Wednesday, March 31, 2010

New York City Living as a White Male

Foto by tgw, New York City, 2009
April 2: The Good John Bunch Has Left Us:
John Bunch, 88, American jazz pianist, melanoma.
Herbie Ellis
I just read on the Wikipedia Death List that Herb Ellis one of the great jazzmen this country gave us had died. Herbie's dead. Eighty-eight. He had Alzheimer's, which makes his death even sadder.

The first time I heard Herbie Ellis? I know exactly. I was at my friend's apartment. Though he was still a senior in high school, his parents gave him permission to get an apartment of his own. It was a small but neat little apartment with a private entrance off the street. My friend's father was a famous C&W songwriter and entertainer who had made millions off his songs, especially one that had reached #1 on both the C&W and Pop charts--that song alone made the dude a multimillionaire--so my friend had a lot of material goods that most kids his age wouldn't have for years yet. Like he had his own cool car. Hell, he had his own apartment away from his parents. He had his own hi-fi (stereo would come only a few years later) and a fabulous record collection (his father also owned a couple of radio stations and all the record companies sent him tons of demo records and albums of all genres and my friend had permission to go through these tons of records and pick out the ones he wanted--his father had no intentions of listening to any of them since the recording companies sent these same records to his radio stations). Having his own apartment, too, meant he had his own refrigerator, which meant he had a place to keep BEERS cold! And BEER was as important to us then as learning the ways of seducing women (we read Havelock Ellis together)--and what better way to listen to music than with a cold beer and a good friend.

I had finished my freshman year in college that first summer my friend had his own apartment. As soon as I hit town from college and had unpacked and checked in with my folks, I was out the door and over to my friend's, which was just up the street from my family home. The minute I came through the door he had a cold can of beer in my hand and was holding an LP in his hands, which I knew meant he had a new LP he just had to have me listen to. He put this LP on his hi-fi and sat down on the floor beside me directly in front of his player's speaker. The LP was a Verve LP featuring The Oscar Peterson Trio playing live at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. The album became a great joke among jazz musicians when it was revealed that not only weren't the Oscar Peterson Trio playing live at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, they weren't even playing live. The LP was actually recorded in the Mercury Studios in L.A. and the audience noises were dubbed in. [Mr. Ed: I must hoof in here and say according to a CD of this concert here in the office, it was recorded in 1956 live at the Opera House in Chicago during a JATP tour. The Trio recorded in the Concertgebouw in 1959 but that concert was not recorded.] Norman Granz explained it that the album had originally been planned to actually be recorded at the Concertgebouw during Oscar's European tour but then plans changed at the last minute but by then the album sleeves had been made and printed as "The Oscar Peterson Trio at the Concertgebouw." The cover art was a photograph of a windmill one assumed was in Holland, though it had absolutely nothing to do with the music on the album. On the back was a photograph of the trio that made them look like they were on the stage of a concert hall.

The first tune on the album was "The Lady Is a Tramp." A blazing version. I was mesmerized. My friend and I were absolutely silent. We didn't even take a drink of beer. We didn't move. We were straining our ears to hear every sound coming out of these three wizards of jazz.

Oscar Peterson I already knew: first from his first album, a 10-inch RCA Victor LP recorded in Montreal, Canada, with a couple of radio station studio musicians backing him. That was 19-year-old Oscar playing absolutely amazing boogie-woogie. Though Oscar was lightnin' fast by 19, he wasn't yet as smooth-as-ice fast as Art Tatum nor yet did he have his time down as firmly as nor did he show the virtuosity of Nat "King" Cole. Soon, however, he was recording for Norman Granz's Clef and Norgran labels, later merged into the Verve label, with his own trio composed of Ray Brown on bass and Barney Kessell on guitar. Both Ray and Barney Oscar met when Norman Granz brought him down from Montreal to New York City--Carnegie Hall it was--and made him the Jazz at the Philharmonic house pianist. Ray and Barney were already a part of the JATP tours. Barney Kessell was a great guitar player--a great jazz guitarist--totally influenced by Charlie Christian, the young Black phenom guitarist from Oklahoma City who blossomed briefly playing the jazz guitar like it had never been played before--solo lines--with the Benny Goodman Ork from 1939 until Charlie died of TB here in New York City in February of 1941. Barney was learning the guitar in Muskogee, Oklahoma, while Charlie was gigging around the Southwest out of Oklahoma City (Ralph Ellison was growing up in Oklahoma City at the same time--and Walter Page's Blue Devils worked out of Oklahoma City in those pre-Kansas City days--in fact, Lester Young joined Page's Blue Devils in Oklahoma City before going with "Big" Page to Kansas City where they joined Count Basie in taking over the Bennie Moten Band). And Barney could play the blues and that's what Oscar was looking for, a guitar player who could play the blues like Oscar Moore played the blues with the Nat "King" Cole Trio on which Oscar wanted to base his trio. In no time flat, the Oscar Peterson Trio got big time and needed to go out on a tour and Barney Kessell got involved in A&R work in Hollywood and couldn't go so Oscar needed a new guitar player and he chose this guy Herb Ellis.

And this was the Oscar Peterson Trio my friend and I first heard that day at his small apartment on the floor with our attentions nailed to that speaker and the absolutely smooth-sailing overwhelming cookin' trio jazz coming out of that hi-fi. Oscar was reaching his peak years--his virtuosity had grown in its own way and O.P. had joined with Art Tatum and Nat Cole to form a triumvirate of swinging jazz pianists--pianists with speed-of-light fingers and ideas to go along with those fingers--flicking them over the keys with greased-pig speed yet hitting the notes solidly on the head--Tatum the champ at that, then Cole, then Oscar--because Oscar sometimes played so fast he hit double-keys--like a B and C--as one key--or in a bumble-bee flight up the keyboard he might trip over a couple of accidentals. These three pianists needed very special guitarists to make their trios become vehicles of their fame and fortune. Art Tatum had the amazing Tiny Grimes as his guitarist; Nat Cole had Oscar Moore; and soon Oscar Peterson had Herb Ellis.

I soon found out Herb Ellis was from McKinney, Texas. Then I learned he'd gone to college in Denton, Texas, to North Texas State Teachers College, along with Jimmy Guiffre, a sax and clarinet player from Dallas, the college I had just finished my freshman year at--and hanging in the jazz department, too--and that was the first time I'd ever heard Herbie went to North Texas State University, which it was when I went there--they had dropped the "Teachers College" and become a State University. By the next fall when I returned to NT, I knew all about Herbie Ellis. Back in the jazz department, I soon brought up Herbie's name and the head of the lab jazz band told me, "Hell, this jazz department owes its existence to Jimmy Guiffre and Herb Ellis. In fact, both Herb and Jimmy will be here this year to give labs."

I recently got my hands on a DVD put out by Oscar Peterson's daughter called "Life in the Key of Oscar." It's a great little docu on O.P.--his life, his moving on up--enveloping a reunion gig in a Toronto jazz club of the Oscar Peterson Trio comprising Ray Brown and Herb Ellis--with the addition of a young Canadian drummer (Oscar sometimes used drums instead of guitars in his trios--Ed Thigpen, who died just this year, was one of Oscar's first drummers after Herb quit the trio). The year was 1988--and though the men were older (Ray Brown kept his boyish handsomeness until the end) and in the case of Oscar heavier than ever--and Herbie was total grey where he wasn't bald and was somewhat paunchy--they still played with the same laid-back ferocity they had back when they were so hot in the late fifties.

Herbie talked about being the only White guy in a Black group and touring the South how he wouldn't stay in the White hotels but stayed in the Black parts of town with O.P. and Ray. Then he talked about battling alcohol and having to give up touring to kick the booze and do studio work back in L.A. Oscar then talked about how he'd just sensed that this White boy from Texas who he knew could play the blues was the guitarist he wanted to blend with he and Ray Brown in some of the most fascinating and popular at the time trio work in any musical venue--"We thought as one," Oscar said in his praise of Herb Ellis.

When that reunion video was shot up in Toronto (Oscar lived his last years in Toronto) all the men had almost 20 years to live. Oscar and Ray died in the 2000s--Oscar two or so years ago; Ray before then a bit; but Herbie. I knew Herbie wasn't dead. Though I hadn't really considered anything about him in years--hadn't seen any new CDs out from him; hadn't checked up on him at all. Jimmy Guiffre died last year but he was nearly 90 and terribly sick and his death didn't disturb me. Still I never even thought of Herbie. Then this morning I decided to check the Wikipedia Death List and there it was

Herb Ellis, 88, American jazz guitarist, Alzheimer's disease.

And there goes another of my heroes--mentors--fellow Texan, fellow Texas White boy who fell in love with Black culture and Black music and especially the blues and jazz, and fellow North Texan. Herbie's death shook me up. And I was already shook up just having finished a CD project commemorating the 1st anniversary of the death of my old music colleague and dear friend theryefarmerfromqueens.
White Male Rage (oh no, political comment)
This morning on our Pacific station here in NYC, WBAI-FM, the subject was "White Male Rage," as explained by two young men, a White man and a Black man, who have just written a book explaining White Male Rage (of the kind symbolized by Timothy McVeigh and the gun-toting men of the Teabaggers ("teabagging" is a sexual-prank term meaning that a man teabags another male by dangling his balls over another's man's mouth, his teacup, like one dangles a teabag over a cup of hot water in making tea--and these teabaggers are sexual deviates). These boys sound like graduate students from a prominent eastern university who got together and wrote a dissertation that some college don decided was worthy of publication.

Their premise was that due to the changing economy and racial relations in this country, White males are fearing they are losing power--they are becoming impotent in terms of position and superiority. Where before White men had no trouble making it the American Way, i.e., it was no problem for a White male to find a job; it was a White good-ole-boy network anyway, so being White guaranteed you certain first rights to all life experiences, jobs, society, institutions, government--this Nation the White man's birthright--and the White males were guaranteed a smooth-sailing path to the top of things if that was their ambition. Over the past 40 years, these boys say, things in this country have changed drastically including the population of nonwhites. This country is progressing in favor of a new majority against the old white network--and now with the election of a Black president, suddenly new ways of doing things have been forced on White men by the economy, by new laws and regulations, by jobs not being there exclusively for them anymore, by the outsourcing of jobs, by the closing of factories, and by having to be submissive to a bunch of Black male authorities, too, yes, like the president and his attorney-general.

The central idea posed by these two college boys with a new book out, I say is wrong. Yes, it is racism; yes, it is White males feeling they are losing the privileges they feel they have because they are White. And, yes, they believe White people founded this country and that Blacks and Mexicans and yellow people and smarmy Indians from India and greasy Pakis and God knows the messes of colored people pouring into this country by the hungry droves should be shouting glory that the White man formed this Nation. However, to today's White males it seems these "fur'ners" (and, yes, Blacks are foreigners to your basic White Teabagger mentality) come here and rather than adapting to a White Western European culture and nationalism they instead disrespect and rebel against this being basically a White Christian nation. "My god," the average white male thinks who's just lost his job, his home, his car, his wife, his dog, "these woolly booger bastards are taking us over, these god-damn Messkins allowed to take jobs away from us by these humanitarian sons of bitches who care more about common ordinary people than they do the White Power Elite, the White people who are respectful of the White philosophy that teaches us that the most CIVILIZED members of our society, are those rich White Males who provide us with jobs and health insurance and a chance to succeed"--the White Power Elite, the best educated (not true at all), the richest, the ones who control our wealth and therefore our lives.

The White Male Power Elite is still in control of this country.

Look at our justice system. It's corrupted by White male judges. I was looking at the 2nd Federal Court of Appeals here in New York State, a very powerful Federal Appeals Court. Most of its judges were appointed by G.W. Bush, one of them one of Georgie Junior's first cousins, John Walker, a rabid Bushite, a rabid hater of ordinary people, especially those people who to the Bushes should be servants and gardeners and cottonpickers rather than president of the USA! This John Walker asshole actually ran over a highway patrolman and killed him in Connecticut--the Bushes home state--and wasn't even tested for drugs and was released on the spot without being charged with any violation. Can you imagine if you should happen to run over and kill a highway patrolman? Why do we need judges anyway? Do away with judges. Design an impartial computer program to run our courts. Fuck judges. Why do we need a President for that matter? Why? Because a Capitalist-system-based government demands an Executive, a CEO, a Chairman of the Board!

These two college grad students who've written their NYTimes bestseller on White Male Rage have hit on a serious subject but they've neglected to figure out the real reason for it. Yes, of course it's due to racism--an inherent White racism, especially vitriolic against Mexicans, Muslims, Hindus, illegal immigrants (unless they're White ones--like all the illegal Irish women and men working in US Irish bars and restaurants).

Yes, of course White Male Rage is pro-Christian principles, which means it's pro War; it's antiGay; it's anti-Atheist; and it truly believes the White way of life is the righteous and God-approved way of life. White dominance is a gift to the White Man from his God. And, yes, the White Male (and the White female) is scared of anybody who isn't White! Scared because he has no way of understanding these people--Blacks just aren't White, that's all there is to it. Indians aren't White. Mexicans aren't White, though Spanish are! Mexicans are Native Americans so they are still considered savages by the CIVILIZED White man. The Spanish on the other hand are Europeans--they are conquerors; they are Imperial Grand Wizards. They are White. All the people the White Man at one time Imperially ruled over were considered uncivilized.

Where did these college boys missed the boat? Why in going all around Robin's barn without looking inside the barn where the seat of the problem is. IN CAPITALISM!

Who brought Capitalism to this country? Not the Native Americans. Not the slaves. How about the Colonizers? The first White Men (and women) to come to this country were brought here by Capitalist Companies and colonizers. The first White Men brought over here (either into Massachusetts or Virginia) were representatives of Companies, trading companies headed by rich and powerful Brits, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Germans--all the European CIVILIZED corporations sending out their privateers, sending out their pirate captains, their fleets, their militias--their objective: TO CIVILIZE THE SAVAGES! To CAPITALIZE on the untapped wealth of the earth's money-making resources.

Capitalism. Brought to this country by the White Man. Capitalism that needs CHEAP LABOR to make it work--so that individual White Men can get richer and richer off the backs of indentured servants (the poor Whites) and African slaves, who were, don't forget, rounded up and sold to the White Slavers by African chiefs and tribal leaders--slavery being a part of the history of man since man discovered himself as a divine being back around the dawning of what has become known as CIVILIZATION (so far all civilizations have been built on the backs of slaves). This is why the White Man hates Nature so much. Nature is Natural. Nature provides all animals and living things (including plants, bacteria, etc.) a chance to make it, to survive. Civilization is the unnatural way and provides only certain individuals the chance to make it comfortably, to survive leisurely, not just to survive but to survive in style, in rich dress, draped in symbolic golds and jewels, the signs of Power! This is how it's always been. African tribal chiefs--check 'em out--check how they live--stylewise--the best of clothes, the best of cars, the best of mistresses, the best of booze and food.

The White Male Rage in this country, yes, is triggered by progressiveness or "movin' too fast" away from the White foundations on which these people believe this country was built--"it takes time to change," as the Old South holdin'-out rebels used to yell. Their rage is against any apparatus that threatens to ALTER (change) the laissez-faire policies that have traditionally worked wonders for White males in terms of privileged White exclusiveness.

The missed opportunity in all this White Male Rage argument--and as an armchair Sociologist I see it clearly--is that the White Male Rage expressed openly in this country is by a minority of White males. However, I see them as a small majority (the McCain-Pallin Repugnicans got 57% of the White vote in this last election)--listen to this!--they are magnified as problems in this country as it is progressing left by the FBI, the CIA, Homeland Security, the NIS, the military in general (in generals--all White males), Congress, and, of course, the commercial news media (mostly dependent on government licenses and deregulations and government time-buying for their big profits). These are the defenders of Capitalism.

The opposite of Capitalism is not necessarily Communism. It is not necessarily Socialism. It is Humanitarianism--the rights of all humanity to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

Capitalism is the biggest cause of crime in this country. You think Bernie Madoff wasn't a great Capitalist? He bilked the Capitalist privileged that's why he got caught and sentenced to such a tough sentence. Kenny Boy (Bush) Lay was also a great Capitalist (an economist by training)--I mean look at the Capitalist scam this friend of the Bushes pulled on We the People--especially the State of Cal-y-forn-y-ah--Kenny Boy wrecked the California economy--and it hasn't recovered yet.

Capitalism (the coal industry) has ruined the State of West Virginia, too. Lowest of everything in the US--lowest education levels, lowest incomes for the hardest kind of work, worst environment in the nation--COAL the KING of West Virginia. Made its politicians rich, too. One of its Senators is John D. Rockefeller! Superrich ruling over a superpoor state. That's what's causing all this RAGE, not just White Male Rage. White Male Rage gets covered by the news--mostly White Male reporters and anchors. There are News Babes out there, too, but they have no power really--most News networks are controlled by White Males.

Capitalism has left the State of Michigan in ruin. Our automobile industry didn't just collapse on its own accord. The Capitalist running it ruined it. Capitalism breeds greed. A good Capitalist makes billions off failures. Why Capitalists make billions off wars. They make billions off disasters. That's the reason we kids, and I speak for White male kids, were placed in competitive situations from the time we were born--the hopes of our White families was placed on the heads of their male offspring. Farmers had as many boys as they could because under Capitalism it's natural for the family wealth to be passed on to the sons, not the daughters. The Rockefeller daughters were never as powerful as the sons. The Kennedy daughters weren't anywhere near as powerful as the sons.

White Males brought Capitalism to this country. Rich White Males. Land-owning White males. Plantation-owning White Males. White Males rich and powerful thanks to Cheap Labor and stolen natural resources! Capitalism NEEDS SLAVES for it to really be rewarding.

All of the current economic problems in this country stem from our thinking WE the People of the USA single-handedly won World War II. We crowned ourselves Rulers of the FREE World during the phony (advertising agency-created) Cold War with Russia (another White Male-controlled nation). Ike Eisenhower put "In God We Trust" on our dollars and it has been "in God" we've trusted ever since and trust me, God is the perfect Capitalist, he definitely will through his henchmen steal a society blind (and God's wealth is all tax free!). It's very White of God to bestow so many blessings on this his country. "This is God's country...." "God bless America!"

to be continued as is continued when continuing continues continuing the continuing present...


for The Daily Growler

Monday, March 29, 2010

A Texan in New York City Having Old West Memories in the Rain

The photo above is of what's called in philately a se-tenant block of 4. Se-tenant is the present participle of the French verb se tenir, which means "to hold each other." A se-tenant block of four shows 4 stamps of different designs being held together; they are from a sheet of 100 stamps that divides up into 20 of these se-tenant blocks of four. I am assuming most of my readers are not stamp collectors. Certainly not avid enough stamp collectors to have memorized a philately glossary or to have actually specialized in niches of stamp collecting represented by the above se-tenant block of 4. It is known as the "Texas Centennial Se-tenant Block of Four"--that's how you list it when you're trying to sell it on eBay. It was issued in 1936 by the Texas Centennial Commission who were in charge of the year-long celebration of the 100th Anniversary of the existence of Texas as a republic--becoming the Republic of Texas after it successfully defeated the Mexican forces under General Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto (Houston area) in 1836. This year-long celebration culminated in October of 1936 at the State Fair of Texas held on the State Fairgrounds in Dallas, Texas.

The State Fairgrounds was once a huge part of Dallas, Texas, life. It sprawled all over East Dallas from the outskirts of downtown on out to the eastern city limits. Several Dallas main streets ended at the Fairground gates. It was also a terminus for several streetcar lines (yes, Dallas once had a fabulous street railway system). Though the State Fair happened in October, the Fairgrounds was opened year-round. WRR, the city-owned-at-one-time radio station, had their studios on the Fairgrounds. The grand old Cotton Bowl stadium was on the Fairgrounds (sadly, this year's "Cotton Bowl" for the first time was played in Arlington, Texas, at the Dallas Cowboy's new wonder-type football stadium of the billion-dollar-cost type--so the Cotton Bowl surely is headed for demolition). But the big attraction open year-round was the Midway and especially its famous wooden sit-down roller coaster called the Comet. My dad, by the way, was at the Fair in 1947 the day the Comet opened. He was in the first wave of riders who rode it because of a challenge from my mother. She loved challenging his manhood. The ride made him deathly sick and the next day he awoke with a serious back condition that he complained about the rest of his life. My first time at the State Fair I was 10. When I wanted to ride the Comet, my dad told me his Comet story and went on and on about what it had done to him and because of that he deemed me not old enough to ride it and that was that. I didn't ride the Comet until I was in college and went one year with a pack of my beer-drinking collegian cohorts to the State Fair and I rode the Comet drunk as a lord and sure enough, on exiting the ride, and I must admit it was very thrilling ride, I got deathly sick, I ended up in back of the Hollywood Strip Club tent throwing up like a drunken college kid who's just ridden a very thrilling roller coaster drunk as a lord and with a belly full of corn dogs and hot link sausage sandwiches and tacos and several gallons of Falstaff draft beer. I was upchucking so hard and loudly, one of the strippers stuck her head and one naked breast out a hole in the tent and told me to go fuck myself. That floored me and I suddenly started laughing--like a hyena--upchucking as I laughed--her telling me to go fuck myself striking me as cleverly funny--I laughed so hard I quit vomiting. That cured me and I immediately suggested we all trot around front and go into the Hollywood Strip Club and catch the show, which we did. Unlike my father, however, riding the Comet never affected my back in any way.
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The Comet at the Texas State Fairgrounds from 1947 until it was demolished in 1989 after no insurance company would insure it.
There once was a photograph that hung in my grandmother's writing room in her home. It showed her mother, my greatgrandmother, along with two other OLD women, on a platform at the Texas Centennial at the State Fairgrounds of Texas in October of 1936. This old hawk of a pioneer White woman is looking very strict; she's wearing all black including a very stylish black fedora that she probably got in the early 1930s from a hat shop my grandmother owned and operated in my hometown's finest hotel. The Governor of Texas, James V. Allred, is presenting one of the other women with a medal on a ribbon and a presentation case and an envelope. These three women were the last surviving widows of men who had fought under old General Sam Houston in Texas's "War of Independence" from Mexico in 1836. My greatgrandmother had married a 75-year-old Texas Republican army captain when she was 14. It was a horrible marriage--a marriage the 75-year-old dude's family denied ever existed--and to this day on the family's Web site my greatgrandmother is mentioned as a footnote--though throughout her life she kept his name--and in those envelopes those three widows received from the governor that day was a $12-a-month pension, which my greatgrandmother, pioneer and naturally frugal, lived mighty easy on the rest of her life--at least another 10 years.

These were wiry, serious-faced, tuckered browed, tough-as-nails women. My greatgrandmother had a scary young life--she was a mother of 7 before she was 20 years old. Only one of those 7 children lived, my grandmother, the poet and librarian and former hat-shop owner. One of my greatgrandmother's seven kids, her daughter Leeta, was self-delivered in a roadside ditch after contractions had started while she was running from where she was working in a field of corn her husband had planted trying to get back to the safety of her house after a "pow'rful" rainstorm full of lightning and hail had come up suddenly. She was running toward a road that was the quickest way to the house and when she tried to jump the ditch that lay between the field and the road, she didn't make it. She landed flat on her back in that ditch that by then was beginning to fill with water and becoming a very dangerous place to be. As she lay there flat on her back--she was afraid to move because of the way she had landed on her back--the contractions started, rapidly becoming closer and closer together and soon she realized she was giving birth--and very prematurely, too. At this point in the story, my greatgrandmother's eyes would be flushed with tears.

And then the baby came. It was so tiny, she said. So tiny, she kept repeating. "Hardly bigger than a newborn puppy. As blue-black as the sky above us." She bit the umbilical cord in two and tried to wash the baby as best she could and then she pushed the blue-black and by now freezing little withered and wizened body inside her blouse against her full breast trying to keep the baby alive and safe and dry until she could manage to get to her feet--or her husband would come looking for her, calling her name--and then she said the skies opened up and the rain poured what seemed like directly down on her and little Leeta--yes, she said she named the baby Leeta right then and there. When my greatgrandfather finally found his young wife and got her and his newborn daughter, Little Leeta (and that was how she was known in the family) back to the house they found Little Leeta was dead. She had drowned while in her mother's arms, tucked inside her mother's blouse against her breast. However, during the final downpour, the water that drenched my greatgrandmother had cascaded down her neck and rivered down into her blouse to drown the already half-dead premature child puppy--my grandaunt Little Leeta. That experience, the trauma of it, haunted my greatgrandmother the rest of her days--haunted her--in her sleep she dreamed the incident over and over again.

Just one of the many tragedies these tough women faced nearly every day of their young lives. Tragedies that forced them to live day-to-day lives. They already knew the sight and smell and taste of death--my grandmother was a survivor of the 1900 Galveston Flood in which thousands people perished in the sea as it tried to swallow Galveston Island, my grandmother and her husband and small son lucky enough to be at the highest point on the island when it hit full force, a point only a mean little number of feet above sea level.
Galveston, Texas, after the 1900 Flood. That could be my grandfather and grandmother out there on that beach--my grandfather did help gather up the dead and throw them in wagons that then carried the bodies down to the beach where they were put on barges and boats and taken out into the Gulf and dumped out there. My grandmother, who would have been in one of those buildings you see standing in the background--she was in a school and that white building straight ahead there on the right looks like a school, said the next morning after the men had gathered up the bodies and dumped 'em out in the Gulf the beach was covered in bodies--they had all washed back ashore when the tide came in. Then the men had to regather them, put them on pyres on the beach and set them on fire.
Most of their hardest parts of life were endured when they were single women, single mothers--my greatgrandmother married twice; my grandmother married twice--men didn't last long at all in those days--my dad's father, a big bulky man who ate like a horse they said, died of a heart attack when he was in his 50s; my mother's father died of what was called catarrh but was probably lung cancer when he was in his 40s--he was a sign painter and worked with lead paints and cadmiums and he also smoked a pipe.

The Texas War veteran (my first greatgrandfather) was 77 when my greatgrandmother ran away from him saying his older sons were out to murder her because she refused to have sex with the old gnarly bastard. At 15, she jumped out her bedroom window and escaped into a swamp in which she wandered for almost 2 weeks before making it up river to a close relative's house in Central Texas. Her second husband (my second greatgrandfather) was a schoolteacher, poet, violinist (fiddler they called him), and possessor of a fine tenor voice. But this charming handsome man had one problem: he drank. He played his violin and sang at local social events, weddings, etc., and someone always brought the jug out at these affairs and, yes, my greatgrandfather stayed long into those celebratory nights getting sloppy drunk--depending on his horse to get him back home when one of the celebrants who was still sober enough would throw his drunk ass up over his saddle and then spank the horse on the ass and tell him to go home. One night when my greatgrandmother had had a fright from a bunch of Night Riders (ex-Confederate soldiers who formed a white terrorist group called the Night Riders; the Ku Klux Klan was later based on these groups) who were looking for a runaway slave girl so when my greatgrandfather's horse trotted his drunk ass up to the dugout door (yeah, they lived in a dugout--a home built into the side of a hill (a dugout hole in the hill--dirt floors, walls, ceilings, with a regular wooden home front--like building a house-like facade over a cave entrance) my grandmother had her Colt revolver loaded and cocked, ready to fire, and fire she did when she heard that horse trottin' up to her door--another Night Rider she assumed and she emptied that revolver through that front door, hitting the horse once in the front leg and my greatgrandfather once in his left leg.

That greatgrandfather died a young death and after he died, my greatgrandmother settled down with her only living child, my grandmother, also a tough old bird.

My grandmother had grown up in that dugout. When she was about 10, she was playing in the front yard of the dugout while her mother was hanging out the wash. My greatgrandmother kept one of her hawk eyes cocked over checking on her daughter. Alertly that afternoon that cocked hawk eye caught a movement, a movement that woke up the mother protectorate in her and she turned full eye on the object and what it was was a full-grown black panther (yes, Texas had panthers in those days) slithering catlike up on my 10-year-old grandmother, a very tasty morsel in that cat's eyes. The old lady quickly grabbed an ax and went after that big cat--she hacked it to death only a few feet from her daughter.

My grandmother was home schooled until she was of high-school age when she attended a one-room schoolhouse in the nearest town to the dugout. She didn't graduate high school so she didn't have enough credits to get in a local college so what she did was every day during the school year when the weather permitted, she'd go up to that college and sneak inside the building and try and slip into a classroom--she tried it so often, one of the professors at the school took a liking to her and began loaning her textbooks to take home and study and then when she brought them back, he'd give her a test. From this college education, she developed a great fascination with the poetry and adventures of Lord Byron, a fascination that evolved into her writing her own poetry, an involvement that culminated in two published books of poetry in the 1930s and then her crowning glory in 1941 when her Texas novel was accepted for publication by a Los Angeles publishing house.

She was a brilliant woman. Lightbulbs were always going off over her head. BUT, she had one problem. She worried. She couldn't help it. All she had been through from birth to present made her naturally cautious. Instinctually wary. "Woe is me" was her motto. Always present in her words even if she were rejoicing--like when she stood among her flowers and talked to the birds, two of which, sparrows, Petey and Sally, would light on the electrical wires that ran just above her garden from the house out to the lightpole in the alley, and when she would take some flower seeds and put them in the palm of her hand, Petey and Sally would fly down, perch on her hand, and eat those seed. She could call those birds's names and they'd come flying in from wherever they nested. Sometimes only Petey would show up. Sally might not show up for days, then, zip, there she'd be with Petey. Even when communicating with her precious nature friends, her flowers, her birds, her dog, the earth, she kept that worried look somewhere within the make up of her face. Always in her eyes.

Her growing up a single child hanging with a single mother (her father died when she was 16) on the lone prairie made her cautious, suspicious, and, yes, sometimes dangerously afraid, the worrying factor developing out of all the horrible experiences either she suffered or were passed down to her by her family. Worrying became a part of her growing up.

I knew she worried. I'd heard her sigh many a time and say "Woe is me" after it, but I didn't consider how inborn it was, how sensitive she was to its alerts, until the first family automobile trip I remember taking with her along. It was a trip in my dad's 1938 Oldsmobile--a big green iron box of a car considered a semi-luxury car at the time, a poor man's Cadillac. We were heading out from my hometown in West Texas intending to drive nearly 400 miles down the center of Texas and then over to Beaumont in southeast Texas on the Neches River where my mother was born and where her sister still lived.

It was raining that early spring morning we set out on this trip. It rains in spasms in West Texas. Mean-looking thunderstorms building up into glorious thunderheads that appear first as baby heads on the horizon though soon those heads would expand, build up, billow up, roil up into what the Native Americans called thunderheads. The sky would darkened, turn almost to night, and then CRRRRRRRRRRRRACK, a bolt of lightning would slap down out of that thunderhead like a lizard's tongue to splinter into the ground and then be followed by an engulfing explosion of thunder that would then echo off across the prairie. Then the rain would begin. Just big hard drops at first but quickly turning into a deluge. Gully washers was the name the natives gave them. They moved through fast. And after they passed the sun would come out from under its umbrella, shake itself out, and then render the whole landscape a sparkling field of watery diamonds--the air refreshed--the wind refreshing. BUT, given my grandmother's past experience with water, killing water, flooding waters, such gully washers brought out the worrisome witchy woman from this otherwise calmly brilliant woman. Gully washers to her tough-bird, Pioneer-woman mind meant floods. It meant drowning. Washed out roads. Washed out bridges. They caused detours, where the road was under construction or worse was maybe washed out and you had to drive off the main highway and ramble off over these backroads until you were directed back onto the main highway by the highway patrolmen who were directing traffic through the detour.

Some of these detours led to creeks and rivers that had no high bridges over them but instead had concrete ramps called low-water bridges traversing them. Cars in those days were built high off the ground--so it was possible to drive cars through pretty deep water--but when it was too deep, you had to back up and somehow turn around and go back the way you came until you could find another road or way over that creek or river to get back on a main road somehow. You never went on a trip in those days without a good road map (and a good spare tire). All filling stations had racks of road maps--good ones, too. My dad liked the Texaco maps the best simply because my dad was a loyal Texaco customer. That old Oldsmobile even had a map light on the dashboard. While my dad drove, my mother would search out byways and farm routes and out-of-the-way ways back to paved civilization.

So the first time I took a trip with my grandmother the worrier, we headed out in this rain off down Highway 80, motoring over toward Fort Worth where according my map-reading mother we were going to take a cut off at Weatherford and follow the Leon River down state to somewhere around Bryan when we'd then cross the Leon and go over on the East Texas side and then on off down to Beaumont and my aunt and uncle's.

The first big river we had to cross was the Brazos. The Brazos is a major Texas river. It's a long river--over 500 miles long and flows from just northwest of my hometown all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico around Houston. Most of the time the Brazos is a mild stream winding through a sandy bed that is prone to sandbars and rumored to be full of quicksand...EXCEPT when you have more than one gully washer in a day, then suddenly a river like the Brazos goes from a lamb to a roaring lion--it becomes flooded--and flooded deep--a rushing flood, a muddy flood, a crushing formation of waving water bulldozing its way to its lover the ocean.

I was enjoying the scenery when I heard my grandmother asked my dad, "Isn't the Brazos coming up?" "Yes, you know it's coming up...after Ranger." "Didn't we just go through Ranger?" "Yes, why you asking me these silly questions?" "I'm concerned about the Brazos." "Don't worry...that's a rickety bridge over it but sturdy enough."

We drove on. I knew when the Brazos River was coming up because I knew the hill you went up steeply and then wound down off of to cross the old iron bridge with the wood runway that rattled and shimmied loudly when you crossed it in a car. We came over the hill and then started down grade, you couldn't see the bridge yet though you could see the bluffs that were the banks of the Brazos from there. We made a sharp curve and there it was, the Brazos River Bridge. We were headed for it, doing about 55 miles an hour, when out of nowhere my grandmother bellowed out, "STOP THIS CAR RIGHT NOW. STOP IT I SAY!" My dad hit the brakes. The car skidded a bit, but my dad brought the car safely to a stop on a siding just a matter of 30 feet from the bridge.
The remains of an old Brazos River bridge from back in the era of my tale--that is the Brazos below the bridge but it's not the bridge my grandmother deemed too evil to try and cross though it certainly looks like it.

Without a word, my grandmother got out of the dad was saying she was nuts...and she walked up to the edge of the bridge...she stood there a moment, then she stepped out onto the bridge and turned toward the river and raised her arms. Now I was beginning to think my dad was right, she was nuts.

She came back to the car. "I'll not ride with you over that bridge. It's got evil all over it and the river is evil, too." "You're crazy," my dad said and acted like he was going on across the bridge, to hell with her. She jumped out of the car. "Wolf, you're going to have to appease her," my mother said. "You know she was in the Galveston Flood, daddy...." "Oh, god almighty, mama, the Brazos River ain't the Galveston Flood." "Here, Wolf, there's a road here that runs down to Waco where you know there's a high bridge there."

And that's what we did. We drove all the way along the Brazos down to Waco. As we were coming up on the city limits of Waco, my grandmother said, "Waco's where they had that horrible tornado a year or so ago--don't those look like tornado clouds over that way?"

for The Daily Growler

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

New York City Living as a Budding Playwright

Foto by tgw, New York City, 2010
"Whaz Hap'nin'?"
a play in One Act
by thegrowlingwolf
(posing as The Fly on the Wall)

Our action begins--it's the White House dining room. Our main character, who we'll call Mr. President, is readying himself to go to another room in this big white house and sign into being what he's proudly already referred to as his crowning moment in US history. Why, he's going to dedicate it to the memory of his mother who he says fought the insurance companies tooth and nail as she lay dying.

But first we set this scene by flashing back to a speech Mr. President gave at a press conference yesterday in which he announced the passage of the bill.

[the White House Rose is a little past noon; the sky is dreary; the roses haven't yet bloomed...]

Mr President [looking dapper in his Van Heusen dress shirt, the common man's dress shirt, with his sleeves rolled up to the legitimate level--high on his naked wrists--he is not wearing a wristwatch--he is in control of his time--and he sports a pair of Docker's custom-tailored slacks tailored for our president by a blind Chinese 4-year-old tailor in Shanghai (jokingly considered an American city in the back rooms and bathrooms of Congress)]: my time this moment is a compleat moment for me. This is a crowning moment in my life and I think in US history. This is a moment that is the fulfillment of a promise I made...a solemn promise...I made the American people in a glowing brilliant speech on the subject I made before a crowd of average Bills and Barbaras in the great state of Indiana, southern Indiana, not that evil northern Indiana, like Gary. Being from Chicago, the South Side of Chicago, we knew when you had to go to Gary to get a job you were low, man. You know what low is? It's commutin' to Gary from Chicago in order to work...uhhhhmphhhh...I'm sorry.... [he looks confused; one of his assistants, his Secretary of Embarrassing Moments, runs over to him with a bottle of Tigerade...he takes a long swig]...Wow, I mean, this is my moment...I apologize if I'm sort of jerked out of sync here...but anyway, like I told those good southern Indiana folks, I'm gonna make damn sure, very damn sure, that I'm gonna deliver to you average jokers the best damn national healthcare package this country's ever seen--Praise the Reverend Jeremy Wright [Reference to a living person in this play is purely coincidental]--or may my mother rise from the grave and slap me silly. And what I told those folks in that little burg of Indianapolis (in an aside to his aide: "Is that where we were? Is that southern Indiana? Really? I used to ride through there on the bus but...."), yes, Indianapolis. And today, ladies and gentlemen of the press and of the enormously prejudiced and bickering and dividing members of Congress, and all you damn "Medicare for all" terrorists out there, you "Public Option Communist-leaners," and especially to my, my pals from the Big Pharmas over there--how y'all? And, hey, there's my brothers and sisters from our thriving healthcare insurance industry--big bonuses this year, right my brothers and sisters--thanks to who? Thanks to WHO? Let's hear it: THANKS TO ME, MR. PRESIDENT, that's who. As our great president and one of my heroes, Ronald Reagan, said, "Yes we can fly from Washington, D.C., to Tokyo, Japan, in three and one-half hours" and so I say to you today--you in southern Indiana and of course, the rest of you Americans, too. (In another aside to another of his aides: "I'm just structuring my speech to include as many rightwing nutjob references as I can make.") And today I'm sayin', yes we can glorify in the fact that I have kept alive, in fact I have given a big boost to, our glorious pay-or-die type of national healthcare--what a bane for you folks who have already pulled yourselves up by your bootstraps and have enough of our always-available Treasury bucks coming in to afford the best damn high-priced medical care in the world, even though in terms of national healthcare we're 27th in the world--but, hey, look at it this way, we're ahead of Slovenia. And while I'm on the subject, how about a big round of applause for my man, Gimmy Teithner, our glorious Secretary of the Big Giveaway! Don't worry, boys, Gimmy's got another windfall bailout comin' your way.... [He pauses to let the laughter subside.] But let me get serious now. I'm here to proudly announce, humbly, with my hat in my hand...(he pauses after some boos are heard in the attendance)...hey, I jive. And I can jive, you, I can play the Dozens. Any of you wanna play the Dozens with me? But anyway, I'm proud to announce I got most of my Dumbocrat comrades, including that hayseed Minnesota dude, what's his name, Stupid Who?...Stupak? I got most of them, and I wanna give a big hug and kiss to Nancy Girl Pelosi for covering my female-side ass in this mess, for standing up like a man to these single-payer Red-leaning.... (He's stopped by another of his aides, it's Paris Hillary Hilton his Secretary of State Apologies and Defenses of Israel. "Mr. President, I'd suggest you refer to these homegrown terrorists as 'Socialists,' sir, and not Reds or Commies...may I remind you how much we owe the Chinese COMMIES." "I get your point," Mr. President replies.) Ladies and gentleman, my Secretary of State Apologies and Defenses of Israel has just reminded me of how much damn money we owe the glorious People's Republic of China, or who we today simply refer to as the Big C, the real China....

[The scene shifts back to the White House dining room. Sitting around the dining room table* are: Bill "Big Bucks" Boozer, the chairman of the board of Fizzer Farmaceuticals; Glen "Two Yachts" Shiftlesson, the chairman of the board of the United Healthcare Conspiracy, Inc. of the US and the Cayman Islands; Pierce Lincoln Moses, chairman and CEO of ProfitMotive Healthcare of America and the Cayman Islands; Bobby Joe "Prior Condition" Halliburton, Jr., chairman and CEO of Halliburton Healthcare Management Corp. of Dubai and the Cayman Islands, with a one-man office in Ardmore, Oklahoma; and Mr. President's Secretary of Pay-or-Die Health and No Welfare, Dr. Julia Child Saint Elsewhere.

* The White House dining room table: goes back to Sears-Roebuck on the 6th--[Mr. Ed: that's the playwright's joke he's been saving since he learned it in junior high]--BUT, it actually goes back to Miss Dolly Madison's time in the White (Man's) House--when Mr. President's black relatives were slaving like dogs waiting on the charming Miss Dolly and President Madison's every waking moment--their main mammy even suckling the Madison kids while Miss Dolly saved her breasts for entertaining her many, many guests--party time at the White House in those days!

Mr. President [Sitting at the far end of this long elegant dining table, he's wearing a blue business suit (made for him by a 2 1/2-year-old Muslim tailor in his old country of Indonesia). He appears to be fretting]: Damn, you folks, know you forced my back against the wall on this jive ass national healthcare BS. Jesus Christ, for almost a year. I mean, Bill, I gave you Big Pharma contributors to my campaign plenty of leeway in raising the hell out of what you now charge our old fogies for your already-overpriced drugs--plus, dammit, I've barred generic drugs, which could reduce drug costs under G.W. Bush's Medicare Plan D hoist of the cost of drugs to our old worthless and worn-out seniors--they are a drain on our economy, I know that--also I'm not letting cheaper drugs come in from Canada--so, believe you me, I appreciate those big bucks you shoved my way in beating Slick Willie's wife, but I mean we're raising the cost of drugs to our old folks on Medicare--raising the cost of life-saving drugs. How the hell is that reforming anything--except your bank accounts? But, I know, politics, Huey Newton said, it's all politics even our national healthcare reform.

Bill "Big Bucks" Boozer: Come on, Bad Rock, you can't get sentimental and be president of the USA. This is Capitalism you're saving, Mr. President. You hear me? It's Capitalism you're saving. We Big Pharma's have the money 'cause we set the prices in Davros every year. Hey, you know what it cost us to make say one of our arthritis pills that doesn't really work? It costs 3 cents a pill to make 'em but by the time you add in profits--we've got our shareholders to satisfy--like Warren Buffett and Billy and Melinda Gates, those Fortune 500 1 percenters who own us all, even me--why, hell, I only made 20 million last year. Billy Boy Gates makes that in the time it takes him to satisfy Melinda on the billiards table....

[There's booming laughter all around the table on that last crack by Bill Boozer.]

Mr. President: Boys, let's be men about blue humor, please. The First Lady may be snooping around back there in the kitchen. [Another round of laughter circles the table.]

Bobby Joe Halliburton, Jr.: Now, Mr. President, I gotta say this, we at Halliburton don't give a good god-damn what happens to the American people--we say the sicker they get the richer we get--and how about this, the older the coots the more we wish 'em dead? Get rid of the old people and you've gotten rid of the biggest part of the problem. By the way, Mr. President, on behalf of my relatives at Halliburton, now International, baby, no longer that hick company from Oklahoma, we be in Dubai now, baby, so on behalf of my relatives and all the operatives and big bonus-baby CEOs and vice presidents we've promoted due to the record-making profits we've bilked the US government out of--Whoooooo, dogies! And now with this healthcare ruse--man, there's nothing know, we're going into the funeral home business--you see the connection? We're gonna make billions off the people who are gonna die because they can't afford our outrageously expensive but oh-so profitable pay-or-die traditional way of providing national healthcare--not keepin' 'em alive is the profitable way to deal with seniors. And, me personally, I think that deserves a big Yee-HAW! from you brothers under the flag of the Global Marketplace....

Pierce Lincoln Moses: Brother Halliburton, and, oh yeah, Mr. President, too, could I lead you all in the Global Marketplace Pledge of Allegiance? [A big roar of "Yes" goes up around the table. Mr. President has seemingly lost control of the meeting.] Let's ever-body stand and put your hands over your wallets and repeat after me: "I do hereby pledge my allegiance not to any nation or national government but to the Globe, the world, to the brotherhood of 1 percenters who rule the whole big god-damn world! WE OWN THE WORLD! India this year got its first ever billionaires! We're on our way to conquering the Asian markets through selling them automobiles and cigarettes and Budweiser beer--those Chinks love Budweiser beer, baby, let me tell you."

Mr. President: Yo, dudes, who the hell is Mr. President here?

The Guests in Unison: We are, Sir! [Then quickly Bobby Joe Halliburton stands and says, "Jest teasin', Mr. President, of course you are the finest Mr. President our money can buy."]

Mr. President: Thanks Bobby Joe. And thanks you guys for the levity we needed to break the ice here. But anyway, I'm fixing to go out there and in the name of my finest hour so far and sign into being my, did you hear ME, MY, national healthcare reform package--I've given you bastards everything you want--I prevented those Single-Payor nuts to turn this thing into a Socialist document--god knows being Black is bad enough but being a Black Socialist--oh my God--.

Dr. Julia Child Saint Elsewhere: Mr. President, out of curiosity, were any of your relatives ever slaves?
--------------------------------------------The Curtain Descends-----------------------------------------


for The Daily Growler Literary Journal
Criticism of the above play from the The Daily Growler's own venerable old journalist wit and sagging sage, Walter Crackpot (from his yacht anchored somewhere off the Outer Banks):
I'm disappointed. I expected a more searing satire than the rather silly result. Sorry, Wolf Man, but a playwright you ain't.
Great American Playwrights?
So You Say You Want to Be a Playwright?
Well, here ya go:

From Chapter 4 or Playwriting 101:

Story Development

Writing off the top of our head sometimes is great to capture a fleeting idea. But real planning and preparation work can save the writer a lot of frustration and backpedaling at a later date. Outlining and breaking down the dramatic elements of a story are well worth the effort. By playing contrasts and conflict to maximum effect the playwright can stir the primal in us.

There are so many ways to approach an idea. And the actual activity of logging in the possibilities is not a pleasant task. But having an easy and systematic method to catalog ideas, dialogue, and other snippets is like having an assistant available at all time to do your bidding. In recent years software developers have created products to simplify this process; some are for outlining/brainstorming and others specifically organize dramatic elements under a theoretical umbrella.

Question: Is using software to write a play really writing a play? OK, we $500 for some software that will help you write the perfect play and the result might sell--in Terre Haute maybe. Why can't we program a Shakespearean 40X Playwriting software where you just type in a theme and it writes your play as though Shakespear were writing it. Or maybe it could be possible to put many styles of playwriting into a Staged Playfection software--say you wanted to write a play like Samuel Beckett. Software that writes like Beckett! Or how about PinterText...or Mamet Manuscripting?
for The Daily Growler

Monday, March 22, 2010

Pres Died on the Ides of March/While the Wolf Man Flies Above Politics

Lester Young, the President, died March 15, 1959, in New York City
Foto by tgw, "Is That Jesus Coming Back?", New York City, 2006
Amidst the Chinese "Young Fine Underage" Porn Scams and Phishes Is the Flower of The Growler, thewomantrumpetplayer
Most Growler fans are ashamed for their names to appear in our lush comments section. One, however, isn't, the lady we've dubbed thewomantrumpetplayer. She boldly comments where others dare to go--and her comments are the over-the-rainbow down-to-earth kind of reflections we here at the Growler are so glad to mirror out to whomever reads what few thin-clad comments we get on this blogsite (in the blog alley we reside).

Like this morning when we downloaded the Growler dashboard, there were 8 comments waiting to be sent through our purgatory department--6 were from, 1) our friend the Chinese Young Underage 'Round the World Pleasure Thai Girls Video King (now we think he's probably a Russian), 2) the guy who wants us to look at "filthy" pictures of his ex-girlfriend, 3, 4) our new commenters: two on-line casinos, and (5, 6) two "emergency" comments from "I know you interest in making lot of money, I know I do. I know you itching interest in how work...."--and finally 7, 8) two from thewomantrumpetplayer.

Let the old Wolf/Man be honest with you. I heartily howl my likes for this woman. If all women were...but then I've never met her--I don't know if she's real anymore than she knows I'm not real. I could have passed her in the street last year or so, though in New York City who knows who you pass in the streets--like I once lived in the same block as Kurt Vonnegut and I passed him every day for months not knowing who he was until I'm walking with a friend one day and he goes, "Oh, man, look, there's Kurt Vonnegut." "That guy there...'Hey, my man, how's it goin'?'" My greeting going to the man I saw every day but who I didn't know was Kurt Vonnegut. "Damn, man, you know Kurt Vonnegut?" my friend exclaimed impressed by my greeting this man who until my friend told me who he was...I think I've pointed you in the right direction. I'm drifting into what I'm mentally considering a Hegelian way of writing. Trust me, if I hadn't have had (come on, you've gotta love that use of the American language..."hadn't have had") a GOOD professor of Government in a college law course I would have never been able on my own to figure out most of what Hegel wrote, though he was not as complicated to me as say Kierkegaard or the worst: KANT. I can't KANT. Where's the reality in KANT (I pronounce it "Can't")? Where's terra firma?

Back to the main road: Hegelian writing is writing that backs up upon itself and then tries again to do whatever its intentions were of doing from the first sentence. Let's see, an example: "Sid Cramp approached the front door to his little treasured overpriced bungalow in the Upburg Heights section of the greener outskirts of Flushing Falls, a city built off the sweating backs of slave laborers, slavery being a salvation in those distant founding days. The skies roiled black at times in those times that led to the founding of Flushing Falls on the Pinatocktock River, once a glorious Atlantis in the hilly woods of an eastern state, an original state, a Patriot state, a state stolen from the indigenous Pinatocktock Native Americans then called Indians...." Are you dizzy enough by now? That may be the purpose of Hegelian writing: to make the reader dizzy. To make the reader's eyes water and mind go berserk trying to keep up with the story as it backs up upon itself, backing blindly in some cases, backing over its own children perhaps as it backs blindly back into its background to reemerge as a reason for telling the story in the first place. Wow, even I'm dizzy after writing that! (And, Scott Fitzgerald, old buddy, I use an exclamation point because I am laughing at my own joke, the joke that is me--perhaps I'd be better as a Joker than a Wolf/Man...the wolf in me in growling a warning to the Joker in me!).

An Hegelian thought just hit me: isn't it wonderful how as a writer I can claim F. Scott Fitzgerald as an old buddy.

But the facts seem to be, thewomantrumpetplayer must have been all around me once in my past life, in my 20th-Century '70s life.

[Mr. Ed: I interrupt the Wolf Man's circular writing adventure to say that thewomantrumpetplayer is right in disputing the Wolf Man's saying Isaac Newton deduced that parallel lines never meet: this relating to Wolfie's Debbie Harry-attributed rather poetic theory of certain people being born on parallel lines, running along with each other side by side either aware or unaware of each other but similar enough in ambition, direction, and experience that they may eventually meet but that sadly like the theory of parallel lines never meeting they can never become ONE, as in a Unit, and must always remain TWO, alike in so many ways but then not alike in enough so that they can never be ONE.

We went back and researched where the Wolf Man got all of this: from his antihero Lester Bang's "coffee table" book Blondie. In it Bangs talks about the Blondie LP Parallel Lines and that the title refers to a lyric Debby Harry was writing but which she never completed. Bangs said that in those lyrics--which were printed in the album's insert--Debby was singing about words never meaning what you wanted them to mean, words just standing alone as words and never meeting with the other words, each word being alone with itself. Nowhere do either Lester Bangs or Debby Harry attribute the parallel-lines-never-meeting deduction to Isaac Newton. The Wolf Man perhaps is simply admitting his ignorance of that side of science--remember one of Sociology's biggest dilemma's is proving it's a natural science, which means proving they know what they're talking about--it's an encyclopedic science, a science that evaluates errors as well as corrections and their effect on society. The Wolf Man can also defend his erroneous statements by claiming he is simply a fictional character in this fictional blog--that all NEWS is history by the time you read about it--and by the time NEWS is history, it has become full of lies and over-stated truths and chocked full of adages and well-meaning quotes and mathematical progressions and musical denotations! I'm getting carried away. I'm not allowed any thing but an editorial voice in this revamping of history! WHICH IS ALL THIS IS! If they can rewrite history in Texas, why can't we rewrite history here at the Growler? I'm being hauled away by my own eloquence.]

The 1970s in New York City were the best. You can trust me on that. The city was free feeling and loose and integrating and mingling and bustling and beaming and brimming over with music, theater, art, thought, protest, revolutionary speeches and actions, journalism, the New York Times Review of Books, the New Yorker still a New Yorker-run and aimed-at-New Yorkers magazine--and in the street there were mimes, high-wire walkers, puppet shows, street theater, street musicians of all venues, jugglers, magicians, people who stood motionless for hours wearing some sort of weird costume. We had the Theater of the Absurd and John Cage-Gordon Mumau-Merce Cunningham combining to form a unit of speech, dance, and music. And a lot of these new-leader artists were working out of a place in the Village called Westbeth, a building some patron of the arts had made available as a building of arts rehearsal studios and spaces and cheap living spaces in the upper floors--even studios for rent down in the basement under the pipes and shit. And old Mr. Ballachine was still alive and producing his "charming" works at the New York City Ballet. Jerome Kern was still with us. Steven Sondheim was just coming on the scene and his pal Lennie Bernstein was conducting the New York Philharmonic in EXCITING classical music concerts in first Carnegie Hall, the perfect hall for Classical music really, and then in the newly constructed (but badly acoustically engineered to the point they had to totally rebuild the auditorium's acoustics) Avery Fisher Hall. And there was jazz all over the city. And there was a new form of American White rock coming on the scene called Punk Rock--it even brought Iggy Pop to NYC. CBGB's was still flourishing in its true decadent way. And Alvin Ailey had just started his Harlem Dance School. Tennessee Williams was still alive and living in the Elysee Hotel and hanging in that hotel's Monkey Bar. (Williams died in the Elysee in 1983. One of his current "boyfriends" at the time made up a story that Williams had choked on an eyedrops bottle cap he always, it was said, put in his mouth while he put the eyedrops in his eyes. Later it was admitted he had died due to an intolerance to Seconal.)

And the Village Voice was still a Village lefty and cool tabloid-type newspaper (started by Norman Mailer way back in the 60s). And the Voice gave us the investigative reporting of Jack Newfield, the photography of Fred McDarrah, the jazz criticisms of Nat Hentoff, long raving or praising letters to the editor, and the oncoming big rock critics like Dave Marsh and Robert Christgau. Ellen Willis was in the Voice a lot. And always a piece by Jill Johnston on dance, though she seldom stayed on dance and went off on her own street-level fantasy binges that turned out to be a deepest kind of dance reviewing since to Jill all of life was just one big dance. And good old Andy Sarris wrote film criticism in the Voice that only he really understood.

And Charlotte Moorman was still alive and putting on the New York Avant-Garde Festival at Shea Stadium every year with her husband the weird Nam June Park whose passion was using television as art. And Charlotte played her cello in the nude or topless--her breasts keeping time in dance to her cello playing--a beautiful sight really regardless of how you judged Charlotte's cello playing or the music she was playing.

The old East Village Other was still publishing--with way-out articles by Gregory Battcock and Gregory Corso and Herbert Hunke and the Hippy Doctor who taught us all about venereal diseases and what cocaine was doing to the lining of our noses or what to do should you experience a heroin overdose. The Other reporting the other side of the Greenwich Village scene, which by the 70s was where the established did their thing; the East Village was where the antiestablishmenters (the nonconformists) did their thing. The Village had Washington Square Park; the East Village had Tomkins Square Park.

I mean, come on, you poor folks born too late to have lived through the 70s in New York City, you missed the best of a collective American homegrown talent in all fields--Mr. John was still making hats just off Broadway in the millinery district (I haven't checked in a while, but I think the old Millinery Synagogue has been demolished and replaced by a GNC Health Food Store) and Ralph Lauren was just starting out changing the fashion world, bringing The Bronx "Polo" fashions to the world (kids way back yonder wore polo shirts--pullovers--I wore them as a kid and I know Ralph did, too)--Ralph Lauren Polo shirts--with Ralph's logo on all his clothes. These guys all coming into fashion on the heels of the Lacoste Crocodile-logoed tennis shirts that were designed by the French tennis star based on the tennis shirts he wore to win the French Open one year or something like that. And there was Bill Blass was putting his BB logo all over his clothes. And over in Brooklyn the Jordache jeans people put their logo on the backs of their jeans outdoing Levis with their huge tacky rearing horse--but oh my God how young people went for Jordache jeans and brought jeans over into the fashionable wear category and sent the price of them zooming up from $3.98 a pair to $100 a pair and higher when the jean fashion companies started coming up like giant mushrooms fed energy from a nuclear-power-plant radiation leak.

Edward Albee came along about this time, too. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf the meaning of how parallel aligned human beings can never meet. Sandy Dennis who starred in the movie version of Albee's play at the time was married to Gerry Mulligan the jazz saxophonist--a day when jazzmen were respected enough they could marry movie stars. Miles Davis got Cecily Tyson--she couldn't resist the JAZZ. But then though we of the jazz affected don't like to admit it but jazz originally meant "to fuck correctly"--like the jockey rode the race horse--once down the middle and then from side-to-side, which in jazz music means once through the theme and then jazzing from side-to-side. Like Duke Ellington once commented about the difference between the ways Black and White people kept time. White people, Duke said, kept time moving their heads up and down--vertically. Black people, he said, kept time moving their heads from side to side--horizontally. There's a big difference. The heart beats--like the finest handmade watches used to tick-tock--from side to side--check your pulse--your heart is tick-tocking side to side. The perfect 4/4 tempo is that based on the heartbeat--72 beats per minute--and you can swing pretty heavy and yet keep your heartbeat cool and steady. That's why Duke also said it was easier to play way-up tempo tunes than it was to play slow tunes. Ray Charles used to have drummer auditions and he'd get them ready and then he'd count off--1..................................(and) 2..................................(and) 3..................................(and)4.................... One drummer commented he'd never known a beat could be counted off so slow. The secret to keeping the beat for Ray Charles was to watch his left foot--when he counted off...he counted with his left foot and kept the time the rest of the tune with that left foot.

The most interesting people from all over the USA came here to escape the mad wild-warmongering attitudes of the Silent Majority and Middle America. These were the Tricky Dick Nixon and Jimmy "Mr. Peanut" Carter years--those few years of crazy peace as the end of the Vietnam War and after the Civil Rights Bill was passed and put into legal effect--we were tired from the marches, from the shouting, from being shot at, from being arrested, from being harassed by J. Edgar "Crossdresser" Hoover and the CIA, a joke of an intelligence agency--more the Central Idiocy Agency--like sending Castro a box of exploding cigars--DUMB. Or like sending Eldridge Cleaver and Tim Leary to some kind of lobotomizing facility we had in Northern Africa--Morocco I think. (NOTE: the US government (actually We the People) has a strange relationship with Morocco. Morocco's one of the Muslim countries where we send the Muslim-terrorist suspects to be tortured; ironically, we also use Syria as one of these torture stations. Notice how we're not after Syria anymore. They seem to be acceptable Arabs to us now. Iran has now replaced Syria as the big bugaboo out to wipe out Israel. Of course, you understand why we use Muslim nations to torture? Torture is not illegal in their culture.)

All of this leading up to my saying that I am currently flying so high above the corruption of our political system its clowns and shammers and scammers no longer amuse me. I'm above it all both physically (I'm too old to be conscripted into the future army of children soldiers) and mentally (I'm now too intellectually adapt--I mean I see right through illusions and allusions).

And then I backed over myself.

for The Daily Growler

Thursday, March 18, 2010

New York City Living: With the Luck of the Irish

This was written on Saint Patrick's Day morning:
Foto by tgw, New York City, 2005
Saint Patrick Rid Erin of Snakes. His Faithful Followers, However, Were a Total Failure at Ridding New York City of Snakes. Bealtaine bhfuil tú gach luck na Gaeilge. Tá gloine de Óir Jameson's a thabhairt duit go léir.
Ah the Gaeilge are parading up Fifth Avenue--gayless this year I assume, though with a billionaire Jewish mayor in office you don't hear much pre-parade rumors anymore about St. Patrick's Day Parade squabbles, like are the Irish Gays and Lesbians going to be allowed to march?...or are the Irish Honoraries going to pick an old IRA terrorist as the parade's marshal this year...or an American-Irish teabagger?...or will there be a contingent of child-molesting Irish Catholic priests in this year's march?

Two thing's I won't be doin' t'day are, and these are for sure they are: first of all, I won't be attendin' the parade nor will I be watchin' it on the telly...and another thing's for sure, I won't be settin' foot within a mile of my favorite Irish Pub--though I could probably sneak into the dining room and hang with the staff while the rest of the joint was getting sloppy drunk, but, no, not even that. Hell, it's not that I couldn't mind be'n handlin' a couple'a shots of Jameson's Gold...or even a 12-year-old Jameson's, mind you. I'm not picky when it comes to Jameson's Irish whiskey. Why I even like the 5-year-old.

I'm a excommunicated Scotsman because I'm an Irish whiskey drinker and not drinkin' the blood of Jesus Christ himself they bottle in Scotland as Scotch whiskey. I hear me elders railing at me with so many brrrrrrrrs in their voices you have to listen carefully to understand them (i.e. Groundskeeper Willie on "The Simpsons"): "I suppose ye dunno eat haggis either, yew traitor to yeer klan...nor do yew put on the kilts, I assume, yew disgrace to the tartan of yeer father, a proud Campbell he were now spinnin' with disgrace in his grave."

My apologies to my Scottish forebears. In the defense of my Scottish side of my mixed-up family, I have drank myself stupid on Scotch before. Plus, I dated a young woman back in Dallas who drank a fifth of Teachers every day of her young life. Because of her addiction to Scotch at such a young age, she passed out every night after we made love--stone passed out--like a light--in another world. Thus she caused me to abandon her for her roommate, who became my first wife. What that relationship to Scotch whiskey has to do with my dishonoring my Scotch ancestry I can't tell you--I simply in a extemporaneous way thought of it while writing on this and thought I'd throw it in to add a little spice to the brew. It also gives me a chance to maybe bring it up again at a later date and expand on it.

Hell, I just got hit with another Scotch-drinkin'-woman story, again from my Dallas days.

I knew this woman, not a lover but a coworker--too old for me then--besides I suspected my girlfriend at the time was having a Lesbian affair with her--anyway, the first time they assigned me a case with this woman, she started calling me after work, after dinner, to talk about the case we were working on or to gossip about a rumor flying around the office, whatever. The first time she called me, we were talking along at a rapid clip when suddenly it seemed like the phone went dead. I clearly remember my reaction: I hollered into the phone...and nothing came back but silence. I hung up. I went off. Got a beer. Made a sandwich. Then decided to call my babe--yes, the girl I thought was having a Lesbian affair with this telephoning coworker. I picked up the phone and, damn, the line was still dead...there was no dial tone. I punched the god-damn phone buttons like hell trying to get a dial tone. Nothing. "Hello!" I hollered into the phone. Nothing. "Hey, is someone on the line? HEY! HELLO!" Nothing.

I cursed like a pissed-off sailor. I stomped the floor like a maddened woman. I picked up the phone several times but each time there was no dial tone. Finally, in angry desperation, I tried one more--again no dial tone--EXCEPT this time I stayed on the line long enough to think that I faintly heard something back in the deep distance of that what I thought was a dead phone line. Out of curiosity, I pressed the receiver hard against my ear. I listened with intent. It was breathing I was hearing. Yes, someone or something breathing. I could barely hear it but what I heard I knew was breathing.

It was HER. That drunken broad! Yes, it was this coworker. She had passed out while talking to me. I told my girlfriend about it and she said, "Get used to that. Frankie has a drinking problem. She sips on this cheap Scotch every night after she gets home from work...otherwise she can't sleep. So, yes, she does pass out on the phone a lot. She once fell asleep talking to me and when I woke up the next morning she was still on the line."

Believe it or not, it got so bad, I finally changed my phone number--though I also did that,too, because I broke up with the girlfriend who I thought was having the Lesbian affair with Frankie--and, oh, by the way, I did it, too, because I got married...and moved with my new wife to New Orleans. In New Orleans, like a good Scotsman, I drank Presbyterians--that is until one night drunk in the Vieux Carre, I discovered Planter's Punches, what they called Hurricanes in New Orleans.

The irony of the above Dallas lush-girl stories--those unrelated to my being excommunicated from the Scottish honor rolls for drinkin' Irish whiskey in a public place and claimin' to be a Scotsman at the same time--while all these Scotch-drinking women were cruising through my life, I was drinking CC and 7s: Holy Loch Ness Monster, a bloody Canadian whiskey, eh! Holy Jesus, do you know where I can find some haggis around here?

My mother's brother, my Uncle Uncle, while with the US Navy in WWI, while docked in the Port of Glasgow, had jumped ship and gotten lost in Glasgow because he said while sailing into Glasgow harbor and looking out over the Scottish landscape...especially at the distant mountains...he knew what he was looking at was HOME. He lived in Glasgow until his money ran out, then he turned himself into the US Navy and they shipped him home and gave him an honorable discharge--we weren't at war and so a sailor jumped ship to live in Glasgow a few weeks--"He was probably drunk out of his mind with some Scots whore...boys will be boys, you know." Uncle Uncle used to tell the story that he met this Scotsman in a bar and they went on a tear--a rip-it-up--and ended up in this dude's Glasgow tenement room--broke and with nothing to drink but milk. Uncle Uncle said the Scotsman said, "Wood'ya be likin' to try what we wee Scots call a poor's man's whiskey?" Uncle Uncle said he'd try anything as long as it got him drunk. The Scotsman pour a glass full of milk and then took it over to a gas jet, turned on the gas, and then held the glass of milk up to the gas jet. He handed it to my uncle and said, "There yew go, drink it down as fast as yew kin." My uncle said his head felt like a it had been hit with a brick. He said he had a roaring headache all that night and half the next day with the Scotsman claiming all along that all he needed to repair himself was a little hair of that gas-jet dog that bit him.

I started drinking Irish whiskey back in the late 70s when I was an everyday-everyhour patron at the bar of a downtown Manhattan establishment called the Ear Inn, which is still in business today.
The bar at the Ear Inn: The bar's the same (that bar was the bar when the Ear was the Green Door); the stools look the same; the Three Penny Opera poster hung somewhere else; the painting or whatever that is in the upper left is new to me--looks tacky--there used to be an old Ford Woody station wagon beer placard in there somewhere--my seat for many years was down at the left far end of the bar, just barely showing in the photo--back in the corner just diagonally across from that glass of red plastic stirrers there on the bar.
The day the Ear Inn opened I was there. It was at a point in my life in New York City where I was once again just out of a divorce and on my own, deciding to try a totally improvisational way of living. For the first time in 10 years I was free as a Bird solo. I was making $500-a-week easy as a copyeditor and I had just moved into a brand new loft--a converted butter and egg dealer's old 5-story building with great old plate glass windows from wall-to-wall and ceiling to ceiling in every loft and a grand old iron fire escape running from just above sidewalk level all the way up to the top loft on the 5th floor. Plus, soon I learned the building's owner had converted our roof into a field of marijuana plants--planted in old olive barrels he got from a wholesale olive dealer over in SoHo. This was before the "fashionably nouveau riche" discovered SoHo loft living and decided what a fabby high-society street West Broadway could become--Victoria's Secret started on West Broadway--the streets then lined with beautiful 19th-Century cast-iron fronted factory buildings, with loading platforms out in front--why the sidewalks in Soho used to be so wide--with wholesale food people all over the area, too, a big fruits and vegetables wholesaler right up Spring Street from us, a big cheese wholesaler over on Greene Street where you could go and find old cheeses they'd put out in the garbage a certain night of the week--sometimes whole wheels of cheese, which we'd take back to the Ear and clean the mold off of them and then slice 'em up into wedges--perfectly good cheese.

Most of New York City's printing plants were in this area, too--this was a time when you could get a job so easily in Manhattan, especially for the kind of editing and proofreading work I was qualified to do. All the printers used what were called VIP proofreaders (Very Important Proofreaders) who supposedly had to know printing terms and measurements and agates and picas and column inches and banner positioning and font sizes and the different font styles--all graphic arts were done by hand then--cut and pasted up dummies that were then sent to the printer by a bicycle messenger where it was reproduced on a 4-color press--nothing computerized yet--though by '82 IBM was putting out the first PC capable of desktop publishing running on the original DOS operating system--the one Bill Gates stole from the small Seattle firm he was able to buy for chicken feed.

Due to the nature of the work in this particular downtown area, there were tons of workingclass bars--like those printers were big drinkers and they had their bars over on Hudson Street or Varick Street--in fact, there were workingclass bars on every corner and in the middle of the blocks all around that area. The Seaman's Union Hall was on Hudson and Spring and there were bars around the Seaman's Hall that catered to the heavy drinking seamen and dock workers and divers and tugboat crews that started drinking at six o'clock every morning when all the bars in that area opened, including the Ear Inn, which had replaced one of those tough seaman bars, the Green Door, but was anything but a workingman's bar. The workingmen thought of the Ear as a Hippy bar or a Faggot bar--a lot of gay truckers (and there are a lot of gay truckers, folks) used to come in the Ear thinking it was a gay pick up bar. It was an artsy-fartsy-plus bar--the only workingclass you found in the Ear was usually the out-of-work class--artists, musicians, poets, sculptors, performance artists--the wackiest of the avant-garde of the time--the wacky ones going in far afield cultural directions from the mainstream, from a gang of minimalist leftovers to a bunch of Columbia School of Music rejects to a little gaggle of white blues musicians and our coexisting rock and roll neighbors and booze guzzlers. All kinds of drugs flowed freely throughout that wonderful old neighborhood we entitled BLOHO--little packets of Mexican horse; tons of Yippy-delivered varieties of pot; tinfoils of rock cocaine; bottles of hash oil; and one night, one glorious wonderful night, a guy we called a name similar to Ivan the Terrible brought in a bag of schrooms and a bag of LSD tabs into the Ear and passed 'em all around--especially to a bunch of German performance artists who were upstairs over the Ear bar celebrating the success of a performance piece by their hero--I can't remember his name now, but I remember him and his group. He had just crucified a lamb at sunset or some such shit on one of the Hudson piers, this when those old saggy piers were still all along where the Chelsea Pier area is now. What a night! Oh what a night! I'm sure nothing like that goes on in the Ear now--it's a respectable joint now--high-priced high-art food and patrons who are having no money problems at all at the moment. [I have not been in the Ear for several years--the last time with an old Ear pal who lives in Seattle now. We were so disappointed, we swore we'd never set foot in this Ear Inn again--and we haven't.]

When I first started attending services at the Ear Inn bar, the bartender was an American Irishman from the potato fields of Long Island--back when it had potato fields. He and I immediately hit it off--our attitudes were the same--"Live and Let Live"--let me do my thing and you do yours and we'll live happily 'til we die. Since I was the first one in the door at 6 every morning and the last one to leave the bar at 4 the next morning (two hours sleep, do you believe it?), this guy and I became fixtures in the Ear. After he got off his shift at the bar, he'd come around on the other side over by me and he'd drink the rest of the day and into the night with me. We both at that time were heavy into Bass Ale--and the Ear had in on tap, so that's mostly what I drank--no hard liquor, or if I drank the hard stuff it was Hennessey or a Cuba Libre con Castro. I liked rum, but rum made a madman out of me. It was rum that brought out the wolf in me the first time. Rum not only made me look like the Wolf Man, it made me run out in the middle of the street and start yowling at the moon, whether there was a moon visible or not or whether if it were visible it was full or not. Rum turned me into the Howlin' Wolf--"If you hear me howlin', howlin' for my darlin'/Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh...ohhhhhhhhhh...a oooooooey!" And the Howlin' Wolf was still in vogue in those days and my friend the Brooklyn guitarist with whom I formed my first New York City band, the Fabulous Swilltones, had the Ear boss man put a Howlin' Wolf record on his old Rockola juke box and it stayed on there until the Mafia made him get rid of it because they controlled the kind of juke box you had in your bar in those days--and the Mafia replaced the Ear's old Rockola with a big very tacky Seeburg stereo set up that played whole albums--shitty music, but you couldn't argue with the Mafia--you could request certain albums be put on there but you still got a lot of Frank Sinatra and Frankie Valli and the Beatles and the Rolling Stoneds and Johnny Mathis--pop shit. The Mafia also controlled cigarette machines and video games in bars in those days, too--both soon to grace the otherwise bohemian Ear.

So one day my Irish bartender friend (he was actually a first-class leathercrafter--he made cool horsehide brief cases and he made me a very nice horsehide barrel-shaped shoulder bag--all of which were in high fashion) said, "Hey, Wolfie, you ever had a Depth Charge?" "Well, I know what you mean, but, no, I can't remember ever having one." He called the bartender over and ordered two Depth Charges--"What kind'a whiskey you want?" My Irish friend said, "Give us shots of Murphy's." And that Depth Charge was my first-ever shot of Irish whiskey--dropped into my pint of Bass Ale and slugged down--watch out, don't swallow the shot glass--at one time they were called ponies--"Give me a pony of Irish, please."

After that one drink of Murphy's, my Irish friend and I made Murphy's the official Ear Inn bar whiskey--and soon all our crowd was swilling Murphy's by the case--the swilling of Murphy's one afternoon in the Ear being the source of the name for the Fabulous Swilltones. And Murphy's Irish Whiskey became the best-selling whiskey in the Ear Inn until one day Murphy's Irish Whiskey was no more.

for The Irish Daily Growler