Hunter

“Last week, from Francestown, N.H., where he lives in an old farmhouse, Mr. Block, 80, said he was still making sandals and other leather goods and selling them at his workshop and at craft and music fairs throughout New England. He also takes on “a few music jobs,” he said, fiddling country tunes at local dances and at the fairs.
And he fiddles in the street, for tips. That is an activity he pursues during his January-to-March stays in St. Augustine, Fla. “There’s a street in the old section where I occupy a spot for a few hours a day,” he said. “It helps pay for my fruits and vegetables and fish.”
—The New York Times December 7, 2003*

At left: on the stoop at 242 Bergen St. Brooklyn. The downstairs and the garden were Ann Mari Buitrago’s. Haferman and I did the two divorced guys bunking up number and occupied the top floors, an Odd Couple with 2 Oscar Madisons. The next week I would leave for Indianapolis to do the morning show at WNDE (Windy 1260). AM stereo, remember that? Jane Pauley, David Letterman and Joyce DeWitt had left town for the big time, and the field was clear for us marginal talents.
—Rob Hunter

The Village and the Culture of Corruption.

The year was 1960 and reform was in the air. Carol Greitzer and Ed Koch would soon be tilting (under the banner of the Village Independent Democrats) against Carmine DeSapio for the leadership at the Tamawa Club (otherwise celebrated as Tammany Hall). It was the winter of 1960. Herbert Henry Lehman and Eleanor Roosevelt had added their names to a distinguished letterhead at Reform and New York City’s ward politics seemed doomed. This was good newspaper copy—everybody remembered Boss Tweed, or thought they did. Tweed was a legendary grifter and responsible for New York’s most famous rip-off, the Tweed  Courthouse. What it meant for denizens of the Village demimonde was that there were now two (2) tiers of outstretched palms waiting for the grease, the usual: beat cops, fire inspectors, kitchen inspectors, buildings department, etc.

March 3rd 1960 and the 9th largest snowfall in Manhattan history. At 14 ½ inches MacDougal Street was impassable. The streets filled with snow, garbage, then snow again—a simultaneous occurrence of natural events. We were used to garbage, snow was a rarity, while strikes by sanitation workers might stretch into weeks. Death by fumes was not as yet on the Gotham register of civic dread. So… the streets were plowed with garbage trucks that had to get back to the ward yard for the attachment of their plow blades. The garbage trucks headed home for their attachments, and got stuck in the snow along the way leaving garbage uncollected in their wake.

Herbert and Eleanor, Carol and Ed would not be coming with their shovels—not a job for Reform. This was an Act o’ God and the plows would be along, but until they did here was a chance for a random act of anarchism—burn the garbage in the streets. The subways were of course running; hoof it over to the Waverly Theater stop and butt-slide down the steps of the West 4th Street Station and you were home free. Put on the mask of propriety and zip away off to midtown. It was January and cold, even for New York City—“A 30 degree town,” according to the building supers. They recommended removing the pressure valves from the radiators and putting quilts over the windows. “You gotta have a grandma who makes quilts. Everybody has a grandma who makes quilts.” (Bill Bent, building super at 37 W. 57th Street, the Vogar Fur Trading Bldg.)

We lit up.

The El-Rons, Scientology, Chicago and Woody Guthrie

The sign on the hewn granite tenement (to be in later years imitated in cast cement in neighborhoods less ancient) said “Dianetics Practitioner.” L. Ron Hubbard was not in residence; this was a pre-Scientology acolyte. We had hopped the North Shore electric line from Milwaukee and were on a visit to Frank Hamilton, a neighbor of Jim Norris [A Black Irish Flamenco guitarist friend. He accompanied dancers at the Cellar Bohème on Chicago’s South Side.]  in the Old Town area of Chicago. Frank and Sheila with baby Cameron lived across the hall from a former Woody Guthrie spouse and some of the Guthrie former children. This land was his land; the senior Guthrie was an uxorious troubadour. And so would I become, as it turned out, with never a thought for the layers of angst that might lie beneath the romance. Frank (with Win Strake) had opened the Old Town School of Folk Music. And they flourished, thank you.

Frank was a gracious host and the three of us—Bernie Johnson, Jim Norris and me—slurped coffee, chatted and played a bit. These were the days before Frank replaced Erik Darling who had replaced Pete Seeger in the reconstituted Weavers. We became enthusiastic. We were noisy and a tapping at the door introduced an elderly Greek lady from downstairs who put the Evil Eye on me. Must have been the banjo. Her nationality is important. The cursing was accompanied by something muttered and Middle-Eastern that may have been Greek, may have been 48 down from that morning’s Tribune crossword. I was impressed. While not a believer, I had read The White Goddess and was ready to believe.

Folk was getting big and cashing in in this modest way was a forgivable excess. I mean, splitting ten dollars a lesson. Jim McGuinn, a multi-instrumentalist wizard who wore a crew cut and braces on his teeth was hired on to teach guitar and banjo. Any banjo leftovers went to me, as the Bluegrass maven. I had been playing for a year and had some neat turns—techniques the folk community had yet to catch up with. The testosterone, if not the chops.

I found that, discounting travel time and railroad fares, I was operating at a loss and shucked. In Milwaukee, four of us itinerant pluckers—Clem Floyd, Bill Houck, Bernie Johnson and me—rented office space and became the North Shore School of Folk Music. Clem, a bluesman from the north of England, given name Ronald Atlee Floyd, dubbed us the North Shore Chums of Downtrodden Minorities. To get the public mind in a receptive mood, we held a show featuring the four of us, Guitar Marmalade.  Guitar Marmalade sold out a 350-seat hall. We were impressed with ourselves.

Jim McGuinn I would next see a couple of years on when I was living in the Village. These were the pre-Byrd days and he was accompanying the Chad Mitchell Trio and living at the Hotel Earle. His banjo and guitar were stolen in a break-in at the Earle. Pete Stampfel and I had pulled a two week gig at the Gaslight Cafe.

Forgotten folksingers

—and this just in, a posting by Tom Meisenheimer a/k/a Coyote Breath from the Mudcat Cafe (mudcat.org) messageboards: Little known 1960’s Folk Singers (March 17, 2007):

“I came late (as usual) to this thread. Anyone mention Paul Prestopino? played with Mike Bloomfield when the later managed the Fickle Pickle in Chicago in the middle 60’s. He was with the Chad Mitchel Trio for a while. His Dad was an abstract painter of some note. Also Mike Slossen (sometimes called Mike Castle), Jacquie Harrison, Billy Chippet (wonderful and haunting version of Barbara Allen, an on-again off-again brush arbor musician from the bootheel of Missouri). “Doc” Stanley who MC’d the open mic at The Poison Apple in Chicago. I met Mississippi John Hurt there on a Sunday afternoon in 1963 or ’64. Doc got in bad trouble, something about a shooting. Lots of talent in Chicago and Milwaukee back then. Peter Stampfel, Rob Hunter and another guy I can’t remember played in Milwaukee under the name of McGrundy’s Old Timey Wool Thumpers. Bill Ross and Sweet Billy Olsen both great five string banjo players. Bill Ross (Rossiter was his true surname) had been a Capuchin monk at one time. Married a gal from Mexico and they lived in Pueblo last I heard.”

McGrundy's Old Timey Wool Thumpers

The Woolthumpers: Richard Graham, Peter Stampfel and Rob Hunter (left to right) from “Numerous Creditors Present,” a concert at the Milwaukee Art Center 1961

“For a while Rob Hunter was with Steve Weber and Peter Stampfel as Holy Modal Rounders in the village. Rob lived in alphabet city in a walk-up most of whose apartments were shooting galleries.
Ahh… nostalgia!”

For living history fans, the address was 63 Clinton, on the same side of the street as the Winston Theatre: Three (3) features, always a Western. You could stay all day and smoke and drink in the orchestra section. Since torn down. Right next to Sid & Howie’s Famous Egg Cream where the pay phone was. And later around the corner at 350 East Houston. The group, its name an ever-changing paisley quilt, was actually The Strict Temperance String Band of Lower Delancy Street while in Milwaukee. The Woolthumpers were usually in New York City where fiddler George Dawson stood in for Dick Graham.


Ann Mari Buitrago, co-author with Andy Immerman of Are You Now or Have You Ever Been in the FBI Files, now sadly out of date. Barney Rosset of Grove press brought it out at the time Ann Mari and I moved in together. AMB died of ovarian cancer in 1993. She is the heroine of The Francher, a story of mine.

For a who’s who of the musicians from Allan Block’s Saturday soirees: click here


The Mayor of MacDougal Street—*Dave Van Ronk www.elijahwald.com/vanronk.html
Van Ronk CD Rarities 1957-1969—for aficionados of the obscure, this album of little-heard tunes includes Pete Stampfel’s Romping Through the Swamp
Liz Milner The Career of Mountain Dulcimer Virtuoso Ralph Lee Smith in the Old Time Herald
*Ralph Lee SmithGreenwich Village, The Happy Folksinging Days
David Amram on Woody Guthrie—Symphonic Variations on a song by Woody Guthrie
*The New York Times “Following Up” online piece by Joseph P. Fried about Allan Block and Bob Dylan, Sunday, December 7, 2003: Stand In His Shoes (Just Not on 4th St.)
*(Citybilly, hillbilly, folkbilly, etc.) Definitions—Charles Seeger’s (Pete’s father’s) comments on the spread of the oral tradition. In the Journal of American Folklore.
An Allan Block appreciation: The Monadnock Folklore Society January 1983 (.pdf)

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Ayn Rand and the Fountainheads

April 25, 2012

Are Scientologists the nut jobs the Objectivists are? I doubt it.

Ayn Rand

I knew Ayn Rand. My association with the founder of Philosophical Objectivism was only at the level enjoyed by her drycleaner, grocer, tobacconist, and the live-in dermatologist who must have been on board to curate the tatty ¾ mink she regularly wore. She recorded a weekly commentary; I was the recording engineer. Rand spoke with a broad, husky comic opera Russian accent not unlike Hans Conried’s Professor Kropotkin on the “My Friend Irma” radio show. Except in the pounding heat of high August, the fur coat was de rigueur for Ayn Rand, who would become a Tea Party madonna for the class wars of the 21st Century. Hey, I was a kid; how was I to know?

In the 60s, WBAI Pacifica Radio―30 East 39th Street―was the place to be. George Coe, Richard C. Neuweiler and Nancy Weyburn and the Second City delivered satire and commentary along with Severn Darden, Rene Santoni, Don Calfa and Lord Buckley. Eric Bentley expounded on Brecht. John Corigliano was the music maven.

WBAI occupied the top floors of a 4-story townhouse in the heart of New York’s Silk Stocking District―thus called for the divorcées who lived alone on sumptuous alimony, shadowed by their ex-husbands’ private eyes lest they get caught with a supernumerary gent under the bed. John Lindsay was our congressman.

David Amram played Lady Bird Johnson in our parallel spoof on the Democratic National Convention—The Big Tune Out. There was a wide spectrum of opinion among our commentators; Harry Schwartz and Dick Elman interviewed Malcolm X while Richard Lamparski interviewed Connie Boswell. Ayn Rand struggled uptown from the Nathanial Brandon Institute on East 34th Street to hold forth on philosophical objectivism. WBAI lost a microphone cord at the Audubon Ballroom, cut in two by a shotgun blast when Malcolm X was shot.

Ah, you say. But wasn’t this piece supposed to be about Ayn Rand? Ha! Got me. However, the landscape where the dramas of New York’s then trendy midtown played themselves out is compelling (see Mrs. Hudson) at the very least. Follow some of the hyperlinks on this page and for a tunnel vision view of Manhattan (and the world—you know the pink places with the funny names out past Jersey) of the 1960s.  Ayn Rand rambled and wrote, working Hollywood and Gotham, perhaps dreaming that she would be the darling of disaffected divorcées with time on their hands in the coming century. And even death—thirty years ago at this writing—would not hold her down.

A Manifesto for Psychopaths

“Rand was a Russian from a prosperous family who emigrated to the United States. Through her novels (such as Atlas Shrugged) and her nonfiction (such as The Virtue of Selfishness) she explained a philosophy she called Objectivism. This holds that the only moral course is pure self-interest. We owe nothing, she insists, to anyone, even to members of our own families. She described the poor and weak as ‘refuse’ and ‘parasites’, and excoriated anyone seeking to assist them. Apart from the police, the courts and the armed forces, there should be no role for government: no social security, no public health or education, no public infrastructure or transport, no fire service, no regulations, no income tax.”

“It is not hard to see why Rand appeals to billionaires. She offers them something that is crucial to every successful political movement: a sense of victimhood.”

George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 6th March 2012.

Atlas Shrugged the movie: Part I (2011)

John Galt: We’ve been serving the Colorado Region since my great-great-grandfather ran this company. What happened to loyalty, Eddie?
Eddie Willers: Perhaps the problem is we haven’t updated that branch since your father ran the company.

Atlas Shrugged was published in 1957, the second of her major works. The Fountainhead, published in May 1943, portrays a United States crippled by welfare statism in which heroic billionaires fight back against a nation of slackers. The billionaires, whom she portrays as Atlas holding the world aloft, go on strike with the result that the nation collapses. It is rescued, through self-loving, gouging and malfeasance on a planetary scale, by one of the over-achieving 0.1%, John Galt. All of which goes to illustrate that at the moment of conception the parents-to-be are too busy screwing to take proper precautions and hence inadvertently pass on to their children, along with race, sex, handedness and eye color an endless capacity for self-delusion.

John Galt (of Atlas Shrugged) and Howard Roark, the architect hero of The Fountainhead, have achieved global gonzohood by taking what they wanted without going through intermediaries. Thanks to the Fountainhead movie, we get a peek at Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal stripping off for action. Okay, so he’s a wee rough. Everything is clean, in the shadows and no messy cleanup after. ‘She asked for it’—the rape scene from The Fountainhead:

“She turned the light on in the bathroom. She saw herself in a tall mirror. She saw the purple bruises left on her body by his mouth. She heard a moan muffled in her throat, not very loud. It was not the sight, but the sudden flash of knowledge. She knew that she would not take a bath. She knew that she wanted to keep the feeling of his body, the traces of his body on hers, knowing also what such a desire implied. She fell on her knees, clasping the edge of the bathtub. She could not make herself crawl over that edge. Her hands slipped, she lay still on the floor. The tiles were hard and cold under her body. She lay there till morning.”


“They had been united in an understanding beyond the violence, beyond the deliberate obscenity of his action; had she meant less to him, he would not have taken her as he did; had he meant less to her, she would not have fought so desperately. The unrepeatable exultation was in knowing that they both understood this.”

Not nice, rape. But not awful writing. Not really. She tells the story and fills in her two-dimensional heroes with a world view that would tickle a medieval warlord. See Romain Gary’s Genghis Cohn for a full exploration of vengance served cold. Considering the tonnage generated by her crackpot philosophizing, Ayn Rand could have taken years and generated thousands of pages of writing. I have tried this; it’s no picnic. She did it; it is a thing some of us are driven to do. Yet others hail a cab: “The Belmont, driver, and step on it,” this was the 40s. Sex had to be with a chuckle or it didn’t get on the screen:

At home, when the lights are dimmed—dead or not, the she-bear snarls in her lair.

All that inwardly – downwardly – pulsating – and back – with – the – hair – spilled – across – the – pillow malarkey! No woman is safe around a guy who writes stuff like that – especially not on a hayride.

So he lured me down to his apartment. He made me sit on his piano bench. Then he made me play Chopsticks. Then suddenly he turned at me. His eyes bulging. He was frothing at the mouth. Just like The Creature from the Black Lagoon.

The Seven Year Itch (1955)

Ayn Rand is experiencing a revivified vogue with the economic collapses of the 21st Century. While people in the enlightened world will admit to some level of compassion, social Darwinism is no longer shameful. I mean, genocide is so passé, the hula-hoop, the Canasta of ethnic cleansing. Hey, depleted uranium bullets and robot drones. And really, whatever happened to NASCAR?  The closest parallel to the psychic pull of the Ayn Rand cultists is the never-ending fascination with Illuminati, Knights Templar, and Qaballah—the blood and bone of escapist journalism (think supermarket tabloids) and cable TV (think TLC and the Discovery Channel).

In 1966, Ronald Reagan wrote in a personal letter, “Am an admirer of Ayn Rand.” Today, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) credits Rand for inspiring him to go into politics, and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) calls Atlas Shrugged his “foundation book.” Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) says Ayn Rand had a major influence on him, and his son Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is an even bigger fan. A short list of other Rand fans includes Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas; Christopher Cox, chairman of the Security and Exchange Commission in George W. Bush’s second administration; and former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford. In the 1950s, Ayn Rand read aloud drafts of what was later to become Atlas Shrugged to her “Collective,” nickname for her inner circle of young individualists, which included Alan Greenspan, who would serve as chairman of the Federal Reserve Board from 1987 to 2006. [Ayn Rand Made US a Selfish, Greedy Nation—Bruce E. Levine, AlterNet]

Ayn Rand was to me a science fiction writer, a member of a clan I trot with when pressed to give my stories a label beyond ‘stories,’ ‘magical realism,’ ‘fantasy’ and the like. I read her stuff when I was a teenager and thought, ‘Weird.’ There was an overall yuckiness to the characters’ interactions. These guys didn’t only manipulate bystanders—for sex, food, a higher purchase on the ladder of success, they used them. No asking, no playacting, pretense. They just took. A disappointed Master of the Universe is no fun to be around—he will rape any warm body, maim, destroy and lay waste; this is her subtext. Ayn Rand was basically a Libertarian with the cloak of good-fellowship ripped away. Think Ron Paul in a runaway zeppelin wrestling the last parachute from the frail grasp of a tiny Brownie Scout.

The chicken is a ventriloquist

To be clear, I didn’t start out on this piece with the intention of turning out an appreciation of Rand. Objectivist philosophy, aside from the Leni Riefenstahl bundishness of its cover art, is more silly than majestic. But Ayn Rand was a good writer. Ow! That smarts, and I anticipate some flak on that, mostly from the old guard lit for lit’s sake folk. So be it. I’m an old lefty grading Rand’s ouvre as though it was Sci-Fi pulp. Like L. Ron Hubbard, one of the truly great pulp fiction writers. He too founded a quack discipline, Dianetics, which some consider cult-like. Are Scientologists the nut jobs the Objectivists are? I doubt it. I’ll have to ask L. Ron and Rand should I meet them skateboarding in the afterlife. And I hope they would think well of my stuff, too; I lean to the florid and wordy. Think it’s easy to write crap? Good crap? Think again. Ayn Rand signed her work (with ‘Ayn Rand,’ a pen name) and had a publicly listed telephone. Billy the Kid and Samuel Langhorne Clemens used aliases and telegrams. My thought was always, She’s smart, she can’t really believe that crap. Who’s she sucking up to anyway—some sugar daddy? This is how we learn; see self-delusion above. To quote Henry L. Mencken, “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.”

Here insert testosterone-clotted mutterings from the back of the hall: She’s a woman; she couldn’t have thought all this up by herself. Are they jealous? Probably. Thus a repeating pattern of Great White Lodge, Knights Templar, Catholic and/or Jewish plotters, the tooth fairy, etc. Your Tooth Fairy scenario, a ventriloquist in the woodpile. Dwight D. Eisenhower may have let something slip in his farewell to Congress, about a military-industrial complex that would claim “our toil, resources, and livelihood.” And what happened to the 34th President? Dead. Templars got him; told you so. There was a cautionary film on the dangers of appearing too smart, Alphaville, by Jean-Luc Godard—a US agent battles hegemonists on a space station. A 1965 reviewer called it “Tarzan vs. IBM.”

Rand chuckle on 5th Ave.

In the annals of radio, I was a studio engineer at WNEW (“There’s only one double-you, any-double-you, eleven-three-oh in New York.”) in between two hitches with WBAI-Pacifica.* It was a weekday afternoon, and Pete Myers, the announcer on duty, pulled a piece of PSA copy out of a three ring binder, extracted the paper from its sheet protector, and shredded it into confetti, which he allowed to fall to the floor. The night maintenance crew would get it. “But aren’t you supposed to…” This time, no. Famous last words. Read public service announcements, I meant—wasn’t there a law?

Under the FCC Rules & Regulations of that day, the engineer could be culpable later on for any transgression of protocol that happened on his shift. Just in case they needed to fire someone.

The radio station was WNEW, 565 Fifth Ave., the year 1964; the public service announcement (free to the public, i.e. VFW bingo, Girl Scouts and Red Cross blood drives) had been a come-on for the latest Objectivist lecture series. Through the studio intercom, not on the air, Pete said, “This is bullshit. What a bunch of chiselers. Let ’em buy time.” I nodded.

* In true Pacifica listener-sponsored style, the staff had demanded the removal of a derelict station manager. Resignations were tendered. The board fired the station manager and accepted the resignations. I returned in six months.


The Cult of Rand and Bizarroworld:

That John Galt is such a hunk!
My take on the Illuminati: “I’ll bet you see little hints in the news.
The Backstory: Why did Alan Greenapan fail to act?
Big Sister Is Watching You by Whittaker Chambers: the Dec. 28, 1957 National Review
Ayn Rand in the 21st Century (comic strip): Ayn Kampf: The Ayn Rand Omnibus
Marilyn Monroe (see Seven Year Itch above):  Rand essay on Marilyn

More on the Knights Templar, Illuminati, Priory of Sion, from the weird to the silly—watch your step:

The Da Vinci Code (Last Trumpet Ministries),
The Da Vinci Code (Catholic Answers, Inc.),
Priory of Sion (Cult of the Black Virgin, etc.),
Conspiracy Theorists: Foil blankets and banana plugs from Radio Shack
Mary, Mary: “I remembered the way it used to be: every spring they’d erected a giant statue of the Virgin Mary in a corner of the field and smothered it with tons of flowers…”
Rosicrucians: The Real Secret Society Behind the Da Vinci Code

Technorati tags: Ayn Rand, Sci-Fi

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Milwaukee Road

September 29, 2011

Milwaukee Road depotMilwaukee, Wisconsin was a haven of hopscotching warm snuggeries for an elementary school kid. Always places to nip in to and get warm while you waited for the bus: ward sheds with pot bellied stoves sprung up from the frozen November ground for election time, the Milwaukee Journal sheds where the paperboys subbed their sections together—a coal stove, fingerless gloves and steamy exhalations. When at seventeen I started with the railroad, the second floor of the depot was a welcome hideout when the snows pounded in, driven down from Duluth or over from Michigan 90 miles across the frozen lake. The flagship of the Milwaukee Road fleet was the Hiawatha.

“Gee but it’s great after being out late
Walking my baby back home…”

No stove in summer for the depot, a big bladed black General Electric fan oscillated on the fire escape outside the night operator’s window. There was no air conditioning. Bob Orsiniak the yard bull played his guitar—a Nick Lucas Gibson—and sang If We Could Sing Like the Birdies Do, a Nick Lucas hit. Nick Lucas went by the nom-du-disque The Singing Troubadour. We drank canned beer and sang and played. It was a rare night that brought more than two calls an hour to the Milwaukee Road Depot. There were derailments when all hell broke loose, but these were unusual.

“We stop for a while, she gives me a smile
And snuggles her head to my chest…”

—Walking My Baby Back Home, a hit for Nick Lucas.

Good girls didn’t smoke in public…

“Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad Company, how may I help you?”

The approved formula was a mouthful and then some. The daytime operators answered their calls this way. There were five of them plus a chief operator who superintended the PBX room from the Railroad Deco flat-topped oak desk set cattycorner against the second story windows. The high stool wicker backed operators chairs featured a footrest in the shape of a ring a foot above the floor. Buttocks sheathed in wool skirts lollopped on and over the brushed nap of upholstery seats. The polished rings were hitching posts for high heels, business wear variety. Business dress suits: flouncy blouses and neat businesslike bolero jackets all in a row, the Phone Ops nipped out for a smoke in the Ladies across the hall. Good girls didn’t smoke in public. The red sawdust of the sweeping compound moved every night. Morsels and crumbs got wedged in the cracks of the hardwood flooring. Up here on the second floor the hardwood had not been replaced by poured terrazzo and through a magic of country general store and emporia of the last century was kept oiled and swept, communicant to an older dispensation then the Deco terrazzo downstairs in the territory of mahogany benches and the Union News snack bar. The restaurant had closed with demobilization after WWII; a memory of its elegance lingered on as a 24-hour snack bar. The GIs were the last great riders.

The depot was a hinterlands accommodation to railroad elegance. Built too late in the late 19th Century, the Milwaukee Depot had been remodeled Art Deco style in the 20s. Milwaukee had never been a destination resort like the Canadian Pacific’s Banff, Alberta. But we had photomurals of Banff in the lobby. And the Milwaukee Road connected with the Northern Pacific to Seattle. The stars of the photomurals were the Hiawatha and the Olympian Hiawatha, out last streamliners, taking a turn through the wild rice marshes of the Wisconsin heartland. Southern Pacific vistadomes circled awesome scenery Out West. They were not the Milwaukee Road’s but we made the connection. Passengers relaxed with a drink and reveled in scenic America passing by in the lounge at the tail of the train where curved atrium windows opened on star-spangled nighttime skyscapes and daytime painted landscapes of desert mesas.

At night, it was “Miiiil-waukee Road…” announced from the throat, pushed by the diaphragm. A homage to John Cameron Swayze delivering the news on the Camel News Caravan. Ed Crowley taught me how to do this.

The night operator’s job at the Milwaukee Road depot was a definite step up on my seventeen-year-old career ladder, and it came with the pulling of strings. With the job came a union card from the Brotherhood of Railroad Clerks describing me as telegrapher. Neat. I was bunking with my Aunt Flora, helping her with caring for her bed-bound mother, my grandmother, after a paralytic stroke. Grandmother died and I stayed on for a while. Florence Ulrich, Floss, a Wednesday evening card party chum had told her about the opening. “Ed needs some relief on the weekends and the girls don’t like to stay late.” There was no more noticeable hazard in after-hours Milwaukee than in the burbs, but they were uncomfortable at what went on at the Antlers Hotel. They felt the assignations being made. The Phone Ops listened in all day long. At night they listened too, but were embarrassed by what they heard. Wakeup calls to train crews at the Antlers might be answered by a female voice. The calls never were, but there was the possibility.

Tip toe to the window, by the window
That is where I’ll be, come
Tip toe thru the tulips with me…

—Tiptoe Through the Tulips was another Nick Lucas hit.
It featured in the 1929 film Gold Diggers of Broadway.

Eavesdropping was good, clean fun

Diagonal galoshes tracks trampled a path through waist-deep drifts between the boilermaker bar near the baggage dock and the Hotel Antlers where the poolroom was. Transients found each other as they drank together in the blue and yellow glow of the Schlitz and Miller’s signs behind the frost covered plate glass windows on the Square. The deep winter snows on Lake Michigan’s shore turned Depot Square into an isolated plains village.

The men, the men usually, called the Depot to check on the tracks to St. Paul. If they were not yet clear there was womanly, knowing laughter just out of the mouthpiece’s range and a muzzy-voiced male request that I book a room at the Antlers. The night operator was, after all, a public utility. Later the same party would call the night operator asking to be put through on a long distance call. He was checking in at home. He was stuck and the railroad should pick up the bill. This was a courtesy we extended to stranded passengers. The night operator completed the call and, pulling the jack halfway out—there was a trick for doing this without inserting any betraying click on the line, listened in as a suddenly sober, deliberate and weary man calmed a worried and distant spouse.

Ed Crowley was a retired brakeman from the Soo Line. Not really old as railroaders go, he was in his mid-fifties and waiting out the years to his pension working at an inside job. Ed had done some long hauling on the CB&Q—the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy on a transfer crew riding the Northwestern tracks to Ashland, Wisconsin. Five years of that—but for most of his career he had opted for sleeping at home nights, and that meant yard work. Making up and breaking down trains. Except for those rare situations that happen mostly in the movies, William S. Hart or Tim McCoy crawling forward on his belly over the roof catwalks to engage the manual brake wheel on a runaway, a brakeman’s life is coupling and un-coupling. And in all weathers. The fifteen-minute breaks warming his hands with some coffee near the coal stove in the yard caboose are not long enough to get really warm. Except for coaling and taking on water, the guys who ride the long hauls stay in the caboose all the time, doing paperwork. Thanks to union work rules after years punctuated by crushed bodies and shattered bones, and the appearance of the Westinghouse air brake that you didn’t have to go up top to apply, the brakeman became a supercargo. Not so in the yards. Same pay, same railroad brotherhood, same rules, but they keep you hopping. What Ed did was roll cars down a three per cent grade to a deadhead. Getting cars started manually with a car puller, a great big god-awful thing like a lumberjack’s peavey—a lever device made out of wood and shaped like the letter j. With this, if the journals had been kept full of grease and the wheels hadn’t squared themselves hanging too long in their trucks, one man could single-handedly move a loaded freight car without an engine.

Ed was crippled with arthritis that twisted his hands and wrists. Thirty years in the yards in all weather and the brakeman’s job had done for Ed as a brakeman. The only parts of his hands that he was still able to articulate were the index and middle fingers before the first joint. With his wrists turned in he would yank at the patch cords and make their weights rattle in the falls, looking like a praying mantis going at its dinner.

Ed showed me, along with the regular chores of the depot telegrapher, how operators listen in to the telephone, and the callers none the wiser.

“Here, look at this plug,” he was holding up the brass tip of a switchboard cord polished bright with many connections. “There are three sections—ring, tip and sleeve. The trick is to get it in the hole balanced on the ring and the tip. The sleeve, that’s us here in the relay room, and 42 volts ringing current when we key back on the trunk lines, see?” With the phone plug half inserted he keyed back as if to alert a handset down the line and a little blue spark jumped the gap to the jack field.

“If you want to listen in without disturbing the callers, just the ring and the tip.” Operators can listen in undetected if they don’t put the plug in all the way.
"That’s how you do it, kid. You can listen in and there’s no one will be the wiser.” This eavesdropping was authorized in the work rules in case a connection had been up inordinately long. The operators were allowed to check if there was anyone still talking. If not, we were supposed to break it and clear the lines for incoming calls.

“Listening in is good, clean fun and it helps to pass the time.” Ed pulled the cord out as far as it would go, then released it to fall free and sort itself out. There was a rattle of weights pulling the slack back to the trough where the PBX lines lay at rest. One of the yard bulls would stop by the relay room twice a night on his regular patrol.

The battery room across the creaking varnished cavernous hallway with frosted glass partitioning of the mysteries of the daylight hours. Varnished squeaking oak with coffered walnut ceilings. Railroad opulence.

Nights and Weekends

“T.J.Hanlon—Communications and Signals”—the boss was across the hall with his name dead center in his glass between the battery room and the ladies’ room—"Women.” The Railroad didn’t want women working nights, which was when Ed Crowley and I took over. Nights and weekends, the signals division ran single-handed, and since the men’s room—“Men”—was at the other end of the building, we had an easement to use the ladies’ as our necessarium. It was designed as a real women’s toilet—there were no urinals, which suited us just fine. Since all the plumbing in the depot ran off a water tower, there were no water closets, the flush mechanism worked with a toggle called a vacuum breaker. The ladies’ room with its extra stalls was our beer cooler. Coming on shift, Ed would offload eight big, brown bottles of Schlitz (It made Milwaukee famous) or Gettelman (the $1000 Beer) from his Boy Scout knapsack into the toilet farthest from the door, run the flush a while to get the water cold, then chock open the restroom door with the Chicago Yellow Pages. This announced to any stray woman that she must use the men’s room. One had to cross the hall and hit the flush twice an hour in the summer. The nighttime telegraph operators were on duty.

“Clerks—Phone Ops.” Spidery gold leaf outlined in black were the letters on our door, which was open—the only open door nights. From the inside, the letters backwards through the glass were all black with lacquered feathering all around the edges. The gold leaf artists came from Cleveland or Indianapolis. They were in town every three months, once every quarter and no exceptions. The railroad kept a crew of painters busy all year round. They did signs, too, but the dicey stuff was contracted out. Gold leaf to add to your name showed a proper nineteenth century rectitude and added an illusion of permanence. Gold is forever, right? Jewelers, commission brokers, all the doctors and dentists in the professional suites at the Pilkington Arcade, and each and every door in our 1920s Art Deco skyscraper—twenty-two stories—before it opened, fully rented, had acquired an application of leaf: "Suite 1001", "Suite 1102", "Porter", "Fire Exit". It had taken weeks. Even the manager’s cage in the green felt jungle, the billiards and snooker room at the Hotel Antlers had "Manager" in gold leaf discretely in the lower left of his glass, though at the Antlers Billiard Room the partitions did not reach to the ceiling and the glass was clear, not frosted, so he could keep an eye on the tables.

Red lines straggled where a thread of sweeping compound had escaped past the trailing edge of the janitor’s dust mop. “Hmmm…the thin red line. Harry’s in a hurry,” Bob the yard bull evoked Conan Doyle. “Must be the new counter girl at the Union News.” That was Ginny, a tight-bodied, pretty little thing who looked just great in the Union News counter uniform. I, too, had gone out of my way to make her acquaintance. Ginny had her own toilet facilities behind the lunch counter. The railroad thought it all right for a woman to work through the night in the depot waiting room proper, under the watchful eyes of the ticket agent and the railroad police, of whom one or the other was always on duty in the lobby.

“We start in to pet and that’s when I get
Her talcum all over my vest…”

Bob Orsiniak, the yard bull, reached for the guitar case Ed kept under the day bed that served for cat naps during long watches—we could set the telegraph and the switchboard on full alarm for incoming messages, and a bell that could wake the dead would bring us bolting to the board. Before arthritis, Ed Crowley had played the guitar and sung. He was a natural. It was something he had just picked up and gotten good at right away and, during the long isolations in the caboose over his five years riding the trains, he learned hundreds of songs. And some jazz pieces, too, for Ed didn’t just chord along, he could really play the instrument. Bob Orsiniak played too, in the style of Nick Lucas. Both Ed and Bob were fans of The Singing Troubadour, and while Ed sang in a pure, high tenor with a theatrically telling vibrato that he could ride up and down the scale with effortless control, Bob did not sing. They had become a team.

In the case was a Nick Lucas model Gibson guitar—small and round, even hippy, but with a large sound hole high into the fingerboard and a deep body that deceived the critical eye and gave it a fuller sound than the arched-top rhythm guitars that were then so popular for jazz players. It was just fine for accompanying voice.

The Gandy Dancers

On the long winter nights when there had been no derailments—which was usually—it was such a fine, manly feeling to share companionship and music with those two. The snow swirling in Depot Square, two stories below, and Bob would come stomping up the stairs from his two AM rounds, tracking a trail of wet to where he unbuckled his galoshes to dry near the steam riser.


Ed taught me that the night crew covered for one another. The ticket agent to whom we forwarded information calls would nip out across Depot Square for a drink. He told the Night Ops and they—Ed Crowley and me—would take the calls. Reservations we promised and took down the booking info on a pink “While You Were Out” slip. If we promised an impossible connection—a roomette to Albuquerque without a change of trains at St. Louis—Howard could fix things when he returned. Bob, the yard bull, liked to play guitar and catch a nap in the equipment room. Yard bull. Even into the 1950s railroaders held onto snatches of the idiom from the grand days of driving the golden spike at the Continental Divide and the migrants of the hobo jungles. Gandys. The gandy dancers had once been the gangs of coolie labor who with long iron poles levered thousands of miles of ballast loosened by passing trains back under the crossties. In the mid-fifties gandyhood was a life style choice for the transient unemployed, usually free spirits who chose to remember only the happy times of the Great Depression. Or alcoholic. The yard bulls now were the unofficial custodians of a geriatric petting zoo; the gandys had become an anchor of an imagined history. A man and his wife, in their 70s, came through the Milwaukee Depot, riding the freight cars. Every year, like clockwork. They ate at the Union News.

There was the time a conductor from Superior Division died on the train. If the yard bulls called in the local cops, the body would be hauled off to the morgue and the medical examiner. The train crew packed him in ice at the Fruit House with the grapes and cantaloupes and deadheaded him back to Superior where his family waited.

Shades of night are creeping
Willow trees are weeping
Old folks and babies are sleeping
Silver stars are gleaming
All alone I’m scheming
Scheming to get you out here, my dear, come…
Come on out and pet me Come and “Juliet” me
Tease me and slyly “coquette” me
Let me Romeo you, I just want to show you
How much I’m willing to do for you, come
Tip toe to the window, by the window
That is where I’ll be, come
Tip toe thru the tulips with me.
Tip toe from your pillow
To the shadow of the willow tree
And tip toe thru the tulips with me
Knee deep in flowers we’ll stray
We’ll keep the showers away
And if I kiss you in the garden
In the moonlight, will you pardon me
Come tip toe thru the tulips with me


Nick Lucas: http://www.nicklucas.com/biography.html
Milwaukee Road Historical Association: http://www.mrha.com/
Milwaukee Road Routes (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milwaukee_Road

Technorati tags: railfan, railroad, steam, trains

Making (Audio) Book

September 29, 2011

some thoughts on the mechanics self-publishing

Printing-Press-1568Typically the afterlife of a published tale—we are talking literary ephemera here, the books, the magazines, the websites and e-zines over which you, the author, have no control—consists of gathering dust until the writer’s heirs and assigns shred it for packing nick-knacks and other writerly impedimenta. Not quite the half-life of linoleum. And what of the loves, lives, hopes and aspirations of its citizens? Must they float forever in a shimmering noösphere playing whist and watching the flights of eidolons? Boring.

Self-publishing takes either a lot of money or a lot of work. You’re a writer, right? You are in this for love. If it was the money you’d be an investment banker or a plumber. You daydream of that big Hollywood agent calling you up and asking if you’d like to option off your book for a film. How does he know there is a book? Oops. Barring the cash to hire someone else to format your book, record your readings, convert your words into acceptable audio files, this means it’s time to roll up the sleeves.

Formatting a book. This is one of those things that you thought happened Someplace Out There where the Keebler elves cluster about a polished tree stump as they gaze awestruck at your manuscript. Your book. Book—ahh, the sound of it. You’ve taken your book through many drafts, re-edited, reworked, recast, shortened, lengthened, and found that by the time you were halfway through your book—in my case a 480 page opus—that you had forgotten where you were at. At which time you hit Enter and leave the friendly elves to enter the Forest of Frustration. Here we ask ourselves, Why am I doing this? Hopefully to get your work into as many hands as possible. Writers want readers. Lulu.com offers free templates. Get one. There will be a learning curve, but you can format it yourself.

There is so much (free) help on the Internet, and free applications as well, that what you will get from virtual self-publishing can become an excuse for putting off your writing. Remember—anything you do is writing, particularly re-writing and editing. That said, let’s get under the hood.

1.) Self-publishing, the first step-The Website.

You can, with a semester at your local Community College and a stack of books, build your own website—a piece of virtual real estate where folks can find you—with only a text editor (Notepad, Notepad++) as I was taught at the University of Maine at Machias. I eventually chickened out and sprung for Expressions Web, a Windows application. If you are a Mac person, there is a plethora of excellent WYSIWYG media out there for both PCs and Macs.

2.) Self-publishing, the second step—Podcasting.

Why record? You don’t like the sound of your voice anyway, and studio time is prohibitively expensive. You can do it at home with a mid-line desktop (dual Pentium 4 plus and a USB sound card with a couple of gigs memory and Audacity, a free program). I regularly record stories (at the local radio station, later at home as I saved up the $800.00 for a condenser microphone and an external USB sound card) as they became available and copyright reverts back to me. The stories and MP3 downloads are distributed for free (at http://www.onetinleg.com), under a Creative Commons license. I started my uploading career with a trip to Feedburner, now owned by Google. Feedburner is free and will do your conversions into the conflicting technologies that clog the Internet.

3.) Self-publishing, the third step—e-Books.

One of the most time-honored practices of the author promoting his or her work is the public reading. This is fine if you have a publisher with an ever-eager crew of public-relations folk out there beating the trees and coercing a few church groups, literary reading circles, and independent booksellers to free up a Wednesday evening for you. This is necessarily local; there is no drawing account, but you may want to save your expense vouchers. (And going local is a warm, wonderful human experience—see Big Hollywood Agent above) Going national? Go virtual (see Big Hollywood Agent again).

Here are some free or cheap names to remember—Calibre, Mobipocket Creator, Reader Works Publisher (for Microsoft Reader, of the 3500 eBook downloads from my website only 0.9%, but it sure makes a pretty file), and if you don’t have Adobe, Open Office makes a dandy .pdf for free. For wrangling those finished audio files, check Chapter and Verse.

Here’s something to look up—just write it down and Google it sometime: M4b. That’s M4b. Don’t worry, be happy. This is the same audio format albeit with some DRM exclusionary bells and whistles that Amazon uses at audible.com. Just don’t worry about it; it’s something you will want to look into later. iTunes can convert your files for you too—and right on your desktop computer.

4.) Self-publishing, the fourth step—Unscrewing the unscrewtable.

How will people know how to find me? I don’t even know how to find them. Good question and, once again, if you were to Google “Podcast Directory” you should get hundreds if not thousands of listings. Many “podcast directories” act as link farms and they all point to you. How do they get your address? Well, use your imagination. Yep, cannibalism from other directories, and with it inordinate exposure for you and your offerings.

To test the proof of my next statement you will have to look at the statistics for your own website. My website, http://www.onetinleg.com, is unimaginatively hosted by GoDaddy.com and cost me about $42 a year the last time I looked in 2010. And I get a lot of extras with it—that is “extras” for a smalltime operator, not recommended for the United States Government, General Motors or Amazon.com—like a stats engine that lists MP3 files.

5.) Self-publishing, the fifth step—Running the numbers.

What will you see in those statistics and why look? Glad you asked. Here are mine as of August 2011; they display like a funnel drilling straight into your brainstem:

MP3 downloads 326,547
HTML (the actual web pages) 221,077
XML (extensible markup language) 170,712
PDF (or Adobe/Mobipocket-friendly portable document format) 2,168
PRC files (the Kindle-friendly versions of my three books) 1,547
And LIT (Microsoft Reader) 328

The first list item is MP3 downloads and let’s note, over 100,000 more than the next lowest which is HTML, the actual webpages. Conclusion: people are not reading as much as they’re listening.

How did this happen since the links of the audio files are embedded in the HTML pages? Referrals from podcast directories.

At this point I should remind you to put a wee advertisement at the end and beginning of each story or each chapter that you upload to tell people how to find the print version on your website. Without this the link may put you at number one with a bullet in the Billboard top 100 but will not send many people to your books. My first uploads were to Podcast Alley, Podcast Directory, iTunes and DMOZ and an audio file collection to the Internet Archive. And, of course, FeedBurner as recommended by Jim Kelly (http://www.jimkelly.net/). If this Sci-Fi writer is using any promotional tool, it’s worth investigating. Jim Kelly’s website has been formatted with a content management software bundle called Joomla. I built my own; it’s pretty and it’s a pain in the ass to update. If you want to look different from the rest, it comes with a price. And, no, I can’t pin down any advantages for DIY websites. I did it in the days before content management was mainstream and now I’m stuck with it, like getting married right out of high school.

Next XML. XML is extensible markup language and the table of contents pages for your upload and/or content sites more about this? Google for this one—it’s tricky. In my case the XML file tells iTunes how (and what) to display of my stuff.

The PDFs are the most popular of my downloads. I’ve got three books formatted for PDFs. I recently sent up the Kindle-friendly PRC links and am watching these play catch-up. There is one additional format—ePub, the dream of an (almost) universally readable eBook that I haven’t mentioned. I’m still learning; check back.


Trying to wrangle a readable ePub I used the software listed in this article, shuffling between XML and HTML, imported some RTF conversions from Open Office, messing with my WYSIWYG editor (Expressions Web), then caved in and explored play-for-pay software vendors. Google Anthemion (Jutoh is the application name). Just do it. If you value your time at least at half the minimum wage (as I sadly do—albeit not too shabby in tough times), in my case the day I wasted in DIY-land more than paid the reasonable $30.00 US fee. Jutoh exports your files as HTML. Don’t ask; if you do websites or compile books in competing formats, this alone is worth the price. Julian Smart speaks English like a native—small joke there; he’s a Brit. And a Brit with much savvy. Here’s a link to what I did editing inside Julian’s app, by the way. Adobe Digital Editions is a decent ePub reader that is freeware.

The PRC files. Not to be afraid. These will be the Kindle/Mobi friendly eBooks. NOTE: If you Kindle-friendly format at home as I do, the Amazon Store will not display your book and the end user has some finagling to do on their desktop computer, i.e. drag-and-drop. Not too difficult.

Lastly LIT, the Microsoft Reader route. This makes a pretty product and, as I said earlier, I love the look and accessibility features. One problem: nobody uses the damned thing these days (2011), and it’s Windows exclusive. I paid money for the commercial version ten years ago. Now its free here. Go fish.

You—we—want readers (see paragraph 3). Barring money by the wheelbarrow load (see Big Hollywood Agent again), this will have to suffice. Or is this all just an ego trip, maybe a few copies to send out to friends at Christmas? Answer—yes, it is an ego trip; what’s wrong with that? Get real. And don’t forget to call Mom, she’ll want one, too.

Rob Hunter
Pembroke Maine 
September 2011

This article was first published online by the Portland Scribists blog, September 1st 2011.

Technorati tags: Self-publishing, ePub

Search inside

August 17, 2011

Lost in Willipaq


The Fastest Hound Dog in the State of Maine, a celebration of John Gould

August 16, 2011

The Fastest Hound Dog in the State of MaineJohn Gould is a writer from the State of Maine. Maine has a passing fair school system, so that there might be a Mainer who could write (and supposedly read) came as no great surprise.

Never heard of him? Neither had I…

A good many times people have asked me how I came to own the fastest hound dog in the State of Maine, and why he was known to be the fastest, and I want to tell it just the way it happened so you’ll all know the facts. I came from Wytopitlock, where I was living at the time, down to Mattawamkeag on the Bangor & Aroostook Railroad one day to buy myself a hound dog. Up to Wytopitlock we was having a run on long-legged rabbits then, I didn’t want none of these short-legged dogs that can run all day and not move any. I wanted one with rangy pins that could get close enough to a Wytopitlock rabbit so he’d exert himself and know he was chased. The short-legged dogs we’d been using was no good at all, and I says to myself, "The Hell with that!"

—Fastest Hound Dog in the State of Maine

An antiquarian bookseller friend—whose self-appointed task through the forty-plus years of our association has been the education and cultural uplift of me—some years back sent along a packet of Thorne Smith books. Well, I had asked him for the Smith books. But in the box he added “The Fastest Hound Dog in the State of Maine.”  He had done this before with “Poetry by the Side of the Road,”  the collected oeuvre of the nameless poets who fired the engines of the Burma-Shave Company.

The aforementioned antiquarian once sent along a first edition of A. A. Milne’s “Two People,” a novel. Never heard of that one either, I bet. Small surprise—although an excellent book, it got clobbered by Winnie the Pooh, and it is thus that we remember Milne. I loved it.

The Fastest Hound Dog went immediately to the bedside table—great expectations, etc. I was not disappointed, and that night read it through at least twice; it’s a short book. Alas, as is the case with many fine bedside books, I immediately forgot the author’s name. FHDitSoM had become, “Honey… where’s that book?”

John Gould holds the record for the longest-running columnist in any newspaper in America. John wasn’t born in Maine but, to paraphrase a politician’s quip, he “got there as soon as he could.”

—excerpted from “America’s Oldest Newspaper Columnist” in the Senior Journal Oct. 21, 2002

Then, one day in a fine a Maine spring I was volunteered, verb transitive, at the Dennysville public library to read at a celebration of the life and literature of John Gould. I went right over and picked up some texts. Inside a flyleaf there was an “Also by…”  and there was the FHDitSoM. At home, I hawked the loose effluvia from my larynx and gave it a try out loud. Hot diggedy or words of like persuasion. I was hooked:

So here I was in Mattawamkeag and not knowing a soul there, but I wandered around thinking if they had a likely dog in those parts I’d soon find out, and if they warn’t I’d soon know that, too, and no harm done. Well, I circulated some, and had made up my mind it was a day thrown away, and I started back to the depot, meaning to pick up a copy of the Bangor Daily News to read on the train going home, and to get there quicker I cut across and came up onto the back end of a barn, and when I did I had this premonition of Dog, and I says to myself that I’d been led to this barn by some power unknown.
    So I said to myself, "Dog!" And just as I did they commenced to bark, and I’d say offhand without exaggeration that the barn had fifty dogs in it, at least fifty, and just then a little door opened and a fellow stuck his head out and wanted to know what I was up to.
    I said I was just cutting across to the Bangor & Aroostook depot, and moved up closer while I was saying it, and when I got close enough to holler above the dogs I said, "What you got in there?"
    "In where?" he says.
    "In that barn." I says.
    "In what barn?"
    I could see we warn’t getting any place that way, and where I didn’t have much time for the train I said, "Sounds like dogs."
   "It might be," he says.

—Fastest Hound Dog in the State of Maine

Life and Times

[John Gould was] born in Boston and spent his early childhood there, but when he was eight years old, his family moved to Freeport, which then had a population of about 2,000. From the very first, Gould loved Maine, and he particularly loved the town where he grew up. “All I am or ever hope to be,” he wrote later on, “I owe to my mother’s bringing me up in that small Maine town, because growing to a man there gave me the priceless things that universities don’t sell, and other people don’t know.”

I had this premonition of DogGould’s town was full of what he calls “characters,” people who had lived varied and interesting lives and had lots of knowledge to pass on and lots of stories to tell. There were men whose fathers had skippered in the China trade, men who were farmers and millworkers and storekeepers. There was “a man who had driven a mule team in Death Valley, and a woman who swallowed swords in a circus.” There were people who could rig a ship, and people who could teach an interested boy how to make maple syrup or apple cider. In fact, Gould writes, “…if anything was worth knowing, somebody there knew it.…No matter what you wanted to do or know, there was somebody in town to turn to.”

His career as a writer began when he started writing for a paper in a nearby town. He noticed that the obituaries of former sea captains were boring. He knew those people weren’t boring; he’d listened to their stories. And so he wrote to the editor offering to write some obituaries. His offer was accepted—and it wasn’t for some time that the editor found out that his new writer hadn’t even graduated from high school.

—from remarks by Barbara Baig at the Dennysville library

Lisbon Falls and Stephen King

a Wikipedia* connection update as of November, 2008

The horror writer Stephen King attended high school in Lisbon Falls. The fictional town of Castle Rock, which he used in several stories, is thought to be based on Lisbon Falls. The town is also famous for its Moxie Days, a celebration of the Moxie soft drink, which is sold at Frank Anicetti’s corner store. The store’s official name is The Kennebec Fruit Company, but it is commonly referred to as The Moxie Store and is recognizable by its bright yellow paint job. Moxie Days in Lisbon Falls is attended by thousands from around the world each summer. Lisbon Falls was also home to John Gould, famous Maine humorist and author. He was the author of “Farmer Takes a Wife”, “The Fastest Hound Dog in the State of Maine” and “Tales From Harmony Home, What They Don’t Tell You About Senior Living”. In his book “On Writing”, Stephen King recounts his experience working for John Gould at the Lisbon Enterprise, a weekly newspaper that John Gould published. (Although in the book, King does not know that it was the famous John Gould)

Q: [Are] Maine people are less self-reliant and independent than they used to be?

A: Well, it doesn’t make any difference whether they’re Maine people or from Wisconsin. They’re all… Driven by the cursèd thirst for gold. Credit cards…  Of course, we don’t go deep enough to rationalize the situation that allows credit cards. I had a Ford pick-up truck, and I bought it from a fellow in South Portland. I took it in for a check-up every six months. Finally, the guy says we can’t take your check. You’ll have to have a credit card. And he named the kind of credit card I had to have. Well, with a little inquiry you get the story. The bank squeezed him. He used to take his accounts receivable and go to the bank and borrow money. And they said no, and they insisted on credit cards. Well, the banks are at fault for this [the financial situation in the country]. The old country banks where you can walk in and shake hands with the manager are gone.

His titles tell you where he’s coming from: Dispatches from Maine, Maine’s Golden Road, Maine Lingo, The Fastest Hound Dog in the State of Maine, The Jonesport Raffle. Most of his books are essays; some are novels. There’s a lot of Down East posing in them. That’s what his readers want. Maine natives don’t take offense at the Professional Mainer; they are probably his biggest fans.

—excerpted from “Being John Gould—Talking with Maine’s old man of letters,”  an interview by Lance Tapley in the Portland Phoenix April 19-26, 2001

A John Gould bibliography

New England Town Meeting, Safeguard of Democracy (Stephen Days Press, 1940, with photographs by the author). This slim (61 pages) book explores the character of democracy in action at the local level.

Pre-natal Care for Fathers (Stephen Days Press 1941; William Morrow, 1946). “A nonmedical, nontechnical, nonscientific explanation of the masculine side of the matter,”  says the title page, “with much that is useful and nothing that is wholly useless.”

Farmer Takes a Wife (William Morrow, 1945). How Gould plucked his wife, Dorothy, out of Boston and planted her on a Maine farm. Reprinted essays from The Christian Science Monitor, The New York Times Magazine, and the Baltimore Evening Sun. It was a bestseller.

The House That Jacob Built (William Morrow, 1947). The story of the Gould family farmstead in Lisbon, Maine, and how it was restored. Reprinted essays from The Christian Science Monitor, The New York Times Magazine, and The Lisbon Enterprise.

And One to Grow On: Recollections of a Maine Boyhood (William Morrow, 1949). Gould recalls growing up in Freeport, Maine.

Neither Hay Nor Grass (William Morrow, 1951). Twenty-eight humorous tales.

The Fastest Hound Dog in the State of Maine, with F. Wenderoth Saunders. (William Morrow, 1953). A Mainer buys a dog and tries to take it home on the Bangor and Aroostook Railroad.

Monstrous Depravity: A Jeremiad and a Lamentation [About Things to Eat] (William Morrow, 1963). Celebrating the food of the past and bemoaning the food of the present, complete with recipes – from custard pies to clambakes.

The Parables of Peter Partout (Little, Brown, 1964). Fictional letters from Peter Partout of Peppermint Corner, Maine, to the editor of the Lisbon Enterprise.

You Should Start Sooner; in Which Widely Separated Topics Are Strangely Discussed by an Old Cuss (Little, Brown, 1965).

Fifty collected essays from The Christian Science Monitor. Foreword by Monitor editor (and fellow Mainer) Erwin D. Canham.

Last One In: Tales of a New England Boyhood, a Gently Pleasing Dip Into a Cool, Soothing Pool of the Not-So-Long-Ago, So to Speak (Little Brown, 1966; Down East, 1979). More of Gould’s Maine boyhood; dedicated to his grandson Willy.

Europe on Saturday Night: The Farmer and His Wife Take a Trip (William Morrow, 1968; Down East, 1979). John and Dorothy travel through Europe in a VW Beetle.

The Jonesport Raffle, and Numerous Other Maine Veracities (Little, Brown, 1969; Down East, 1979). Tales of Maine, from 16th-century fishing camps to the lumberjack days. “Much of it true, but some of it isn’t,”  Gould notes.

Twelve Grindstones: or, A Few More Good Ones, Being Another Cultural Roundup of Maine Folklore, Sort of, Although Not Intended to Be Definitive, and Perhaps not So Cultural, Either (Little, Brown, 1970). “Anecdotes, tales, jests, and other Maine apocrypha,”  from blueberry picking and prison reform to smart dogs.

The Shag Bag, Which, Considering Our Perculiar [sic] Present, Has No Motive, Purpose, and Dedicated Aim, and Is Meant Only to Be Amusing – Which Not Very Much Is Nowadays, Is It? (Little, Brown, 1972; Down East, 1979). Some “magnificently renewed and embellished”  columns from The Christian Science Monitor and the Baltimore Evening Sun.

Glass Eyes by the Bottle: Some Conversations About Some Conversation Pieces (Little, Brown, 1975). Forty-four “conversation pieces” of wit, nostalgia, and Maine folklore.

Maine Lingo: Boiled Owls, Billdads & Wazzats, with Lillian Ross (Down East, 1975). A compendium of Maine regional language.

This Trifling Distinction: Reminiscences From Down East (Little, Brown, 1978). Stories about the Gould clan. Tall tales and heroes roam freely.

Next Time Around: Some Things Pleasantly Remembered (W.W. Norton, 1983). Reminiscences “by a man who would make only a few changes here and there if he had his life to live over.”

No Other Place (W.W. Norton, 1984). Gould’s first novel. It concerns Jabez Knight, his family, and “above all his daughter, Elzada“ in pre-Revolutionary War New England.

Stitch in Time (W.W. Norton, 1985). Humorous short stories about the inhabitants of a Maine village.

The Wines of Pentagoët (W.W. Norton, 1986). The saga of Elzada Knight continues, taking up where “No Other Place”  left off.

Old Hundredth (W.W. Norton, 1987). Dedicated to Gould’s mother, Hilda D.J. Gould, on her 100th birthday. Fifty-one tales about life in Maine.

There Goes Maine! A Somewhat History, Sort of, of the Pine Tree State (W.W. Norton, 1990). Maine’s history, Gould-style.

Funny About That (W.W. Norton, 1992). Short humorous stories, collected mostly from his previous books. Many of them first appeared in The Christian Science Monitor.

It Is Not Now: Tales of Maine (W.W. Norton, 1993). Fifty humorous tales. Dispatches From Maine, 1942-1992 (W.W. Norton, 1994). Fifty years of selected columns from The Christian Science Monitor.

Maine’s Golden Road: a Memoir (W.W. Norton, 1995). Narrative of the retreats that Gould and his daughter’s father-in-law made over the years.

Our Croze Nest: A Morning River Farm Story (Blackberry Books, 1997). His third novel completes Elzada Knight’s story and “brings us into today, when summer people have discovered Down East.”

Tales From Rhapsody Home, or, What They Don’t Tell You About Senior Living (Algonquin Books, 2000). A fictionalized, humorous-but-pointed look at living in a retirement

John Gould, 94, Columnist

The New York Times: September 3, 2003

John Gould, whose essays about life in Maine ran in The Christian Science Monitor for more than 60 years, died on Sunday in Portland, Me. He was 94. Mr. Gould had been suffering from congestive heart failure and was admitted to the hospital with pneumonia, said his daughter, Kathryn MacLeod Christy. Mr. Gould started writing his weekly columns in 1942. The essays, many of them set in Maine, covered topics like the mystery of the three-tined fork, the origin of molasses cookies and the Battle of Gettysburg as told to him by one who was there. He also wrote 30 books, including the best seller Farmer Takes a Wife and his most recent one, Tales From Rhapsody Home, or What They Don’t Tell You About Senior Living (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2000).


John Gould“We’ve come through the twentieth century all right, and if there’s anything about the twenty-first century that’s better, please write and tell me.”

—John Gould





The epitome of a down-Maine Yankee www.csmonitor.com
The quintessential Downeast storyteller www.csmonitor.com
The Wikipedia entry www.wikipedia.org
America’s Oldest Newspaper Columnist http://seniorjournal.com
*Stephen King and John Gould: Lisbon Falls, Maine. (2008, November 3). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 20:19, November 9, 2008

Laocoön Beats the Blues

July 21, 2011

Platterland Nine Stories and a Novella has been rewritten, neatened and conformed to the scripting of the audiobook downloads on iTunes and onetinleg.com. With his usual elegance and dispatch, Martin Langeland of DumLuks.com (http://dumluks.blogspot.com) has contributed a review:

The author calls it a “hypertext puzzle box.” And so it is. Certainly “The Orange Virgin” is a quandary box filled with the clutter of a well stocked mind made redundant by an errant world devoid of the classicism once imparted to a tender youth through a stern apprenticeship to Greek and Latin Masters frequently mistaken, though no more, for Antarctic birds. But here is a sweet offering called Platterland, by Rob Hunter. It’s sub-headed You Will Be Happy Here more in anticipation than trepidation, one imagines. In it a clash of titans fills the foreground as the earth goddess and sky demon jostle one another back into their proper dominions. A lavish palimpsest of characters spatters the way, like the texture of a well painted flat, rich in hue and vast in breadth while the depth leaves the reader breathless. Call it Ulysses in Willapaq or the Decimated Decameron. Hell, its really Shakes’ comic countrymen gathered in a giddy fête to gigue around the good old phallus. Lots of slap the stick humor. The image of a thousand clowns emerging from a VW or a deux chevaux is commonplace. Conjure the effort of stuffing the 957th clown in! In the 30 years Rob struggled to create his Parnassus he must have felt like that when he wasn’t envying the easy life of Laocoön. Golems dance with demiurges to the heady rhythms of cigar chomping manticores while Ur Goats nod and udderful bulls bellow to be milked though they know not where.

Notice must be taken of the cover art by Anna Wilkenfeld. Two of Swords distils Platterland – You’ll Be Happy Here to a heady liquor while serendipitously capturing the current political scene.

But there is more. Nine stories more, sort of like this:

What is alien? Perhaps no more than your full on normal point of view, but seen out of the corner of another’s eye?
So a Fixer says to the Golem behind the bar somewhere in the Larger Magellanic Cloud: Which way to the Poconos?
Now appearing nightly: Ernie Kovacs and Arnold Stang in “King of the Wood” the new off-off Willapaq hit play from the Golden Bough. “Three smashed thumbs!!!” — The Carpenter of Kennebunkport. “Huh?” — Burt and I. “Nertz” — Unperiodic Variety.
Who was that white suited dude with the handlebars?
You mean a mustache?
One of those too.
Was he driving a late model Fulton Riverboat?
No he was in the subway. In Milan.
Oh, Mark Twain.
Memory is the available time machine. Our own Doc Wonmug dials the relevant and irreverent past to show: ‘here be dragon.’

But, seriously folks… Rob Hunter has assembled a delicious assortment of adventures with an interstellar cast of characters including Flyin’ Ed. Those of you who have read Rob’s work before will dispute my clumsy attempts above to assault the flavor of Rob’s wit, imagination and sheer narrative dazzlement. Those who don’t know Rob’s work … first I envy them the encounter whose consummation is devoutly to be hurried to commencement and savored in the repletion during. There is no second because you are already clicking on the handy order form. –ml

3 Days with Claudette Colbert

November 18, 2010

The single rose in the bud vase made everything else look incredibly tacky. We were having a celebrity visitor. We always had celebrity visitors, why the special effort? John Malkovich, Meryl Streep, Keir Dullea and Kelly McGillis didn’t rate this treatment. They had put up with the accumulated crud just like we did. Bill Buckley and Robert Hughes, forget it. Hey, the place was always busy and they were being paid, right?

claudetteThis time we were getting a visit from a real star, from when there were stars. Claudette Colbert.

I cleaned the studio again, brushed the black felt we used on the table to muffle the sound of turning pages, despaired, turned it over and brushed the less damaged backside. I washed the double glass in the control room window.


I nipped out to the maintenance room for a Phillips screwdriver to remove the pane and washed the inside of the soundlock glass, too.

Before we were told who the narrator would be I had been looking forward to three afternoons of listening to a good book and expense account lunches in a bag from the deli downstairs. Sherry was my Audiobooks client: the producer, editor, chief cook and bottle washer at Random House for books on tape. For all the product they got out onto the street, an impressive effort. A two woman shop, Sherry and Linda, tucked away in a ninth floor office on East 51st Street.

Claudette was late. She was eighty-three years old, suppose she had died on the way to the studio? Sherry and I paced in front of the elevator, feeling foolish and negligent that we had lost one of our charges. Sherry checked with her office. Did she know where to go?

Claudette had the address. In fact, she had just called to confirm; her husband’s chauffeur was bringing her in the limo. Claudette had married a distinguished surgeon decades earlier. He had entrusted his wife to us and now we had lost her: old and feeble, wandering alone in midtown Manhattan. [When fact-checking this piece, I discovered that her husband, Dr. Joel Pressman, a surgeon, had died in 1968. She always spoke of him in the present tense: "He makes sure that I have a banana and a vitamin pill to start the day."] The elevator doors opened and a busy, compact woman bustled out. She caught a heel on a loose parquet tile, the one we had been meaning to glue down, stumbled, recovered. She was carrying a pink nylon insulated lunch hamper with an appliqué flower on the side. She lumped it on the reception desk and announced, “Sorry I’m late. Random House? I’m here for their one o’clock session.”

“Miss Colbert?” Sherry.

“Yes, and I’m all out of breath. My husband must never know. I got the address wrong. I’m always doing that. I had the car drop me at 45 West 35th Street. I had enough change to call your office, but not enough for a cab. I walked it double-time.”

Ten blocks uptown on Fifth Avenue, against the wind. Eighty-three and only twenty minutes late. She had scrambled. “I never leave the house without a dollar in quarters.”

It was Claudette Colbert. Definitely. And definitely not feeble. Floral print jumper, a little hat and the same bangs and tight-permed curls that had charmed Clark Gable in It Happened One Night. And looking not eighty-three. Diet and exercise. Fifty, perhaps.

“I’ve never done anything like this before. Narration is something new. Bear with me.”

The book was Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s The Gift From The Sea. The three days were a vacation from hassles and deadlines. We finished early and lingered late; she seldom needed a second take. I asked for a few anyway, to show Sherry I was earning my keep and to cover alternate side timings for cassette duplication. She did so well that we had ample time in the booking slot to sit and chat. She talked and we listened. Claudette packed her own lunch every day in the same pink lunch pail, vegetarian low cholesterol. And she smoked my brand. “I always smoke the brand of the person I’m asking for a cigarette. I gave them up years ago.” Between takes she sat in the control room and hustled my cigarettes. We reminisced about New York. She was not really French. “Belgian, like Hercule Poirot. Colbert is my grandparents’ name.”

We agreed horse-drawn streetcars were something that should be brought back. “I suppose I really should carry credit cards or something.” The very rich never carry money.

Claudette had pocket cash squirreled away and always on her person, refugee memories. She had arrived from Belgium in 1914, a fugitive from the war in Europe. The crosstown trolleys on Fourteenth Street were her first enduring impression of America.

Three days with Claudette Colbert, my first star. And last.

“May I have the flower?” she asked.

“Please. Tomorrow I’ll get one with a sprig of baby’s breath.”


Claudette bio and filmography http://query.nytimes.com/
Lindberghs newsreel footage www.archive.org/
Ann Morrow Lindbergh www.pbs.org/wgbh/

Technorati tags: Claudette Colbert, Charles and Ann Lindbergh, Film Stars

The Illuminati owe Carl .57

November 17, 2010

illuminatiAdolescence is a long and lonely time; I read comics and the pulps. One story mentioned an ‘Illuminati,’ but I missed the reference. The story was a sanitized take on the ‘Secret Masters Walk Among Us’ theme. But I was a sharp kid and well read in the lore of comics and the pulps: The Great White Lodge as a Celtic swords-and-sorcery knockoff on the Illuminati. It was a good yarn and I remembered it into middle age.

The day the Illuminati—secret, sinister—reentered my life Harold Junior pulled up in his rusted-out Lincoln Continental as I was checking my mail. Our mailboxes, down by the road, do double duty as street addresses too, here in rural Maine. Harold’s huge domestic battle cruiser had been bought cheap and came with a titanic appetite for gas and oil. But it never had to go far, only start. And it plowed through drifts that would stall a Jeep.

“Look. See that—it’s a beaver.” I followed Harold Junior’s pointing finger. No beaver. There had been no beaver sightings on the lower Pennamaquan since they started blowing beaver dams to control upcountry flooding. Something about fish migrations.

Harold did not leave the driver’s seat. This was a protocol of roadside conversations: stay in the car, otherwise they’ll have to invite you inside for coffee or a beer. Anyway, Harold would have had a time making it to the house. His free spirit was sorely tried by arthritic knees and diabetes, trapped inside 450 pounds of fat.

“No, goddamn it, it’s a beaver—right there.” Harold got out of the Lincoln. The car sprang eight inches up on its springs. They made those babies to last. Harold lurched toward the riverbank. The breeze caught the blue, syrupy exudations from his tailpipe and a cloud of hydrocarbons accompanied us as Harold grabbed my arm and dragged me along. He pointed. “There! A beaver.”

“We don’t see many of them,” I said. I had never seen any of them.

Harold Junior released his hold on my arm. He grew thoughtful. “They renounce sex,” he said. “The beaver bites its testicles off and throws them to the legions of hell in hot pursuit. A servant of God ‘must cut off from himself all vices, all motions of lewdness, and must cast them in the Devil’s face.’ That was on TV.” There was a Christian channel included in our local basic cable package.

“A pretty good reason for no beavers.” But beavers were making a comeback, it appeared. And that is why I remember the day the Great White Lodge, The Illuminati, came to visit with me—Harold and the beaver. It was not the same day and they came not bearing beavers, but with a wrong number.

It was Saturday about suppertime, the time boiler room calls come in. I have a routine, spooning rice and fish together, listening with courteous deference to the pitch, whatever, until the caller pauses for breath. Then I spring my trap. “My wife. You are calling for my wife. She died in April.”

There is a pause and they ring off. Then I eat dinner. The University of Kansas Jayhawks are trying to build a new field house and the news of the death of a distinguished alumna has slowed them down but it hasn’t stopped them. The Jayhawks’ telephone solicitors still show up about once a month.

This time it was neither aluminum siding nor the Jayhawks.

I was watching Talk Radio, a video of a film from a stage play by Eric Bogosian, a film about the Faustian progression of a radio talk show host in Texas, most of it set in the broadcast studio. The phone rang. Hmmm.

I stopped the tape and answered the phone. A man in Windham, Maine was checking on a bogus charge on his bill. Had I received a call charged to his number? No. September fifth? I checked the calendar. I had been home all day waiting for chimney work. The kids were away. The caller later identified himself as Carl, a born-again Christian who listens to Christian radio stations. But all this information did not come at once; it was scattered throughout our conversation. We must have talked for ten minutes or so, he incurring charges far in excess of the $.57 he was checking up on. There had been a lot of billing mix-ups last month and he was calling all the listed numbers to frame a complaint. I was the first who had answered.

I said since the death of my wife I had lived alone with a dog and two cats. Might they have learned to dial? No, besides this was a call to my number billed to his, from a third location.


We grew easy and made observations about how computers were sending the world to hell. “Big Brother is here,” said Carl.

“He’s always been here,” I replied, “except what with home-based downloading he’ll be in our videos, too.”

“Next year. The compression technology is online. Two master numbers, supposedly known only to the National Security Agency and the National Science Foundation and they can tap into your home CPU. We are at the mercy of any hacker.”

This was stretching out and introductions were in order. “Hunter, Robert Hunter.” Then gratuitously, “My kids use the same last name. But then, there wouldn’t be any names on your bill.” I could hear him nod and continued on into the silence. “They’re almost thirty, not little kids who’d be playing telephone games.” I held my hand in stages off the floor, indicating the heights of small children. Carl was easy to talk with, gregarious, out-going. And wary. He never gave me his last name even after I had told him mine several times, the repetitions in a context that my adult children had been visiting at about the time of his snaggled bill and perhaps one of their calling card calls to the coast had been misinterpreted by the NYNEX computer.

Carl brought up the Illuminati and the act of Congress that in 1913 created the Federal Reserve to keep foreign money manipulators out of our system. “But the secret control of the Federal Reserve. What about that? There is no way of finding out.”

He had found out. Some Christian radio station had mentioned it. “I’ll bet you see little hints in the news.” I had told him I read news on the local radio station. Something I had been doing on one local radio station or another for almost forty years.

There were hints in the news, how would he know that? The wire services ground out reams of copy daily full of the gratuitous insights reporters slip in when they notice inconsistencies in the official versions of whatever the story of the day happens to be. Their editors flatten them out, seeing these as speed bumps on the unimpeded flow of homogenized information. During the news free-for-all of the Vietnam War, the daily press briefings in Saigon—the Five o’clock Follies—generated a lot of these inconsistencies. Announcers learned to cherish them.

I was grinding out my penitent’s path toward Social Security at a backwoods Maine radio station. Where I read the news. I was one of them. “A coffee grinder,” a self-effacing reference to the limited wattage of the local radio station.

“There are hints. Can’t deny it.”

“Well, the Great White Lodge, right?” My first mistake; I thought I was playing Carl but launched into explanations of how these things came to be. My version―the King James Authorized. My arguments sounded weak in the earpiece. "The Secret Masters are tying our shoelaces together while we sleep.” There―the ball was in Carl’s court. I sensibly attributed the normalization of the news to a wire service self-censorship that kept the wackier stuff out of sight whenever an editor caught up with it. No one needed to know, the paper trails were too convoluted and too expensive to investigate.

“The Illuminati. It’s Celtic.” Keltic he said it, very PC: Celtic with a K. “Europe will take control of the North American money market, the world. A few control and direct everything, sharers of secret knowledge. There is a plan.”

I was tempted to make a wisecrack but didn’t; I was getting a vague sense of unease. Not about plots, but about plots about plots. Enough worried people, feeling powerless, and they needed a target. Carl needed a target and he knew my number. Things were going to hell and God was on their side: the Christians needed a plan, a conspiratorial secret evil out there. Carl was thoughtful, not a crazy. These were things he had spent much time pondering. He had my number and my name while all I had was “Carl.”

Carl explained, calming and confidential. This was something I, as a reasonable, educated human being knew, but for whatever reason, was not yet ready to face up to. He spoke a mumbo-jumbo of home brew mysticism, lifts from the rituals of lodges hopelessly garbled by centuries-long transmission.

“Illuminati, ever heard of ‘em?” I had.

The Illuminati, the behind-the-scenes master schemers of folklore and secret fears, had reentered my life. Carl was right: in his heart of hearts, everyone suspects that there are puppet masters controlling things. What else could explain so much misery if there is a just and merciful God? Carl was worrying on about Europe taking over the world, so I didn’t tell him I had seen a board game called ‘Illuminati’ in the Dungeons and Dragons section of a science-fiction book store on a cobbled back street in Bonn, Germany just that April while taking a break from my late wife’s last-ditch radiation treatments.

Carl was talking and I had not been listening. I hurried to catch up. “Illuminati, sure: pyramid power, Lovecraftian corruption, board room of the Chase Manhattan. Sure. Hey, ever read Foucault’s Pendulum? Umberto Eco, you know?—Name of the Rose? They made a movie out of it.”

Ahh, they made a movie out of it. Not to worry. There was an uncomfortable silence, just line noise and both of us breathing. Hollywood had executed a flanking maneuver, squeezed his fears onto the small screen, video to be compressed and downloaded. I decided Carl and I had talked enough. I would have just as happily agreed with him, but he would never allow it. He required contention and I was parroting a party line. He had gotten me to defending the established order. Anything I could say he could refute: the Rockefellers, the Rothchilds, tainted money impacted, ever circulating through the same hands, controlling.

“Goodbye, Carl.”

“Goodbye, Robert.”

I wished I had remembered to tell Carl not to worry it’s only a picture show.

And then there was the beaver.

Technorati tags: Magical Realism, Sci-Fi

Alistair Cooke’s bones

November 17, 2010

For more than 50 years Alistair Cooke lived in a rent controlled apartment in Manhattan, easily outliving several property owners and all fellow tenants. The joys of rent control were offset in 2004 by the theft of his bones.

“I’m most shocked… that my stepfather’s ancient and cancerous bones should have been passed off as healthy tissue to innocent patients.”

—Stepdaughter Holly Rumbold

alistaircookeAn investigation revealed that the body was dissected before being cremated and an undetermined number of his bones sold for reconstructive surgery. The Masterpiece Theatre host, who was also known in his native Britain for his long-running Letter from America on the BBC, was among dozens of victims whose body parts were harvested at one or more New York funeral homes without the permission of next of kin, according to the NYPD. While Mr. Cooke’s cause of death was officially listed as lung cancer, the disease had spread to his bones by the time he died on March 30, 2004. “I was very upset and I consign these guys to hell,” said David Grossberg, the Cooke family lawyer.

Susan Kittredge, the broadcaster’s daughter, told the New York Daily News her father’s bones could have been used for any one of several orthopedic procedures, or transformed into dental implants.

The use of bones from people of Mr. Cooke’s age is discouraged, and offering cancerous bone for medical procedures violates U.S. Food & Drug Administration regulations. The police probe is looking into what happened to more than 1,000 corpses. At least one exhumation has taken place—that of an 82-year-old man who died in 2003—to determine whether his remains were complete at the time of his burial. Mr. Cooke’s body was picked up from his home on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue by New York Mortuary Services, which has also become part of the police probe, now run by detectives of the Major Case Squad. The funeral home returned what Ms. Kittredge assumed were her father’s ashes a few days later. Detectives determined from the home’s records that the person listed as having authorized the donation of Mr. Cooke’s bones did not exist.

If a viewing was scheduled…

they took only the legs, sawing them off just below the hip and just above the foot. Cremations were another matter, the only time they went whole hog.

The family was also concerned for people who may have received treatments using Mr. Cooke’s potentially cancerous bones: “That people in need of healing should have received his body parts, considering his age and the state of his health.” The legitimate market for body parts generates about $600-million a year in the United States. Police launched their investigation into illegal body parts sales after funeral director Roberts Nelms bought a funeral home from rival Joseph Nicelli, then blew the whistle when he discovered evidence cadavers had been dissected. Police now believe Mr. Nicelli, 49, was part of a larger ring led by Michael Mastromarino, a former dentist who ran a highly profitable tissue-recovery company called Biomedical Tissue Services Inc. It is alleged Mr. Mastromarino sold Mr. Cooke’s bones for US$7,000 to medical transplant material companies in Florida and New Jersey.

Biomedical Tissue Services, set up in 2001, also traded in skin and heart valves. Experts say a single corpse dissected into parts usable for transplants or for transplant material is worth about $100,000. Mr. Mastromarino gave up his dentist’s license in 2000 after he was arrested on drug possession and usage charges. Mr. Cooke died just weeks after his last Letter from America broadcast. The series provided 15-minute accounts of the latest goings-on in the United States and were once listened to by millions of Britons.

Rest in pieces…

Mastromarino found several buyers for his cadaveric contraband, among them a highly profitable biotech firm known as LifeCell. The New Jersey-based corporation ranked 16 on Fortune’s list of fastest growing businesses in 2006, and with good reason: Its stock shot up 28 percent that year.

The company owes much of the success to its flagship skin graft, AlloDerm. “AlloDerm is a miraculous substance,” says Maryland plastic surgeon Mark Richards, "given its universal acceptance into the human body." Doctors have found that human bodies are far less likely to reject AlloDerm than previous skin substitutes. The graft melts into human flesh because it is derived from human flesh, the stripped-down product of bodies pulled apart after death. Surgeons use AlloDerm for all manner of life-enhancing procedures, from reconstructive breast surgery to hernia repair, as well as some perhaps less urgent operations.

AlloDerm injections are a leading method of lip enhancement, an increasingly popular procedure among women. And the miracle substance is not without cosmetic benefit for men. “Some surgeons promote its use and employ it regularly for penis enlargement,” says Stephen Giunta, a Virginia surgeon specializing in phalloplasty, “even though the manufacturer advises them not to do so.”

A brief history of body-snatching…

In 1604 King James made it a felony to steal a corpse for witchcraft. But grave robbers could still sell bodies for medical purposes and the grim business reached a peak in the early 1800s.

The crime became so prevalent that relatives and friends of a deceased person would watch the grave for some time after the burial to make sure the plot was not violated. Notorious body snatchers William Burke and William Hare began murdering people in Edinburgh in the 1820s in order to sell "fresher" bodies for a larger profit. The pair were caught in 1828. Hare was acquitted of all charges after giving evidence against his partner. Burke was hanged on January 28, 1829. In an ironic twist, his body was donated for medical research. His skeleton is still on display at the city’s University Medical School.

At the time of Burke and Hare, medical schools were allowed four corpses per year from the gallows but this was often insufficient and students were sometimes required to supply their own cadavers. To avoid the risk of arrest, they often paid "resurrection men" to do the dirty work.

In 1978, Charlie Chaplin’s corpse was stolen from Corsier-Sur-Vevey Cemetery in Switzerland. A small group of Polish and Bulgarian mechanics took his body in an attempt to extort money from his family’s £12 million inheritance. The plot failed and the corpse was recovered eleven weeks later near Lake Geneva. His body was reburied under two meters of concrete to prevent further attempts.

In October 2004, animal rights activists stole body parts from the grave of Gladys Hammond whose family bred guinea pigs for medical research. Three people were later convicted over the crime.

Boss of body-snatching ring takes plea deal…

It’s hard to get away from the Brooklyn House of Detention. Buddy Jacobson did it, by swapping clothes with his lawyer. But that’s another story. Michael Mastromarino, the boss of the body-snatching ring that stole Cooke’s bones, will serve a minimum of 18 years in prison under a plea deal enforced by a Brooklyn judge in 2008. Mastromarino had previously agreed to the deal, but prosecutors then attempted to scrap the agreement.

Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Albert Tomei slammed the Brooklyn district attorney’s office for its failed attempt to renege on the deal and force a trial. “It is unlikely Mr. Mastromarino will ever see the light of day,” said Tomei. A spokesman for the Brooklyn district attorney’s office defended the attempt to back out of the deal, saying: “With the abundance of evidence and the number of victims that were violated, and with their families expressing their preference for a trial, we thought justice and the public would be better served if we went to trial.”


Bones stolen and sold http://news.bbc.co.uk/
Morbid curiosities http://www.taphophilia.com
New York Magazine http://nymag.com/news/features/
Rest in pieces www.reason.com/
Mastromarino sentenced www.nydailynews.com/

Technorati tags: Body-snatching, Alistair Cooke


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