Category — Column
One More Time
I’m writing this as I return from New York City, amid beautiful autumn weather that lends even more splendor to one of the world’s grand venues. The New York Yankees and the New York Giants have both won their home games, so in a sports’ sense the City has been abuzz with that energy. And at the same time the City hosted large peace and environmental demonstrations so the tens of thousands who attended the gatherings are adding another, albeit different ingredient to the “buzz.” But probably the most noteworthy piece of the buzz is being fueled by the fact that we have just this evening begun the bombings in the Middle East as a response to the current ISIS threat. Although this is not directly within the City limits, it’s not difficult to imagine that (especially happening only several weeks post the 9/11 remembrance), the events are having a particular effect on the City’s spirit.
Being a native “New Yorker” I’m finding myself in the swirl of these emotions. This is especially so, as much of my work centers on issues tied to our on-going social, political and economic concerns, concerns that oftentimes seem too much to internalize. And amidst all this, I can’t help but recall the sentiments I relayed in a piece that was written over a decade ago. It was done with an eye towards our Middle East conflicts as they began back then, and I think its essence remains as it was. So please take a read. And importantly, while doing so, I hope you have a moment to consider how we might better hold those who are in positions of influence more accountable for that influence – not for the “left” or “right” of the policies they may endorse, but for what they are doing for US.
Go Get’em Boys**
You know, I grew up in an era that fostered suspicion about the military. I mean a day couldn’t go by in the 1960s without some journalist or TV news-reader raising a question as to what the Pentagon planners were plotting next. If it wasn’t Vietnam, then it was our military being used to quell riots in our own city streets, or being used to promote another coup in another Third World country. Then there was our untrustworthy and suspect political process for which the military was the might. And there were questions about the legal and educational systems and overall inequality, and these, too, tilted what the military seemed to be defending. On top of all this, very few individuals that I knew perceived military duty as something of substance. Rather, it was seen as something to be avoided if at all possible. (I myself was lucky in that my draft lottery number never got reached.)
Yet young men and women, most from poorer, less educated environments, found themselves fitting into uniforms that spoke to things like pride, honor and tradition. Hell, many of them died with that as part of their eulogy-despite the distrust and dislike that surrounded their efforts. As has been well documented it was a difficult time for both them and us.
It wasn’t until some twenty years later that I began to visit these sentiments again. It happened that I was offered a faculty position with a major university’s European, Middle East and Asian divisions, all of which were tied to a program that offered post-secondary opportunities to those who were in the military or who contracted with the U.S. in support of our overseas interests. With this position came the opportunity to get a very close look at the military, from its day-to-day routines, to its war objectives, to what its presence meant in the world. And this added a new dimension to what I had years before concluded.
In traveling amid the power that they (and simultaneously our citizenship) represent, I’ve come to see our military in a more complex way. Over the past years I’ve watched them at their work, with their families and among themselves. I’ve talked with them, from privates to generals, about their society, about war and about peace. Suffice it to say they are an interesting group, far from being dull, ignorant or blind to what they do. Most of them recognize their efforts in terms of our country’s economic interests – that is, that “making the world safe for democracy” is more of a political euphemism than anything else. And in this sense they are at the tip of our American dilemma: who are we and what are we doing in the world? Surely, like most of the American public, they can’t completely grasp the depth of the dilemma. Nonetheless they have a mission tied to it and they must stay focused accordingly, which means staying disciplined and ready in times of peace, and brave and strong in times of war. Obviously none of this is easy.
No doubt, war is stupid. And I am not a fan of it in any way. But it seems to be an outgrowth of the stupid part of human nature − nothing less than history has shown us that. In the name of God and man alike peace has not prevailed. Consequently the complexities of establishing and defending a system, any system for that matter, seem always at hand. And the need for the military goes on, “the stronger the better” remaining the call. It’s a paradox that is part of us – it shouldn’t be, but it is. So it goes for our military.
Thus, especially in these times, as I see the flag wave, or hear the songs sung, or as the jets fly over our pastimes, I feel it for “our boys.” Yet I’m scared for them as well. This is as much for the danger they face and the mandate they’ve been given, as it is for the nagging feeling that we lack an understanding about our issues at home, issues so closely tied to those dangers and their mandate. And I’m scared because the flag waving and song singing and jet flying should symbolize what was missing in our Vietnam effort, but I fear they don’t. In other words, the country may finally be in support of its military but, for the most part, it really doesn’t have a solid sense of itself or the problems it is facing. And unlike the 1960s no movement is addressing the related concerns of things linked to the ideals of democracy and the practicalities of capitalism. It seems it’s a twist on the situation from years ago, yet ironically the outcome could well be the same. Just as it was back then our troops’ thoughts and actions as they return may be sadly misunderstood.
Again, it’s a difficult time, for them and for us. I wish we knew more about our policies and practices, but we don’t. I hope the circumstances change, but I worry that they won’t. Nevertheless, in the midst of our serious struggles, I’ll say “God bless, good luck, and go get’em boys.”
**This piece was included in a chapter of my previous book, “Criminal to Critic-Reflections Amid The American Experiment,” Rowman and Littlefield Publishers. I would like to also reference another piece from that chapter, one written by a talented and weary teenager I met while in the Middle East. It certainly speaks for itself.
by Laila Yafi
In the starlight, a tear drop shines
Revealing love’s true divine
A lone child, sitting in the dark
All is gone, no more spark.
A ray of moonlight falls upon him
He clings to her empty dress
Wishing it could be full again
Filled with her warmth and life.
His mother’s spirit remains so strong
Yet their eyes shall never meet again
The haunt of loss has already set
A memory permanently etched.
Caught in silence, cemented in grief
The boy searches to find relief
But in life’s war she is gone forever
The cord of love so quickly severed.
Be brave young soldier.
About the author:
Jim Palombo is the politics editor of Ragazine.CC. You can read more about him in About Us.
November 8, 2014 Comments Off on Jim Palombo/Politics
Breakfast with Blanche
We are breakfasting with the usual trio: Blanche, Sludge and Ted. Susan is my “Significant Other”, or more practically, SO. The SO and I motored down to Key West from St. Pete, early Saturday morning, Christmas week. On Sunday, we are joined by our traditional Christmas week breakfast club, comprised of Susan and myself, and Ted, Blanche and Sludge, all three of whom are birds, and all of whom show up for the festivities every year. We are celebrating the Holidays together for the third straight year. Sludge, the newest member of our club, is back for year number two. There’s a diverse spread, with something for everyone; we have leftover yellowtail snapper from yesterday’s lunch at the Hogfish Bar and Grill on Stock Island, fresh Tangerine Juice from Yellow Bank Groves in Largo, and a perfect Comice pear, sliced at its peak of flavor and aroma, which lasts for approximately one hour before it declines. I have a croissant from the French bakery on Duvall, and Cuban coffee from Cuban Coffee Queen, down on the docks. The SO is having a slice of gluten-free bread she brought from St. Pete. Blanche, Sludge and Ted are dining on crumbs scattered on the balcony floor, as per usual. We are all merry, and enjoying the Christmas decorations on the boats below us in the marina.
I should introduce the honored guests. Ted is Canadian, in Key West for his annual vacation. He is a warbler by trade, roughly the size of a standard cosmetic cotton ball, and interprets my morning whistle toward the coconut palms in front of the balcony as his personal invitation to join the breakfast club each morning. Blanche and Sludge are local Key West pigeons of good families. Blanche has celebrated Christmas with us for at least three years, perhaps four. She’s beautifully distinctive. Of her eight toenails, three are white, as are most of her feathers, and three of her toenails are jet black. Her eyes have black pupils, surrounded by cadmium yellow irises, and ringed by a clear, bright orange. There are a few random, red/brown feathers on her lower back. She and Ted arrive a few seconds after I whistle for them, and Sludge, Blanche’s second-year SO, arrives seconds later. Sludge is unlovely by my standards, but he’s Blanche’s Prince Charming. He’s the same color as dirty, big-city sidewalk snow, beady-eyed and grimy. Ted, on the other hand is always immaculately attired, dapper, with a gray-green/yellow back, and dark bars on his thumbnail-sized, buff-colored breast. If I haven’t whistled him in, he chips from the coconut palm to remind me that he has arrived, and is awaiting invitation. As soon as I do whistle, he flits over to the railing, and looks down to verify that his breakfast has been served. Usually, he cocks his head, and regards me with baffled interest: what kind of huge, ugly and deformed bird am I?
I can whistle, at least, and I have spilled crumbs for him. He shrugs, and drops to the tiled floor with his tablemates, Blanche and Sludge. They ignore each other, and eat with speed and gusto, as is their way. Ted is always the first to excuse himself, and returns to the nearby palms to hunt for bugs, I suspect for the kids’ breakfasts.
Susan has walked to the French bakery for my morning croissant, and stopped at the Cuban Coffee Queen to bring back a café au lait for herself, and a double colada for me. I’ve set the patio table, warmed the leftover snapper fillets and poured the juice. Her brought-from-home gluten-free bread was in the toaster, ready to go down. On her return, I’d shake out the crumbs in the pastry bag onto the balcony for our three guests, all of whom arrive promptly, bringing appetites. When Ted leaves, he’s usually gone for a while, but Blanche and Sludge are fairly likely to follow us into the timeshare living room, and perch on the lampshade, like Poe’s raven. We shoo them out, but they’ll walk right back inside, unless we close the door, or seat ourselves on the balcony to keep them company. In the latter scenario, they settle down on the tile, near us, and wait for more food, very patiently.
From the balcony, we watch some of the semi-tame tarpon cruise slowly through the open water in the marina below, looking for a hand-out of left-over bait from the fishermen tied up to the dock or filleting fish at the cleaning tables nearby. The roving Key West cats, all named, snooze in the sun, or sit impatiently under the fish tables. Each of them seem to know that they will be fed their scraps in turn, and there are no arguments between them as slivers of raw fish are distributed to them by the fish cleaners, ministering to the faithful.
There is a sharp-shinned hawk perched on the mast of one of the larger boats in the marina, also looking for dining opportunities. He looks at, then ignores the breakfast club guests. Ted is too small to bother eating, and Blanche and Sludge too large to consider, when there are right-sized mourning doves in abundant supply nearby. After surveying the options in our immediate vicinity, the hawk flaps aloft, and then soars away, seeking breakfast elsewhere.
After breakfast, we close the doors to the balcony, and go for a stroll down Duvall Street. It’s sunny and mid-seventies: the people we pass on the sidewalks are cheerful, and as glad to be there as we are, but Key West offers plenty of traps for the unwary. A week there suffices for us. Two weeks is a bit too long, at least for me. There are bars on almost every corner, it seems, and plenty of folks who appear to have stayed in Key West just a little too long for their own good, hovering in the shadows. Early walks take you past ragged people sorting through the trash cans along the street, periodically extracting a half-eaten sandwich or an unemptied cup. Homeless people congregate in the out-of-the-way spots, here and there, and ask for spare change, smokes or your take-home bag. I suspect that Paradise isn’t all that far from hell, if either actually exist, and Key West might just be that spot, if it does.
About the author:
Bill Dixon is a contributing columnist to Ragazine.CC. You can read more about him in About Us.
November 6, 2014 Comments Off on From the Edge/Bill Dixon
Grégory Sugnaux :
A germ of doubt into “classical” sculpture
By Jean-Paul Gavard-Perret
Waves, webbing, truncated shapes : Gregory Sugnaux bends and manipulates the volumes – thicknesses and blocks – and disrupts boundaries between outside and inside. Thus the images are never simple or obvious. Corners bring to mind the torn canvases of Lucio Fontana. Sugnaux, with trapezoidal or other shapes, clearly enjoys betraying moderns values by introducing an element of doubt.
Something always upsets the principles of totality end homogeneity.
The artist has developed his thinking through close contact with artists such Daniela Droz, a precursor of relational aesthetics. Gergory Sugnaux likes to undertake partnerships that challenge sculpture’s symbolic authority. The swiss artist uses variations “on the motif” by making openings. With “support-/surface” Vialat invented the disappearance of the frame and provoked crisis in the apprehension of the material delimitations of painting. This stratagem transposed to the scale of a sculpture kills the question of proportion by the modification of constructive and symbolic hierarchies. Plasticity takes over giving the opus a new identity. The critical mission is what drives his work.
That’s why his sculpture thinking is based on a dialectical principle closely linking ethical and aesthetic orientations in a quest for a human equilibrium, a reality-based hypothesis renewed and further differentiated with each new project that creates poetry of reflection.
About the author:
Jean-Paul Gavard-Perret contributes the On Location/France column to Ragazine. You can read more about him in About Us.
October 31, 2014 Comments Off on On Location/France
LOOPING IN A THUNDERSTORM
by Stephen Poleskie
It was early in the evening but the sun was already beginning to set, as it does in the middle of winter. Despite being at the altitude of 10,000 feet my passengers and I were not having a good view of the sunset as I was on an instrument flight plan and had been flying in and out of clouds for the past half hour. In the clear for a few moments, I could see that the clouds up ahead looked ominously like a building thunderstorm. Radioing the air traffic controller who was monitoring my flight, I identified myself, and asked for weather advisories. I told him that it appeared to me I was now headed directly into a thunderstorm, and would appreciate vectors around it. The controller replied in the negative, saying that he was “not painting any weather” in my direction, and that I should continue on course — “painting” in airplane talk meaning that he had looked at his radar scope and not seen any blips or whatever that looked like a thunderstorm to him. This, of course was in direct contradiction to what I was observing through my windshield in real time, but according to the rules of the game, I was obliged to continue on. Another reason I had to doubt the controller’s diagnosis was that the flight was taking place during the Ronald Reagan Era. Only last year, during the summer of 1981, President Reagan had fired nearly 13,000 air traffic controllers for going on strike. I had no way of knowing if the man I was talking to was a recent hire not fully trained, or perhaps even a temporary filling in.
Thunderstorms are one thing that all pilots are taught to avoid at the risk of their life. So what happens if you inadvertently find yourself in one? As I pointed out in an earlier article; the pilot is the ultimate responsibility for the safety of their flight. However, I also conceded that oftentimes the pilot lacks the information or even the equipment to get out of a dangerous situation that they have not brought on themselves.
We were returning from a trip to the Turks and Caicos, islands out in the Atlantic north of and between Puerto Rico and Haiti. We were in my twin-engine Piper Apache. I was doing the flying. In the right seat, serving as the co-pilot, as she had a pilot’s license, was poet and nature writer Diane Ackerman. In the rear seats were two novelists; my wife Jeanne Mackin, and Paul West, Diane’s husband. As we were at the time all employed by universities the trip, which was a business and pleasure kind of thing, occurred during a school break. We were all making drawings, writing articles and stories, and taking photographs, some of our products would even later appear in the New York Times. The trip down had not been much of a problem, as I recall most of the flight was in good weather. We had stopped in State College, Pennsylvania, to pick up Paul, and then gone on to get Diane, landing at a small airport near William and Mary, where she was a writer-in-residence.
After a pleasant time on Grand Turk, we were retracing our route home. We had overnighted in Nassau, and at the moment our airplane was over North Carolina, heading for Virginia. Keeping to the course I had been told to continue on by the air traffic controller, I found the clouds that now totally enveloped the airplane getting thicker and the ride more turbulent. The rain, which earlier had begun rather like condensed water vapor, now began to beat heavily and could be heard drumming on the wings. As always is my choice when things get rough, I turned off my automatic pilot, preferring to fly the airplane by hand. The clouds that had gone from white to light gray, were now becoming dark green. The airplane appeared to have slipped into a large hole in the mist and was climbing upward at a rapid rate. We were in the center of a building thunderstorm. I got on the radio and reported our condition to air traffic control, as the violent updraft that the airplane was now in was causing me to violate my cruising altitude restriction big time. I had no idea what other aircraft might be in the area also flying blind.
The controller replied that he still wasn’t showing any weather in my area. I asked him if he had an altitude read out on me. He inquired, rather excitedly, why I was climbing at 2500 feet per minute. I replied that I was quite amazed by this myself as this airplane could only climb about 1000 feet a minute with both engines running, and at present both engines were off. I heard a panic in the man’s voice when he realized the significance of my statement. He asked me to repeat what I had just said. Fortunately I was using a headset with a boom mike and a push to talk switch as at that moment my hands were quite busy flying the airplane in the turbulent updraft.
The power of the severe gusts had forced the nose of the airplane to a steep angle. The Lycoming 0-320 engines that drove my Piper Apache were equipped with carburetors, rather than fuel injectors, so the attitude the airplane was at had caused the engines to suffer fuel starvation, forcing them to stop. As I could feel my weight pressing against the back of the seat, I didn’t need to look at the artificial horizon instrument to realize that we were almost vertical. I could sense that slight vibration in the control handle that comes right before a stall. I had only a few seconds to consider my options.
To push the controls forward to lower the nose was not a choice; doing so would probably bring on the stall which would cause the airplane to fall off into an inverted spin. Being an aerobatic pilot I had experienced inverted spins and practiced recoveries, however, my Apache was not an aerobatic airplane and I had no idea how it would respond. Sensing that the airplane was about to fall backwards, I pulled back on the yoke; the airplane now went inverted, as it would be at the top of a loop. Our luggage, which had been stacked neatly on the floor next to the empty fifth seat floated for a second and then landed on the roof. I continued to hold up elevator and the airplane came around and started down the back of the loop. As the nose of the airplane was now pointing at the earth, the luggage came tumbling over on us. With the nose down the engines began to run again. We were completing the downside of the loop at about 190 MPH. My problem now was to recover from the dive and level the airplane without tearing the wings off. As I recall the “never exceed speed” on the Apache was around 235 MPH. I pulled back on the yoke very gently. We were riveted in our seats by the G force as the airplane pulled out of the dive. If the wings were going to come off this was the moment.
In level flight now, I took stock of things. Both engines were running and the airplane was holding together. Diane was picking up charts, pencils and flashlights from the floor. Jeanne and Paul were removing suitcases and overnight bags from their laps. My air traffic controller was calling to see if we were all right and what were my intentions. He even called me “sir” which made me think that he was glad that he hadn’t lost us. I told him that I would like vectors to the nearest airport and he complied. We flew along in darkness and mild turbulence for a few minutes and then were cleared for the approach. The glide slope led us down to the runway just the way it was supposed to. We didn’t see the lights until we were almost at decision height, but we had made it to solid ground, Stallings Field in Kinston, NC.
As soon as I cut the engines, Diane, Jeanne, and Paul leapt from the airplane to the ground and began kissing the pavement. They thanked me for saving their life, but swore they would never get back into my airplane again. Then they hurried off to the general aviation terminal to find a telephone to inquire about hotel rooms, and bus service back up north. I was left alone to take out my flashlight and screwdriver and remove the inspection panels in the bottom of my wing to determine if the wing spar had suffered any damage.
The next day the sun came out, and my passengers, who had found out how long a bus trip would take, got back in my airplane and we were off.
About the author:
Stephen Poleskie is a writer and artist. His artworks are in the collections of numerous museums, including the MoMA and the Metropolitan in NYC, and the Victoria and Albert Museum and Tate Gallery in London. His writing has appeared in numerous journals in Australia, Czech Republic, Germany, India, Italy, Mexico, the Philippines, and the UK, as well as in the USA. He has published seven novels, the most recent being Foozle Runs. He lives in Ithaca, NY with his wife the author Jeanne Mackin.
Web site: www.StephenPoleskie.com
October 31, 2014 Comments Off on Now and Then/Steve Poleskie
I’m looking for an oldies rap station…
By Galanty Miller
I truly hope it works out between whichever Kardashian and the next professional athlete she marries./ The only thing we have to fear about clowns is fear of clowns itself./ I go to the bathroom outside because I’m more of a “dog” person./ I would only quit my job if I’m absolutely certain I’m going to win the lottery./ I’m looking for an oldies rap station./ Going to a psychic tomorrow. But I think he might be a scam artist because he just started following me on Twitter./
My patient only has two days to live. I told him, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”/ You know what they say about meth-coated potato chips; Bet You Can’t Eat Just One./ Hey, even a clock is right three times a day. (I own a f**ked up clock.)/ The woman ahead of me in the supermarket aisle took forever because she paid by barter./ I only read articles about naked women for the articles./ I ate an entire plate of pot brownies and got a real sugar high./ There are so many incompetent college students. But they’re protected by the Student Union./
I can’t remember what I ate for breakfast this morning. And yet I can still remember the popular kids from high school./ I’m feeling great because my mortician gave me a clean bill of health today./ (Thanksgiving) Happy Thanksgiving! You know what that means, don’t you? Christmas shopping officially began two and a half weeks ago!/ If Michael Jackson didn’t die, I believe he’d still be alive today./ Today is “Small Business Saturday.” And so I’m going to give my meth dealer a little something extra./ My wife and I hate each other, but we’re staying together for the sake of the children we might eventually have./ I wish we lived in a world where EVERYONE could afford a live-in maid./ We were trapped in a house fire, but it wasn’t uncomfortable because it was a dry heat./
If dog is supposed to be man’s best friend, how come he still hasn’t accepted my friend request?/ I consider myself bipartisan because I’m sexually attracted to both political views./ Condoms: they’re not just for sex./ Thank you for coming to my garage sale. And here’s a garbage bag to carry your purchases./ It’s sad that more American children can name ‘Ronald McDonald’ than can name the President of McDonaldland./ I don’t let my kids watch TV because of all the sex & violence I’m having next to it./ My lucky day! I found 30 million dollar Picasso painting at a garage sale for just 12 million./ My VCR is state-of-the-art./ I don’t believe in “flags.” My allegiance is to the Pledge./ I only send Facebook friend requests to people I may know./ We don’t want the kids eating junk food. That’s why my wife and I keep all the snacks in our bedroom./ My New Year’s resolution is to drink beer and kick ass. And we’re almost out of beer./ For just a few dollars a day, you can help a starving African child buy lottery tickets./ If the plural of “person” is “people,” then shouldn’t the plural of “purse” be “peep”?/
I’m starting to think that Prince Charles will NEVER become king of beers./ My girlfriend and I have agreed to see and get engaged to other people./ I tried “speed dating” and it actually went pretty well. I picked up my date, took her to dinner, & had sex all in under 15 minutes./ “Maybe we SHOULD let the witch have the ruby slippers since they ARE her property,” said the only munchkin with a conscience/ Why can’t all of our different Gods just co-exist peacefully?/ My friends always have my back… as long as my back has money they can borrow./ I constantly warn my kids about the dangers of smoking pot without a prescription./ I think it would be a much better world if everyone stopped having children./ My mom keeps nagging me to find a nice girl & fall in love. She doesn’t care about my happiness; she’s just tired of being a teapot./ Not counting ‘Norbit,’ name the best movie you’ve ever seen./
There are literally billions and billions of people on the planet who will never love you./ There’s never an inappropriate time to smoke crack because it’s always 3 in the morning SOMEWHERE in the world./ I like to go to the zoo and watch the people at the concession stand./ Only God should be able to take a human life, which He does millions of times a day./ I have several emails in my inbox from friends asking me to help them move. Or as I call it: “my spam folder.”/ You know what you never hear? “You’re never too old to wear a Speedo.”/ I don’t understand why people would want to alter their minds by using drugs… is one of the many thoughts I have while high./ I don’t have an accent, but it’s very thick./ My kid got beat up by your honor student. (My kid is dumb AND a pussy.)/
My son is allergic to peanuts. So during family meals, he has to leave./ I hope I never become famous because I hate my fans./ Enjoy this tweet, but take some time to think about the millions of children in poverty who don’t have access to it./ They say when you have sex with someone, you’re never more than six degrees from Kevin Bacon./ Statistic: “Leggo my Eggo!” triggers approximately 10 murders per year./ Are you in the Middle Class? Here’s how to calculate your wealth; (Your Income + Your Assets minus Your Debt) x Zero = Your Wealth/
If celebrities’ children hate the paparazzi so much, how they all want to grow up to become actors?/ I FINALLY finished Leo Tolstoy’s “War & Peace.” Geez, that was a really long movie./ My grandmother died in her sleep. (I waited until nighttime to shoot her.)/ I would never try crystal meth unless it was literally right in front of me./ When drug companies want to test out a new placebo, what do they give the control group?/ At dinner, everyone has to turn off their cell phone so we can have a nice family discussion about what to watch on TV during dinner./ I keep all my ex-girlfriends on speed dial because it’s hard to remember phone numbers when you’re drunk at 3 in the morning./ I’m making a pornographic sex movie. But I had to trim the violence in order to keep the PG-13 rating./ I don’t care what people think about me. I only care what they SAY about me./ I hope my life has a surprise twist ending./ I never show up to work drunk. However, I sometimes *leave* work that way./
If, instead of a prison, the punishment was “an all expense paid trip to Europe for a week,” that would still deter me from committing crime./ Before Twitter, we used to have to send our tweets through the mail./ Don’t make gasoline jokes because I’m dieselly offended./ Why does everything have to be so instant? Take some time to reflect. I’m going to join Eventuagram./ I’m not a big “birthday” person. That’s why I never celebrate my birthday more than 20 or 30 times a year./ I would only consider running for President if my sit-com pilot doesn’t get picked up./ I suffer from a fear of not being afraid of anything./ Hey, if life was easy, they’d call it a slut./ My position on “intelligent design” is still evolving./
True love is never having to feel you’re sorry./ I’ve set the bar low… due to the number of shorter drinkers here tonight./ My wedding day was the happiest day of my life because that’s the day I won 40 bucks on a scratch-off ticket./ I have my privacy settings up so that only friends and friends of friends can receive my unsolicited dick pics./ I received my doctorate in “avoiding the real world by staying in school well past the appropriate age.”/ Never stop believing in yourself unless you’re absolutely sure that you’re a loser./ My magic act requires that the audience closes their eyes a lot./ Kids today have it easy. When I was young, I had to walk three miles in the snow to get my porn./ I have the Constitutional right to do whatever I want./ Open the safe and give me the money! This is a stick-up! Oh, and I’d also like to deposit this check./ I went to a psychic who told me that my house would burn down. I was amazed because there’s no way she could’ve known I was an arsonist./
I tattooed your name on our relationship, but I don’t think it’s permanent./ My friend’s birthday is on 9-11. Every year I wish him a very somber birthday./ I’m filming a documentary about why I’m so unsuccessful. Hopefully, this will be my big break./ I went to a gay dating site. I’m not gay, but I figure everyone always lies on those things, anyway./ Friends are just lovers you’re not attracted to./ If dogs could speak English, they’d probably say “bark” and “woof” a lot./ If I had a time machine, I’d travel 2 seconds into the future to see how this tweet turns out./ I know a guy making a living teaching people how to carry a purse & hammer nails. But what kind of idiot would hire a purse & nail trainer?/ You know what you never hear? “My life is so happy and fulfilled. Hey – let’s go to a nightclub.”/ The food on the plane was terrible! (I brought Taco Bell in my carry-on.)/ My child’s teacher is sick. So I’m having a parent-teacher conference with the sub./ I’m not homeless. Every night I just need a place to crash./
My wife and I won’t let our son play football because he’s so bad at it./ May 11, Mothers Day, Today we’re ALL mothers./ I don’t let my kids use their cell phones at the dinner table… unfortunately, I can’t enforce the rule since we eat separately./ I’m reading a magazine on the plane. I hope the guy sitting next to me takes the hint and starts up a conversation./ According to the home pregnancy kit, my wife is having a baby. But just to make sure, we made an appointment with the Maury Povich show./ When you go in for a job interview, it’s important to ask what kind of “quitting benefits” they offer./ I got out of a speeding ticket by bribing the police officer with my time machine./ It’s better to give than to receive… especially ‘death threats.’/ My loyal friend is an obsessive gun owner, which is why I know he’ll never stab me in the back./ When I was a young boy, I wanted to be a fireman or an astronaut because they get all the best pussy./ ‘Choices’ are simply regrets before the fact./
I found out my wife was cheating on me through Facebook! (Because she changed her relationship status to “cheating.”)/ I allow my children to bully other kids at school as long as they keep their grades up./ I would never let the government take away my gum./ If Lindsay Lohan and the Hulk had a baby together, the baby would constantly be getting smashed./ Every time a matador is brutally gored, an angel gets its wings./ If you are a black cat, is it bad luck to walk in front of a superstitious imbecile?/ The world may never know if OJ Simpson really feels bad about murdering those people./ I hate when teachers stifle creativity. Hence, I tell my students that 2+2= anything they want it to be./ At weddings, they usually sit me at the enemies table./ “Let’s not kid ourselves” is what I said right before we turned on the humans-morphing-into-baby-goats machine./ Laughter *was* the best medicine. But now there’s Prozac./ A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. That’s why I judge humanity by Kanye West./ I have an American flag cooking in the oven, but there should be a Constitutional amendment against burning it./
I wanna be a rock star until I reach the age of 28 or I die, whichever comes first./ My fiancé finally got a chance to meet my friends with benefits./ I ask that the media respect my family’s privacy during this difficult time of us being on a reality show./ I’m concerned that my son will grow up to be a serial killer because he’s only 11-years-old and he has already started killing people./ I’m writing 4-hour play about what it feels like to sit in the audience. I hope audiences like it./ I’m listening to a mash-up of Nicki Minaj and Me Screaming For It To Stop./ I wrote a kids joke! QUESTION: How many monsters does it take to change a light bulb? ANSWER: Look under your bed tonight to find out./ It should be illegal to spank your children unless it’s in self-defense./ When I play basketball against Al-Qaeda, I never spot them any points because that’s letting the terrorists win./ I don’t think you’re supposed to interpret televangelist Pat Robertson literally./ I hate you specifically because you’re YOU… but don’t take it personally./
Big Brother may be spying on you. But, when I was a kid, my big sister made me wear dresses. That was worse./ And on the 8th day, God created the dormant alien species that will eventually rise up from the ocean and kill us all./ I started my own religion, but I’m non-practicing./ I’m seeking Donald Trump’s advice on how to be born into money./ I always stand during the National Anthem because it’s impossible to dance while sitting./ I really only need to lose about five or ten pounds. Is there a reality show for that?/ I performed my stand-up act for a group of subatomic particles determined by their invariant mass. It was no laughing matter./ When I was on the operating room table, I saw a white light and an angel who said, “Tell people about this on a talk show.”/ We need to legalize marijuana, or at least make it easier to get./ My nudist colony lets you carry a concealed weapon./
8th Rule Of Fight Club: Clean up after yourself./ When people try to keep you from reaching your dreams, just flip it around and try to prevent them from reaching THEIR dreams./ I’m not very high up on the “liver transplant” list. Not too concerned, though, since I don’t need a new liver./
I’ve spent my life in and out of prison − mostly because I escape a lot./ What’s interesting is that even if people are having a nightmare, they’d still rather sleep in than go to work./ I named my boy “Sue.” That way it will be more convenient if he ever gets a sex change./ Here’s another kids’ joke for adults. QUESTION: Why won’t a grizzly with a flashlight make you fat? ANSWER: It’s a light bear./ My lucky day! I found a 20-dollar bill on the sidewalk. It was just lying there next to the wallet I stole./ I wish people would just leave me alone while I’m bothering them./ Gas prices in Colorado are so high./ I stay healthy by eating at least one fruit a day − or at least one thing that’s fruit *flavored*./ I changed my password to something only honest people would know./ Presidential historians rank Donald Trump as the worst President the nation would have ever had./ According to my job evaluation, I spend too much time goofing off and… ooh, I better get back to work − my boss just came back./
Last night I dreamt that I couldn’t get to sleep. I woke up tired./ I’m not hitchhiking. I just like to give cars the thumbs up./ I hate trying to make conversation with birds of prey because it’s always so hawkward./ My phone number is easy to remember because it’s also my Internet password. So give me a call sometime at 123-4567.
About the author:
Galanty Miller is a contributing humorist to Ragazine.CC, writer for the Onion News Network, and professional joke writer. Read more about him in “About Us.”
October 31, 2014 Comments Off on Galanty Miller/Retweets
It was a dark and stormy night when he ran up against Writer’s Block. “I should have had fewer children,” he thought, as multiple lightning strikes outside his fogged-up window failed to spark his imagination…
Successful Writers’ Secrets
by Mark Levy
This year’s Best American Mystery Stories anthology just arrived in the mail. In addition to the 20 best stories themselves, this issue of Best American Mystery Stories includes short biographical notes about the authors. I decided to read the bios first, since my attention span is even shorter than a short story. My hope was that I could find something most published mystery writers have in common. This would give me a clue as to what makes a writer successful. Needless to say, I had an ulterior motive for learning and applying that secret.
Sure enough, the answer leapt out at me like a bloody dagger at a crime scene. A number of authors stated they are married and have a son or daughter. The writers who didn’t mention the number of children they had might have had more or less than one kid apiece. Whatever the case, they decided not to mention that fact in their bio. Of the writers who mentioned having a family, only the ones with a single child declared themselves.
The authors had different socioeconomic backgrounds and came from different locations in the U.S. and Canada. They were ethnically diverse and represented both genders. In fact, except for writing the best stories of the year, they seemed to have nothing in common, but for the fact that some of them are the parent of an only child. I decided to investigate other writers to see how prolific they were, progeny-wise.
While Googling the topic, I discovered that Lauren Sandler, who wrote a book about children without siblings titled, ONE AND ONLY, had also already written an essay for The Atlantic magazine, observing that many women writers, like Susan Sontag, Joan Didion, and Mary McCarthy, have only one child. There you have it. Ms. Sandler preempted me. And here I thought I was the first to discover the secret of literary success.
What a surprising but simple characteristic successful writers have in common. The key to being a proficient writer is not necessarily one’s formal education, or books one reads on writing, or where or when one writes every day, or how quickly one writes, or whether one prepares an outline prior to writing, or what one drinks and how much.
Success is based not only on an extraordinary ability to create a plot, or develop characters, or produce conflict, or rewrite a piece over and over and over, as I used to suspect, but merely on parenting one and only one child.
Lauren Sandler seems to think it may be that fewer children provide a smaller distraction for their writer parent. Or maybe the money a person saves by raising only one child — as opposed to a bunch of them — can be used to hire a babysitter.
Of course not every famous writer followed this practice. Norman Mailer and his nine children come to mind. Now Mailer had six wives, but that still averages 1.5 children per wife. You know what they say: It’s the exception that proves the rule.
Interestingly, some very good writers were only children themselves. I’m thinking of E.M. Forster, Ezra Pound, Hans Christian Anderson, John Updike, Lillian Hellman, and Jean-Paul Sartre. I’m not sure what that shows, except Google is really an excellent vehicle for discovering trivia, useful or otherwise.
This brings me to my struggle to become a famous novelist whose books are made into blockbuster Hollywood movies before they’re even published. My major mistake was having too many children. I have two daughters when I should have had one.
I should have evaluated whether a fulfilling life with two or more beautiful, loving, talented, accomplished daughters outweighs a career, say, as a potential Nobel Prize-winning author. That’s like saying would I rather have a cut body with an incredible six pack or be President of the United States; or would I rather have a full head of hair or be the first astronaut on Mars? It’s one of my many regrets, as you can imagine, that I can’t have great abs and luxurious hair and be the first President to visit Mars.
Now I can’t guarantee that my life would have been different if I had limited my number of children, but at least I can fantasize where I’d be if I had only one beautiful, loving, talented, accomplished daughter instead of a backup for her.
Ah well, unless I want to jeopardize my chances for visiting Mars, it’s probably too late to do anything about that now.
About the author:
Mark Levy is Ragazine.CC’s “Casual Observer.” He is a lawyer, lives in Florida, and is an occasional contributor to National Public Radio where his columns can be heard some Saturdays around noon. You can read more about him in “About Us.”
October 28, 2014 Comments Off on Casual Observer/Mark Levy
“East Village” Painting by Raphael Soyer. Poleskie is in the foreground.
MY SIXTIES, Part One
by Stephen Poleskie
I was lying in the chair, her hands in my mouth, when she asked the question. What did I think about my sixties? At least that’s what I thought I heard her say over the gurgling of the water rinsing out my mouth. We broke for air and I hurried to answer her before she began to pick and scrape again.
“I retired from Cornell when I was sixty. . . .” was all I got in before she went back to her task in earnest. Why do dental hygienists always start a conversation and then leave you hanging? “Snz den I kp bsy . . . I rt bks,” was the best I could manage, hoping she would ask me what kind of books I wrote.
“I meant the TV show,” she responded to my garbled response.
“Oh?” I mumbled, disappointed, and then had to listen while she described to me the television series about the 1960s that I had not watched.
As she turned to get something from the table behind her, my mouth momentarily my own, I asked if she had seen the episode about the Kennedy assassination. Yes, she said and asked had I. I told her that I had planned to as I was a bit of a conspiracy theory buff, having read Mark Lane’s “Rush to Judgment” when the book first came out. I remarked that I vividly remembered where I was the day the assassination took place.
“And where was that?” the hygienist asked, seemingly becoming interested, even briefly delaying her attack on my tartar.
“I was living in New York City, in a loft on Jefferson Street,” I began. “At the time I was a poor, struggling artist and couldn’t afford a telephone. I used to go down to the bar on the ground floor of our building to make calls. On that day I walked in to use the phone and found everyone glued to the TV screen.
“’Hey, hippie,’ the bartender yelled to me, at the time I had long hair and a beard. ‘Have ya heard? Someone’s shot da president. . . .’”
“Wow!” the young lady said, shoving her tools back into my mouth.
“n wnre wer u? . . .” I struggled to get out
“Where was I when Kennedy was shot?” she replied, a hint of incredulity in her voice, “I wasn’t even born. Neither was my mom and dad.”
I suddenly felt all of my full seventy-six years.
My “Sixties” actually began in 1959, the year I graduated from Wilkes College, where I had majored in extra-curricular activities. Nevertheless, in the middle of my senior year I had had a one-person exhibition of my paintings at The Everhart Museum in Scranton, Pennsylvania. For a young man from a small town across the river from Wilkes-Barre who had only been making art seriously for about three years, this was a big deal. I was sure my destiny was to be an artist. But first I had to experience a number of other jobs, which I must admit I didn’t try very hard at, and in a number of diverse locations.
In my early life, in the order they have occurred, as best as I can remember them, I have been: a stock boy, automobile repair shop assistant, sign painter, shoe salesman, men’s clothing salesman, summer stock actor, State Farm Insurance agent, designer of party favors, screen printer, and high school art teacher.
There were some high points. Working in the auto body shop, I learned to weld and after hours, made a series of steel sculptures, a few of which remain today, one in a museum collection. My “Whoopee Loot Bag” was a huge commercial success, sold in stores like Woolworths and stayed in production long after I had left the party favor company. As an artist for an outdoor advertising company in Miami, I had all the public swing-top garbage cans decorated to look like giant cans of Tropicana orange juice. This was years before Pop Art became the fashionable mode in the Big Apple. And teaching in Gettysburg High School, I had David Eisenhower as a student.
Leaving Gettysburg I went Mexico, thinking that there I might live cheaply on what I had saved. But the student art was so bad at the art school I had planned to attend that I left and drove to San Francisco, where exciting things were supposed to be going on. But, I couldn’t find anything interesting there, so headed back east. Why I went by way of Canada I cannot remember. At the time I had all my possessions and a young wife in my small car, an Austin-Healey Sprite.
I had a friend back in Pennsylvania, Thaddeus Rutkowski’s father, who at the time showed in a gallery in NYC and had gotten me accepted in several group shows there. Living near Wilkes-Barre, just two hours or so away, we often went down to “the city” on weekends. At the time the dominant art movement, Abstract Expressionism, was also referred to as, “The 10th Street School,” since most of the galleries that had shown this work in its early days were on East 10th Street on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. There was no place else I considered living. I would be on 10th Street.
Rutkowski, who had lived in Manhattan for several years, told me it wouldn’t be easy to find a place in NYC. I looked in the paper and immediately found a “studio” on East 10th Street, near Tompkins Square Park, just where I wanted to be. I rented it over the telephone, without even looking at it. After all it was a “studio” which was what I wanted. So naïve was I in those days that it was only when I got to the place with all my stuff and the super opened the door, did I discover that “studio apartment” was a euphemism for a small apartment that had the kitchen in the bedroom. But all was not lost. I moved in and the decision became one of the most fortuitous things in my early days in Manhattan, for reasons I shall relate in a later episode.
I signed up for some art classes at the New School: painting with Raphael Soyer, drawing with someone whose name I forget, and Aesthetics, with a professor who I remember well, except for his name. Although I was in the middle of the abstract expressionist’s neighborhood and my show at the Everhart Museum had been abstract paintings, I wanted something else. I wanted to paint “realistic” pictures.
I painted in the morning, worked at construction jobs in the afternoon, and went to classes in the evening. My wife, my first wife, worked as a doctor’s assistant. We occasionally hung out at an artist’s bar on Avenue A called Stanley’s, and frequented The Thomas Cinema, which showed experimental and indie films. One day driving down the East Side Highway, I had stopped to help a driver who was having car trouble. It turned out that the man was one of the owners of The Thomas. As a token of his appreciation for my help he gave me a lifetime pass for two to his cinemas.
I became very good friends with Raphael Soyer. One of the first things he told me was how to pronounce his name, explaining that he was not named after the great painter, but was a Jewish kid from New Jersey who preferred to be called “Ray-feel.” He came often to our apartment and did drawings and paintings of my wife and me. I also did a painting of him which you can see on my web site. My wife sometimes posed for his life drawing class.
Things were going well. I was learning a lot and making some nice paintings, quite different from the drip and splatter canvases that I had shown in Scranton. But money was becoming a problem. It is hard to believe that back then we were having difficulty paying the $85 per month rent.
The juried student show was coming up. Looking around I considered that my work was far superior to the other students, most of whom were not serious artists but house wives and professional men pursuing their hobby. I was sure that I would win one of the prize scholarships for the next semester.
Alas, it was not to be. My wife and I went to the opening only to discover that not only had I not won a scholarship, but also I had not even had my work accepted by the jury.
Raphael Soyer saw me standing there; he recognized the look of frustration on my face and knew what it was about.
“I voted for you,” he said. “But the two other jurors were abstract painters, so they rejected you.”
“But I need that scholarship. . . .”
“Don’t worry,” Mr. Soyer reassured me. “Go home and paint; I will come over and critique your work.”
* * *
About the author:
Stephen Poleskie is a writer and artist. His artworks are in the collections of numerous museums, including the MoMA and the Metropolitan in NYC, and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. His writing has appeared in journals in Australia, Czech Republic, Germany, India, Italy, Mexico, and the UK, as well as the USA. He has published seven novels, the most recent being Foozle Runs. He lives in Ithaca, NY with his wife the author Jeanne Mackin.
Web site: www.StephenPoleskie.com
* * * * *
August 29, 2014 Comments Off on Now and Then/Steve Poleskie
* * *
by Mark Levy
At the risk of putting you to sleep faster than my essays usually do, I’m going to discuss naps, those precious intervals of sleep during the day favored by the very young and, I’ve discovered, many older people including me. In fact, a recent Pew Research Center survey shows that one out of three adults takes a daily nap. More men do than women.
The Internet is full of advice about the advantages of napping during the work day and how to get the most out of your napping time at the office. Someone even invented an unofficial holiday called National Workplace Napping Day, to be celebrated the first Monday after the start of daylight-saving time each spring. The theory is you need a nap on that day more than any other day of the year to make up for the hour of sleep you missed the previous Sunday morning.
I would use that logic to argue for a nap the day after New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving Day, the Fourth of July, Academy Awards night, Superbowl Day, World Series Day (all seven of them), and even Flag Day for the excessively patriotic.
Of course, not all of us work in offices. Aren’t hospital workers, professional basketball players, and retail sales clerks entitled to a nap, too? If you operated a jack hammer, for instance, I think you should be able to take a short nap every day, which would be a relief not only for you, but for the rest of us within earshot.
Taking a nap during the workday has a number of advantages, the most important one being an opportunity to be more productive afterwards. But if you wake from a nap feeling groggy and grumpy, as I usually do, you might feel productive even if all you do is stumble your way to the bathroom.
Here’s another advantage of taking a nap when you should be working: you can make up for nap time by working late, thereby avoiding the evening rush hour, which is its own reward.
Frankly, though, as much as I appreciate workday naps, I find great pleasure also in napping during the weekend. For most of us, the weekend is for recuperating after a long week of whatever it is we get paid to do. Sometimes I’m so exhausted on Saturday morning, the first thing I do upon awakening is take a nap. That way, instead of merely sleeping in all morning I feel that I’m actually accomplishing something I can brag about on the rare occasion that I’m invited to a party that night.
Napping has been good for my marriage, too. My wife is always concerned about my well being, which is why she pesters me about any number of what used to be pleasurable activities. Lethargy in front of our TV and fried chicken come to mind. Her concern for me has certainly curtailed my unhealthy behavior. But by the same token, her abnormally strong desire to keep me healthy at least until our mortgage is paid off has actually resulted in my getting out of most physical tasks from drying dishes to mowing the lawn to attending those interminable grade school music recitals. All I have to do, after beginning the activity, is clutch my heart and make a funny face and I’m excused from completing the job.
I have to admit, though, I haven’t been successful at ducking all of those so-called concerts. I know what you’re thinking, but the kids’ performances are so dreadful, no one could sleep through them.
I’m in good company as a professional napper. Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein, and Thomas Edison advocated naps. So did Gene Autry, the singing cowboy, and Salvador Dali. And look what they accomplished.
Business people call them “power naps,” which elevates them to something more meaningful than what cats and dogs do at every opportunity. In fact, before the expression, “power naps” became popular, we used to call them “cat naps.”
The Mayo Clinic also thinks they’re a good idea for some people’s hearts some of the time. How’s that for a strong recommendation? Personally, I think that indicates the Mayo Clinic employs too many lawyers.
John Kennedy also used to take naps, or at least that’s what he told Jackie. I really have to hand it to Kennedy. If Marilyn Monroe had visited me at nap time, I’m not sure what activity I would have chosen.
About the author:
Mark Levy is Ragazine.CC’s “Casual Observer.” He is a lawyer, lives in Florida, and is an occasional contributor to National Public Radio where his columns can be heard some Saturdays around noon. You can read more about him in “About Us.”
Illustration by Walter Gurbo. You can read more about Walter in About Us.
August 29, 2014 Comments Off on Casual Observer/Mark Levy
And Then They Were Gone
It recently occurred to me that over the course of my life, I’ve known a number of people who committed suicide. I guess that at some level I understand how that could happen. There are some times when there doesn’t seem to be any practical way out of a bad situation that’s getting steadily worse, and which can’t be resolved in any other way. I suppose that scenario might be a reason for someone to take their own life. In my mind, those situations are few and far between, but in my experience, I’ve seen five cases involving people who I believed I knew relatively well.
The first, and perhaps the most difficult case for me to understand at the time, was a long time ago, in the 1950s’, involving a neighbor. He was an Assistant Professor at Ohio State, and taught classical languages: Greek and Latin. I was his paperboy, and occasionally shoveled his sidewalk during the winter. During the summer, I helped him with some gardening projects in his backyard, in a rather limited capacity. He lived five doors north of my family. I didn’t do all that much actual gardening with him, but I often sat and talked with him while he worked in his flower beds during the University’s summer breaks. I was interested in just about everything, and garden plants were on the list. Besides, I planned to attend the University, when I graduated from high school, in seven years. I had questions about that, too. I was still in elementary school at that time, full of curiosity, and quite willing to ask questions of adults willing to answer them for kids like me.
We talked about lots of things, but mostly flowers and other landscape plants. He also explained what he did as a language teacher, and what sorts of students attended his classes, and for what purposes. He told me that while he spent most of his time working with his students, he also had responsibilities to his colleagues, his department chairman, and in publishing scholarly papers on his areas of expertise in professional journals. This took quite a bit of explaining, to make a ten-year-old understand all those things, but he did a splendid job in my estimation. He also told me that he worried about the future of his area of academic instruction. This was during the first era of the GI Bill, and he felt that the returning WWII veterans didn’t seem to be particularly interested in classical language studies. They wanted degrees that could get them good jobs in the bustling peacetime economy. Gaining expertise in archaic languages didn’t seem to be one of those paths. He lamented this trend on several occasions.
He was married, and although I saw his wife looking down at us from up the hill in his backyard on many occasions, I never met her in person. When I did see her, she was always wearing a house coat. I never saw her outside their house. They didn’t have any children. If we were still talking at his lunch time, she called him in to eat, but never said anything to me, or seemed to notice me at all. It was, “Bob, lunch is ready,” and that was it for our discussion. Since I had a lunch of my own to eat at the other end of our block, that usually ended our visit for the day. Our get-togethers weren’t a daily event, by any means, but we chatted several times a month, and I thought I knew him fairly well. He never seemed to be particularly happy, but neither did he seem to be especially unhappy. At any rate, I was shocked to hear at the end of the school year that he’d committed suicide.
I overheard neighborhood adults say that he’d not gotten tenure, that his wife was mentally ill, that his department had been cut back, and a lot of other things. I don’t have any real facts to go on, as I said, and it seems that now I never will. It happened sixty some years ago, but at the time, I couldn’t understand why anyone would deliberately shoot themselves in the head. He did, though, putting a .38 revolver in his mouth, and pulling the trigger.
It was twelve or fourteen years later, in the 1960s, when I was a student at OSU, that the next one occurred. This suicide was a woman, about my own age. Her name was Rosie, and she was definitely mentally ill. She almost never seemed to smile. She wasn’t very attractive, and that didn’t help her, but she also had a domineering mother, who criticized her regularly and publicly. Rosie lived off and on with several roommates. As a group, we were very social. There was some low-end drug usage, beer and wine, and lots of parties. Rosie almost never had a date for any of the parties. She would periodically swallow a bottle of pills late into the event, and hurl herself down an upstairs stairway into the party. The pills were over-the-counter stuff, but required the local emergency squad to take her to University Hospital to pump her stomach. If speed dial had existed then, we would have had their number on it. Her roommates would notify her mother, of course. Rosie would go home for two or three weeks, get anti-depression medication and some trips to a psychiatrist her mother selected. Afterward, she’d reappear, and move back in with her roomies. She’d be alright for a few weeks, then she’d repeat the ineffective attempted “suicides”.
In subsequent performances, she’d wear a long white nightgown, and perhaps take all of her prescription medications beforehand. The results were always pretty much the same. Her roommates talked to her, her friends talked to her, her psychiatrist talked to her. Nothing seemed to work. Then, she found a fellow student who cared for her, and she seemed to get better. They moved in together, into their own apartment, rented for them by her mother. The group we were all part of gradually thinned out: people graduated, got married, went to other universities to get advanced degrees, took jobs in other cities,and in general, dispersed. Two years later, a friend (and member of our group), went into the hospital for minor surgery. As they were wheeling him down the hall, Rosie went past him going the opposite direction, also on a gurney. She’d shot herself in the chest.
We found out that Rosie’s relationship, for one reason or another, had fallen apart. She’d gotten despondent, and shot herself with a .22 revolver. Those of us who were still around visited her in the hospital, and tried to cheer her up, but our efforts didn’t have much staying power. A few months later, she shot herself again, and died as a result.
It was apparent then, what had happened. It was a combination of lots of things. She obviously had major mental issues, and eventually spun out of control. There were people who blamed her mother, who could be very harsh with Rosie, some who blamed her former lover. Some blamed the system that failed her. In the end, she was dead, and establishing someone or something to blame didn’t change a thing. I never thought of anything to do for her except feel sorry for her, which wasn’t much help. I guess I was partly to blame as well.
Janet was the tenant of a member of our group, rather than a regular member, but a few of us knew her from visiting our friend, Paul, who was her landlord. Paul lived in the same building. Janet was strange, perhaps bizarre, but she didn’t seem to be mentally ill, like Rosie. She was also fairly attractive, usually dressed in a costume out of Bizet’s opera, Carmen . She told me, as we drank a couple of beers together, that she had established numerous relationships with various men by offering them non-typical sexual acts as attractions. She described some of them to me in the University-area bar we were in. I had run into her there, late one evening, in the 1970s. I had come from an evening class I needed to take, to finish grad school at OSU. I wasn’t shocked by her catalogue of available sexual alternatives, so much as fascinated by her openness. They were extensive and imaginative sexual adventures, and she reeled them off like a car salesman talking about selecting options on a new car. It seemed almost as if she were chatting with me about recipes or the like, but I supposed she wanted to see if I had any interest in sampling some delicacy from her numerous areas of expertise. There were a few options that sounded interesting to me, I admit. The problem was that it seemed fairly likely that she might also provide some medical problems along with the frolics she proposed. I was also married. I declined, with some regret, but I declined.
About a year later, Paul told me that Janet had killed herself. She had filled her car’s tank with gasoline, and sealed herself in her mother’s garage, using duct tape. She taped the edges of the garage doors, and any other openings, rolled down the car windows, and started the car in park. It was an old car, and a cluttered garage. After she was dead, debris in the garage somehow caught on fire, and burned. The medical examiner said that she was dead before the fire started.
I don’t think anyone saw that coming, but I found out later that her brother had also committed suicide, presumably due to a serious drug addiction. I didn’t know him, but he left a suicide note, then took a massive overdose of heroin. He had died before I’d met Janet, so I can’t offer any further explanation of why, or even when. I didn’t include Janet’s brother in the five suicides I’m detailing, but it may have been a family predilection, and therefore, be a partial explanation of Janet’s suicide.
I spent a lot of time in Miami in the 1980s, in a rough section of town. I was rehabbing apartments in Columbus, Ohio, then, and took weeks at a time off to get some R&R between projects. I stayed in a room in a rooming house a pal owned, and along with another local friend or two, we took short vacations to Central America, and raised a lot of hell in Third World locations there. There was a property owner on the other side of the street I periodically lived on in Miami, who’d watch over our cars and my pals’ houses while we were away somewhere. His name was Gordon, and he was a Canadian: a good guy, and a good neighbor.
I’d drifted into a property management mode in Columbus, so my trips to Miami slowed down, substantially. Also, my Miami pal got married, and had started a family, so I didn’t have a traveling buddy living in Miami any more. I still talked to my chum there, of course, and one day he called me to tell me that Gordon had killed himself. He took an overdose of sedatives, and sat in his car with the engine running, with a hose conducting exhaust gasses into the drivers’ compartment. It turned out that he’d been diagnosed with prostate cancer, in an advanced stage. They gave him a couple of months to live, and he told a friend that he wasn’t going to die in a hospital. Gordon wasn’t crazy, he just decided to choose his own way to go, and to go on his own time.
Finally, at least so far, there was one more suicide: Harry. Harry lived across the street from me in St. Pete Beach, in the 1990s. He was a real estate salesman, doing sales of foreclosed VA loans, exclusively. He was divorced, and rented a home from a Canadian neighbor of mine, for eleven months out of the year. He kept the home clean, and provided a measure of security for the largely absentee owner, who only stayed there for the month of January. During January, Harry moved out, and stayed with a lady friend. His rent was nominal, and perhaps paid the property taxes on my neighbor’s home.
Harry was a friend. We’d talk on a regular basis about things, and sit down for a beer together once in a while. His boss was a real estate broker, who was also a friend to both of us. He didn’t want to work on VA repossessions, but if Harry did that for him, his boss earned a little bit of each commissionable sale. It was a comfortable situation for both of them.
I saw Harry out in his driveway one afternoon, and he waved me over. He said,“Bill, I trust you, and I’m going to tell you something I want you to hold in confidence for me.” I agreed at once. He told me that he had cancer that had spread to his lymph glands, and that he didn’t have long to live. I asked him how I could help, and he told me that he had a plan that he was going to put in place, when the pain got to an unacceptable level. The plan was that he’d go out for a fancy lunch on that day, and have a bottle of expensive wine. He’d pay by credit card, and would never see the bill for it arrive in the mail. On that same day, he’d call his boss, and tell him that he needed to meet with him at the home he was renting from the Canadian owner. He’d set a time for that to happen, and if there was any snag in the plan, he’d call me, and ask me to call the police to report that he’d committed suicide, just before he pulled the trigger. He told me that if I wouldn’t do that, he’d do it anyway, but he wanted his body removed as soon as possible after he shot himself.
There wasn’t much other than that I thought I could do. Harry was going to “eat a .38 bullet,” he said, whether I did what he asked me to do or not. If I ratted him out, he said he’d call me a liar. What he was going to do was exactly what he said he’d do, either way. I told him I’d be his backup, and call the cops if he needed me to. The door would be unlocked and there’d be a note on the kitchen table, he said.
A month or so later, the day before I was going to leave Florida and drive to Ohio for the summer an ambulance arrived, mid-afternoon, along with the St. Pete Beach Police, at Harry’s place. His boss, Byron, who had come over to meet with Harry, was sitting on a concrete bench on the patio, with his head in his hands. The ambulance attendants were carrying Harry’s body away. The cops had taken their photographs and written up their reports. I watched out of my window. I hoped that Harry had enjoyed his deluxe lunch before he lay down on the cot he’d put out in the hall, after he’d gotten the revolver out of the bedside table.
The next morning, I drove to Ohio.
August 29, 2014 Comments Off on Bill Dixon/From the Edge
* * * * *
The Life and Death
of Timothy T. Trout, Artist
* * * * *
by Bill Dixon
I met Tim Trout perhaps twenty-five years ago, while walking the halls of the Fine Arts Department at The Ohio State University, looking for a young Chinese artist I had just met at a group art show in the “Short North” Arts District of Columbus, Ohio. We were in the show together; I had liked his work, and asked if I could see more of it. We’d scheduled a date and time to meet and I’d arrived early, as I almost always do. As I was walking to the rendezvous, I noticed a gaunt, tormented-looking fellow sitting on a table in the hallway. He was studying me, peering over a copy of The Lantern, the OSU student newspaper.
He asked if he could help me find what I was looking for and we fell into a conversation about art. It turned out he was attending art classes at the University on a scholarship. I later learned he worked as a janitor and, therefore, was eligible as an employee to attend some classes for free. He chose art classes. We agreed to meet later when he could show me his art. He tore off a piece of the newspaper he had been reading and scrawled his name, Tim Trout, and his phone number.
My afternoon appointment showed up and I left Tim to his newspaper. I went with the Chinese artist to see his paintings in a location farther down the same hall where I’d met Tim. We had a good chat, but after review, I decided the two paintings in the show weren’t typical of his current work. I was collecting art then, as I still do, but didn’t really care much for these efforts. The prices he had on the ones I did like, back at the Short North gallery, seemed too high, and we never did do any business.
I ran a real estate sales and management company at the time and the mid-Fall quarter was traditionally a slack time. With little to do, I found myself a few days later calling Tim to see when we could get together. He was home, and told me to come on over. He was living in a tiny efficiency apartment above a popular Greek restaurant on North High Street, in Columbus. It was in a largely student-populated area. I found his door, and knocked. The apartment looked like a bomb had just gone off. There was a grubby mattress on the floor, open boxes of food scattered around, dirty clothes, empty bottles and cans, dirty dishes, junk and bags of trash here and there. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a roach scuttling to cover behind a stack of art materials. There were paintings everywhere, too. Some were hung, but most were strewn around the walls, leaned up, or set on top of his modest furnishings, which were mostly discards he’d found over time in the alley behind his apartment.
There was one chair in the room, a dilapidated, unsteady-looking armchair, that also held several of his paintings and a partial six-pack of beer, still held together by its plastic harness. Tim was sitting tailor-style on the floor, and gestured for me to sit down on an inverted plastic milk crate. I did so. We talked for some time. It became gradually apparent that he was either under the influence of alcohol or some other family of drugs, or just plain nuts. It also became clear, after several later visits and the passage of time, that it was probably all of the above. Well, I didn’t have any problem with any of those things. As a child of the ‘sixties, a time I loved, and about which I wrote what I consider my best book, I could deal with all those things. It was old hat for me and I felt right at home in Tim’s place. Alcohol, drugs and insanity? Hey, no problem, dude.
I purchased several paintings that day. Tim was fascinated by violent weather and many of his paintings depicted storms and natural disasters. There also was a little semi-nude, crudely self-framed painting titled, “Bustle.” It was reasonably priced and was the very first piece I bought from him. Loosely composed and colorful, every brush stroke was easily visible, bold and confident. There was no reworking or blending anywhere in the piece. Tim himself was not at all a confident person, however. He was, as a person, conflicted, unfocused and random. His paintings were the exact opposite of his outward persona. You could tell at a glance that he had painted rapidly, but with a vision of the final product in every stroke of his brush and in the application of every color he selected. It was amazing to me, his artistic creations were so totally different than his own outward appearance.
Several weeks later, I watched him paint a piece. It was a much larger work. He set the canvas on a crude easel he’d made from scraps of two by four lumber, and selected the oil paints to apply to his canvas, all in a rush, squeezing them onto his palette as if his life depended on the speed at which he worked. He attacked the canvas! He slashed and lunged at it in a frenzy, and I could see that in his mind, it was already composed as a finished work. It didn’t take him long to complete that vision. He used lots of oil paint, and it would obviously take some time for it to dry enough for him to seal it with damar varnish. He finished in a flourish, and turned toward me. For a moment, he was confident, bold and triumphant. Then he receded into his usual character again, a timid, disoriented fellow, weighted down and transformed by his troubles, doubts and fears.
Over the next few years, I bought more than two hundred pieces from Tim, and still have almost all of them. They’re in a temperature- and humidity-controlled storage facility, until I decide what to do with them, and when. Tim was what current parlance refers to as “high maintenance.” He never knew what day it was, or what time it might be, and as a result, he’d call me at three o’clock in the morning to tell me that he had some pieces that he wanted me to buy so that he could pay his electric bill, or deal with some other personal crisis that had presented itself. Transportation was a major problem with Tim. He called me in the middle of the night once to tell me that someone had stolen his bicycle. He was obviously drunk , or otherwise impaired when he called. The bike was his only means of transportation and obviously very important to him. I got him a replacement and soon after, took it to him. Within a couple of weeks, although I’d also furnished him with a bicycle lock, it went missing. A friend of Tim’s told me that Tim had lost any number of bikes. He’d get drunk or stoned and park his bike somewhere and by morning, forget where it was. I bought him three bicycles before deciding it was a problem I couldn’t fix.
I started arranging art shows for Tim, too. I’d even price his pieces. He’d forget about the show dates, and I’d end up hanging his shows by myself, after transporting his work in my van to the show. When the shows closed, I would haul them back to his place. Sometimes, he’d forget where the show was, and never visit. The extra money that came from sales at these shows didn’t benefit him. He’d drink up the proceeds, or buy various drugs when he had the ability and opportunity to do so. With liver problems or psychological swings, his visits to the hospital increased. It turned out that this wasn’t a new problem, just one I didn’t know about before, and the availability of the extra cash from sales of his paintings just shortened the time between hospitalizations.
Tim eventually acquired a similarly directed girlfriend. As unstable as Tim, she was younger and somewhat healthier, physically. They had met in a bar in the University area. He tried to protect her from her destructive proclivities, but that helped destabilize Tim further. She, like Tim, was also mentally ill, and would periodically cut him with a kitchen knife if they quarreled about something. It seemed that Tim couldn’t help himself and no one else could help him, either, as trips to the hospital became more frequent.
A friend and fellow patron of Tim’s, a professor at OSU, tried his best to help Tim out of his downward spiral, but the situation was hopeless. We kept one another up to date on the situation, but that was about all we could do. Then, disaster! A local bank sent Tim a credit card. He immediately used it to buy a broken-down car. Then, using his new credit card, he took the car to a garage to get it running. He had no driver license, of course, and shouldn’t have had one. Shortly thereafter, he parked the car in a bus stop to go into a bar, and it was promptly towed away. He thought it had been stolen and called the police to complain. Since he hadn’t registered the title, a further mess was created. Then he maxed out the credit card on the purchase of a new radial arm saw and an expensive violin he didn’t know how to play but appreciated its beautiful appearance. He set up the radial arm saw on the floor of his tiny apartment. He told me that “now, he could make his own frames and stretchers, right there in his apartment.” He would fire up the saw at all hours and cut wood that he found in the alleys. Neighbors in adjacent apartments complained to the landlord, who paid Tim, generally a month or two late on rent, a visit. There he discovered not only the source of the noise but a persistent roach infestation and promptly tacked an eviction notice on the door. Hapless Tim was terrified.
Somehow, Tim got reinstated, probably because cleaning out the place to re-rent it would have cost a lot, not including the time it went empty without income and would likely take two years to recoup the losses. The landlord took the violin and and radial saw in payment. But a couple months later, Tim called in the middle of the night to say he needed money desperately. Could I come over right away. He was being evicted again, and wanted me to buy the art he had left, specifying a dollar amount he needed as his price for everything left. He said he was going to stay with his mother in Marion until things straightened out. I drove to Tim’s place the next morning, and bought the last of his art, mostly works on paper. The place was crawling again and I offered to spray, but he told me he had acquired a cat to kill the roaches and was afraid roach spray would kill the cat.
I took the last Trouts to an unheated garage, sprayed, and let everything sit for the winter. I got word a short time later that Tim was dead. He never left Columbus; I suspect he never intended to stay with his mother, that perhaps that she didn’t exist, in Marion, or anywhere else. He’d made it one last time into University Hospital, where he died in his sleep, his suffering over. The last time I saw him alive, he tearfully said he was Jesus Christ, that “he hadn’t asked for the job, but would now have to die for the sins of others.” He showed me a new signature he would use on his art: “t.T.t.,” which would symbolize the three crosses at the crucifixion, and his Christian name, timothy T trout. He also told me his Indian name was “Little Trout,” and that he might begin using that signature on some “special” pieces.
Tim was a splendid artist, but so mentally unstable that unless he was institutionalized and drugged, he would continue to suffer the indignities and torments he experienced as a free man. He was in his thirties, I believe, and had somehow served in the United States Navy, on board ship. He implied the government gave him some sort of monthly income, on which he could survive, but you could never tell fact from fiction with Tim. Neither could he, I suppose. He described the world, on canvas, as accurately as he was able. It was a world of violent storms and unending tragedies, but sometimes, with graceful nudes who emerged from gardens of blooming flowers. I lived in a far different world, and tried to understand Tim’s world to the best of my abilities, as he had tried to understand mine. Sometimes, we both missed the mark. He was a good person, gentle and generous, loyal to his friends, forgiving of those who mistreated him. He was marooned in a frightening, alien world, finding power in the paint brush he used to communicate with his demons, and the small group of fortunate people who understood and appreciated his haunting messages. Paraphrasing Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Each day, do the best you can, and tomorrow, put it behind you.” I think, no matter how things turned out, that was what timothy T. trout attempted to do.
About the author:
Bill Dixon is a contributing columnist to Ragazine.CC. You can read more about him in About Us.
* * * * *
July 15, 2014 Comments Off on From the Edge/Bill Dixon
The Ultimate Responsibility
by Steve Poleskie
A reader of my previous columns wanted to know about the time I saved Peter O’Toole from being kicked out of a New York City artist’s bar. The majority of comments I got, however, were about my aviation opinions, so I will continue with that topic and save saving Peter for another time. Several people remarked that I had come down too hard on the pilots when, after all, a flight is rather a team effort. I couldn’t agree more.
An airline captain is not unlike the quarterback of a football team, who often takes the heat for a loss, even though he was sitting on the bench when the defense blew the game. One of the captain’s problems is that he often lacks information, some of which he is not given, or he has no access to, which is oftentimes vital to the completion of his flight. Nevertheless, according to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) it is the “pilot in command” who bears the “ultimate responsibility” for the safety of the flight. Unlike many general aviation pilots, the term applied to non-commercial aviation pilots, who often own their own airplane and therefore might have some “hands-on” experience, the airline pilot probably has little or no knowledge of the aircraft they are flying. How could they? An airliner is a vast and complex machine that requires many skilled, licensed mechanics to maintain.
When I took a course to prepare for my Air Transport Pilot written examination we studied for a test based on flying a Boeing 727 airliner. Many of the questions were about things like how many life jackets one should have on board. We were warned that one of the questions on the test, a weight and balance problem, did not have a correct answer in the multiple choices. If you got this problem on your copy of the exam, you should check the answer we were given and should not bother trying to figure it out. I got the question, and could not believe that the FAA would be so stupid as to give out a wrong answer, so tried to work out the correct answer. I could not come up with any of the numbers among the listed possibilities, so chose the one closest to what I had computed. This was incorrect. I scored a 98 on the exam.
The erroneous weight and balance was the only question that I got wrong. I did learn a few things about the Boeing 727 which made me never want to go on one. Most startling was the matter of how the pilot should use the “bleed air” function. It seems that when the 727 was being designed the FAA still allowed airplanes with only two engines to venture out across vast bodies of water. But in the middle of things the rule was changed. And so the designers hastily added a third engine, the one you can see stuck up on the tail. All well and good, except during the take-off. As the aircraft is rotated, just when it needs all the power it can get, the fuselage blocks the airflow to the engine mounted in the center. This is the time when the pilot should turn on the “bleed air” to suck a little oxygen from those two engines on the sides of the fuselage—hoping that there is enough to go around.
A few casual observations from the special course I went to in Norfolk, Virginia to prepare for the Air Transport Pilots exam. On the first break it was apparent there were three distinct groups here, ranked in their own order of perceived importance: the military pilots, airline pilots and finally general aviation pilots. There was also a group of black pilots wearing that knock-off casual wear that indicated it did not come from the country it was supposed to: for example “Brooklyn Yankees” jackets. As this group always seemed to keep to themselves, I decided to venture over and start a conversation. One of the men told me that they were captains for a Nigerian airline and flew from Lagos to London. Since they were in a class preparing to take the ATP exam, I asked how they could be captains without an Air Transport Pilot Rating. I still remember the man’s answer — told with a big smile, so I am not sure if he was putting me on or not: “Well, we were all co-pilots, and we had a big revolution in our country, and all the captains, they all supported the side that lost, so they were killed, and we became the captains, now we are here to get the proper license.”
Incredibly, for a group of high-time pilots who were about to become captains, I found some of the questions asked in the discussion periods rather basic. The kind of thing I picked up many years ago, when I was a model airplane builder. I have owned five airplanes in my life, but never more than two at a time. I’ve always worked on my airplanes, of course supervised by a licensed mechanic as required by the FAA. This is not unusual for an owner pilot. I am not saying that knowing how to fix an airplane makes you a better pilot, but it is helpful to know how things work. The airplane I used to fly airshows and aerobatic competitions, a Pitts Special bi-plane, I totally rebuilt myself, after buying it from a well-known stunt pilot in Nebraska. A fabric-covered airplane, I took it down to the bare structure, replaced the engine, propeller and other worn parts, recovered and repainted the components, and then reassembled and re-rigged the airframe, being overseen by a licensed mechanic of course, and having it passed by a FAA inspector.
Few people have experienced the sensation of going aloft for the first time in an airplane you have put together yourself. You wonder about the hundreds of bolts and screws, some in very key places, that you have installed with your own hands. In the air now, I proceed carefully. The takeoff and climb out were uneventful. Let’s try a few shallow turns; all well and good. Things are proceeding normally, but this is supposed to be a stunt airplane. I try a few rolls, beginning with a simple barrel roll. Next comes some aileron rolls: regular, slow, four-point, and eight-point. The airplane seems to be doing okay, but my timing is off, not having flown my Pitts Special since I began rebuilding it six months ago. Let’s try a loop. I line up with the runway, in this case Zeuhl Field, a private airport outside of San Antonio, Texas, which has a zone approved for aerobatic flight.
I can see about a dozen or so people standing outside the hangar where I assembled my airplane, some of whom helped me with it. They have come to see the test flight. Diving the airplane slightly to pick up speed, I watch for 140 MPH and haul back on the control stick, pulling about 4Gs. I want an easy loop, no sense ripping the wings off just yet. The airplane goes vertical and then over on its back. In the inverted position I relax the stick pressure so the loop will not seem egg-shaped. I play around a bit, doing Cuban-eights, Immelmans, and other maneuvers, feeling happy to have my bi-plane back in the sky. But the real test is yet to come — the spin.
I climb for more altitude. It is best to begin this maneuver high enough so you can use the parachute you’re wearing to bail out if the airplane won’t come out of the spin. Now a well-rigged aircraft should recover from a spin on command. But who put this airplane together? Me. I retard the throttle to fast idle, while gently pulling back on the control stick to raise the nose above the horizon. The airplane slows to stall speed, that speed at which the wings can no longer generate lift. I feel the stall buffet; this airplane has no stall warning horn like airliners do. Holding the ailerons neutral, I boot in full left rudder. The right wing comes up and the nose drops and the biplane falls off into a left rotating spin. The aircraft is pointed at the ground and beginning to revolve around its horizontal axis with increasing velocity. I only want one turn, so pop the stick forward and apply opposite rudder. The thing stops on a dime. Relieved, I climb back up to altitude and try a whole series, left and right, two and three turns, but I am not yet confident enough in the airplane to try inverted spins. I will save this for another time. I land, a little bouncy as I am out of practice, then taxi slowly up to my hangar and cut the engine. My friends greet me — they are as happy to see me as I them.
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About the author: Stephen Poleskie is a writer, artist and former aviator. He has flown in numerous airshows and aerobatic competitions and has a trunk full of trophies in his garage to show for it. He has held an Air Transport Pilot license. His artworks are in the collections of numerous museums, including the MoMA and the Metropolitan in NYC. His writing has appeared in journals in Australia, Czech Republic, Germany, India, Italy, Mexico, UK, and the USA. He has published seven novels, the most recent being Foozler Runs. He lives in Ithaca, N.Y., with his wife the author Jeanne Mackin. Web site: www.StephenPoleskie.com
June 28, 2014 Comments Off on Now & Then/Steve Poleskie
Steve Poleskie when he still owned two planes.
Do You Know Who’s in Your Cockpit?
by Stephen Poleskie
There is a widely shown TV commercial for a credit card company that begins: “Do you know what’s in your wallet?” I don’t imagine that we will ever see one for an airline asking: “Do you know who’s in your cockpit?” I think that most of the time they would rather we didn’t know. You go to the doctor and he has all his degrees framed and hanging on the wall behind him. But your pilots — all you know about them is what they tell you over the intercom: “Hello, this is your captain speaking; our time in route will be. . . .” Is this the little kid trying to grow a mustache that you saw pulling a cart through the terminal? He did have on a blue uniform with three stripes on his sleeve. I hope that he’s not the one who landed at the wrong airport last week.
I had begun writing this before Malaysia Airlines flight MH 370 disappeared. Now there is an extensive search going on for the Boeing 777 in the waters of the Indian Ocean. By the time you are reading this the wreckage will probably have been found. It will take much longer to determine what went wrong. I am not going to speculate, unlike the legions of experts called forth on the TV news/entertainment shows. I am only going to relate some of my experiences with airline pilots I have known and the training thereof.
So what do you know about it, you ask? Aren’t you some kind of artist turned fiction writer?
Yes, however, I did earn a pilot’s license, not just a Private, but an Air Transport Pilot’s rating. This is the top, as high as you can go, the Ph.D. of flying. It’s the piece of paper you need to become a captain on an airliner.
So where did I learn to fly — having made my comment above about the training of airline pilots? Well, full disclosure, I must admit that I, like most of the things I have done in my life, taught myself.
You can’t teach yourself to fly, you say.
I was in a flying school at the Tompkins County Airport. I had read about spins and wanted to do them. My flight instructor told me that the FAA had taken spins out of the curriculum because they were too dangerous. I asked him, how would you get out of a spin then — if you accidently got into one — if you had never practiced spin recovery? He said that the FAA’s emphasis was now on avoiding spin entries. After much urging by me, my instructor did agree to demonstrate a spin, which seemed to terrorize him, but rather fascinated me.
As I was signed off for solo flight, and as straight and level flying never held much interest for me, I would fly out to the practice area and do spins, left and right, sometimes as many as three turns.
Every now and then you had to have a progress check with the chief pilot, who also happened to be the owner of the flying school. As we were taxiing out, Mr. H pointed to the artificial horizon, an instrument used to tell you the attitude of the airplane when flying in the clouds. The instrument was inoperative. He ordered me to taxi back in. I argued that, as it was a perfectly clear day and we would have no need of the instrument there was no reason to postpone my check ride.
He informed me that I was guilty of performing an inaccurate pre-flight inspection and so had failed my check ride. He wondered why the instrument had failed – the gyro tumbled, were his words. I naively ventured that the gyro usually tumbled when I did a spin, but then it always seemed to come back.
“You’ve been spinning my airplanes!” Mr. H said in a fit of anger. “These airplanes are not meant to be spun. The FAA no longer requires spins on a flight test. You are a menace to yourself, and everyone around you. You have no business being in an airplane!”
And with that he kicked me out of his flying school.
There was a flying club on the other side of the field that also gave lessons; however, I was not a joiner, and had enough of meetings at the university where I taught. So I went out and bought an airplane, a Citabria, an aerobatic airplane that I could spin all I wanted and do loops and rolls and whatever else. I got the flight instructor at the field in Pennsylvania to sign me off for solo flight, and could go up in my airplane whenever I wanted, although I couldn’t take any passengers. I flew around for months solo, not only teaching myself how to fly, but also to do stunts.
What does my experience have to do with airline pilots?
Think about it. Thanks to the FAA the average airline pilot has probably never done a spin in an airplane. They may have done spins in a simulator — it’s a bit like shooting Zombies on your X-box — you can always turn the thing off if it gets out of hand. But when the nose of your airplane is pointed straight down, and the world outside the windshield is spinning faster and faster, and you’ve never done this for real before….
According to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, the U.S. regional airlines are facing a serious pilot shortage due to the low salaries they want to pay. Starting pilots at the 14 regional carriers average about $22,400 a year, with some paying as low as $15,000, which is about minimum wage. This means that they are hiring just about anybody.
A few years ago my friend Diane Ackerman, who has a pilot’s license, told me, almost in shock, the name of a person she had known as a student pilot who had been one of the pilots on the airliner she had just flown in on from Kennedy. Why had she found this so hard to believe?
When he was a student, the pilot, who I shall call George, which is not his real name, was sent on a solo cross country flight to Syracuse. Now for those of you not from upstate New York, I will tell you that when you take off from Ithaca on a clear day, which is only when students are allowed to fly, if you look north you can almost see Syracuse. And if your navigation radio fails you can follow Route 81, which will take you there, or Lake Cayuga, that will get you to the NY Thruway, which also leads you to Syracuse.
Somehow George missed all these clues and got lost. Not only did he not get to Syracuse, but he could not find his way home. George continued searching until he ran out of fuel and had to crash land in a farmer’s field. Now with a blot like that on your copy book one would think that there was no way that he would ever become an airline pilot, but there George was.
Back before 9/11, if one had a pilot’s license you could show it to the cabin attendant and ask for a “tour of the cockpit.” Now I thought with the new security rules cockpit visits were all over. But I just saw on the television that the copilot on the missing Malaysia Airline flight had several young ladies up to the cockpit on a previous flight.
Back many years ago I recall being invited up to the cockpit on a British airliner I was on heading for Freetown, Sierra Leone. The captain sent the flight engineer off and invited me to sit in his chair. And then, producing a bottle from somewhere, the captain asked me to join him in a glass of Sherry. I was surprised and naively asked him if British pilots were allowed to drink while on duty. He replied that as the co-pilot was flying the airplane he was officially “not on duty.”
We were having a nice chat. I asked him how they were navigating. He replied by reciting a long list of radio navigational facilities that were presently off the air, at the moment they were “dead reckoning,” which means basically heading in the direction that you think you should.
Fortunately, right about then, the copilot who had been sitting there ramrod straight — wearing his peaked cap and inchoate mustache — peering out the window announced, “Captain, the coast of Africa dead ahead, sir.”
The captain pivoted his seat around, and studied the large land mass that was emerging from the ocean in front of us. “Yes,” he said. “It looks like Africa. Take a right turn when you get there.” And with that he swiveled back and offered me another sherry. I decided it was time to return to the cabin.
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About the author:
Stephen Poleskie is an artist, and writer. His artworks are in the collections of numerous museums, including the MoMA, and the Metropolitan Museum, and his writing, fiction, and art criticism has appeared in many journals both here and abroad and in the anthology The Book of Love, (W.W. Norton) and been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He has published seven novels and taught at a number of schools, including: The School of Visual Arts, NYC, the University of California, Berkeley, and Cornell University. Poleskie lives in Ithaca, NY. website: www.StephenPoleskie.com, where you can find the photo above.
April 28, 2014 Comments Off on Now and Then/Stephen Poleskie
by Bill Dixon
I’m a guitar guy. Frankly, my guitar playing isn’t very good, but I love the instruments themselves, and I love to sing along with other voices. I bought my first guitar when I was thirteen, with money I earned working part-time in a neighborhood used bookstore, near The Ohio State University. The guitar was a wreck, and I’m sure that the pawn broker was glad to get rid of it for twenty bucks. He offered to sell me a dilapidated case that would fit it, for another five dollars. I told him I didn’t have another five dollars. All I had left was bus fare back to my neighborhood. He looked me over for a minute, and told me the case was on him. Astonished, I thanked him, and put my guitar into the case. Two of the four latches on the case worked, and I secured my prize. Riding home on the bus, I glanced at my fellow passengers periodically, as I proudly held my new guitar on my lap. I tried to look like a musician, but I don’t think anyone actually bought that.
In those distant days, they “taught” music in elementary schools, or at least the one I attended. Music class was once a week, and outside of recess, physical education and lunch, I think it was my favorite class. I saw lunch as a class, by the way. I got to meet, sit with, and talk to kids that lived too far away from my house to easily do so otherwise, and I moved around a lot at lunch, to do just that. In music class, about all we did was sing songs that most of the kids already knew, from exposure to them outside of school, although we also had songbooks we could refer to. We didn’t learn how to read music, or anything about music theory, but we all sang songs together, as a group. I loved singing with the other kids, so that was good enough for me.
As there would be in any group, there was lots of variation in each individual’s ability to carry a tune. Some kids were pretty good at that, but others were just not cut out for singing at all. Everyone eventually learned their musical limitations, without anyone actually having to tell them what those limitations were. That was long before building a student’s self-esteem was more important than teaching them to face harsh reality. As a result, the not-so-hot-singing folks of that era, as adults, only burst into song after having had entirely too much to drink. As I got used to singing in a group, it became apparent that if your voice could handle it, there were plenty of varying ways to sing a song. I experimented a lot with harmony, mostly because it added a degree of depth to the songs we sang, and it was different from what most of the other kids were doing. I prized individuality, and I could freely experiment with options, while I was singing with fifty or so other kids. I’d start out singing at a low volume, to see how my experimental option sounded in my head. If it didn’t turn out to be a successful experiment, I’d try out something else. If that was interesting, dead-on or particularly melodic, I’d increase my volume, and test it in different parts of the song, at volume. I should also point out that I had a big advantage in my musical education over most of the other kids.
At home, we had a huge, old, free-standing, wood-cased, Philco radio, located in my mom’s sewing room. Since she was a seamstress, she spent a lot of time there. So did I, before I was old enough to go to school. After I had started school, I stayed in during spells of bad weather or high pollen counts. I’d stay in the sewing room with my mom, and sing along with the songs on the radio and with her. That was because I was asthmatic as kid, and had to avoid the things I was allergic to, like pollen, so my sing-alongs happened fairly regularly. Mom especially liked The Weavers, and we heard them frequently on our favorite morning radio show in Columbus, Ohio. Those were sing-along songs, absolutely. Many of the songs they sang were originally written and sung by Huddie Ledbetter, more commonly known as “Leadbelly”. Leadbelly died in 1949, but his music lives on today. I especially liked singing along with “Rock Island Line”, ”Good Night Irene”, “Midnight Special” and other Leadbelly songs. The Weavers had a user-friendly harmony going on in their presentation, and it invited participation, as did the Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger songs they also sang. I participated, too. The Weavers’ voices weren’t intimidatingly professional: they sang just like us, and they sang for pleasure, I suspect, more than for money. You could hear that in their singing, even if you were just a kid. Anyway, those experiences helped me enjoy my later music classes. Everyone at my elementary school got a passing grade in music, by the way. In the process, however, you also realized whether or not you could carry a tune. Those group singing experiences hooked me on folk music and sing-alongs, and I’ve never gotten over it. I don’t want to get over it, of course. I enjoy it way too much.
After I got my first guitar, the beat-to-hell old Kay from a Columbus pawn shop, I started playing guitar with a friend, who knew how to tune and play a guitar. Once I gained enough skills to play a few songs, I practiced and practiced, until I could accompany myself. Once my fingertips were calloused enough to not ache or bleed, I started to learn a few additional chord progressions, and added some more songs to my repertoire. Part of the skills advancement process involved sneaking into coffee houses and campus-area bars, to listen to folk singers who were playing there, and learning their songs. You had to be eighteen to be in a bar, and I was two or three years away from that. It was a year or more until I got confident enough, and worked up the courage to start playing and singing on open-mic stages in the two coffee houses across the street from the University. In one of the coffee houses, The Avant Guard, or was it The Sacred Mushroom? I’d made enough surreptitious visits to both, that I became a fairly familiar face to some of the people who showed up regularly. That made it a little easier, but getting up on a stage in front of people and performing for them was a fairly daunting task for me. The crowd consisted mostly of old hippies or Folkie wannabes, equipped with beards, black turtlenecks and Camel cigarettes. They were a pretty easy group to please, comparatively speaking. Maybe they were just being kind to an earnest kid.
About everyone performing there was fairly amateurish, with the exception of Phil Ochs, who was a Journalism student at Ohio State. He was very good indeed. He always seemed to be wearing a mid-length black leather jacket, grubby Levis and be badly in need of a shampoo. He looked the part. As a secret high school student, masquerading as a college boy, I was way too clean-cut looking to pass as a genuine Folkie. Phil was doing some real gigs, where he actually got paid to perform, and he was writing his own songs. It was probably my imagination, but it seemed to me he saw through my thin disguise. He wasn’t a very friendly guy, so outside of a comradely nod of my head, as we saw each other, there was no additional communication. I don’t recall him ever nodding back to me. Actually, I don’t remember him talking to anyone else at the coffee houses either, but he’d thank people as a group, for their applause after each of his beautifully-crafted songs concluded. He always came in just at his scheduled time to sing, and he always left as soon as he finished his last song. It wasn’t too long afterward until I heard that Phil had headed for New York, and I never saw him in person again.
This brings me to what inspired this article. As I said, I’m a guitar guy. I collect guitars, and in the process of buying them, sell or trade the ones I decide I don’t want to keep, to other guitar deviates. I wrote a book about that a few years ago. In a recent pursuit of a cache of stringed instruments I heard about in St Pete, Florida, where I live in the winter, Phil Ochs surfaced again, but not in the flesh. He’d committed suicide years before, sadly. The collection of stringed instruments contained all sorts of things. The former owner had died, and the person liquidating his estate sold me all the stringed instruments and associated items as a lot; guitars, mandolins, ukes, lap steels, accessories, books, and so on. In the load of stuff I ended up with, I found a single copy of “Sing Out,” a magazine devoted to folk music. It was dated March 1965. On the cover was a photo of Leadbelly, clutching his twelve-string Stella guitar, and looking menacing. The lead story in the magazine was about him. Inside, there were lyrics to “Draft Dodger Rag” one of Phil’s songs, copyrighted in 1964, and a couple mentions of Phil in one of the minor articles. In that issue, Bob Dylan quotes, stories and news seem to be widespread in the magazine. It gave me the impression that Phil’s career was already fading in 1965. Hell: he got to New York before Dylan did, and had a much better voice! I then went to U-tube, and listened to Phil sing some of his songs, but those performances were mostly duets done with other folkies. He still needed to wash his hair, in the U-tube photographs and film strips, I noticed. The whole thing made me sad, although I already knew Phil’s story. I really liked his stuff, and I played and sang lots of it, over the years. Here was Phil resurfacing again, in an old magazine, and it brought back memories from a time long gone. As I listened to the music, I closed my eyes, and drifted back to the Avant Guard, and the Sacred Mushroom until the songs were over. So long again, Phil, from the flat-topped, high school kid back in the corner, with the black turtle neck and the raggedy old Kay guitar.
I guess that my life-long association with folk music and singing along with other like-minded souls is going to stick with me for as long as I’m around. I’m still singing and playing guitar with my friends here in Florida, during the winter, and with my Maine friends in the summer, every chance I get. When my old roomie and singing partner, Bob, makes his way to my door, or I to his, in San Diego, we go right back to the stuff we did all those years ago. We always pretend to argue about whether we called ourselves Bill and Bob, (my recollection), or Bob and Bill, (his). We played in the University area bars, mostly, when we were students, but when we visited one of our other guitar pals in Michigan, we also played in a saloon there, later in life. We only had one constant fan there, a rather peculiar lady, who knitted while she sat in the front row center chair. She never gave any sign that she noticed us, just clicked away with her knitting needles, but she always showed up. She concentrated on her knitting, and never said a word. Still, a fan is a fan, and as such, should be treated as a jewel, resting on the cushion of gratitude.
When I was playing guitar and singing with other people who sang and played along, I was always completely and perfectly happy. In my estimation, singing together as a group is a very intimate experience: much more so than almost anything else. There’s a mutual sense of purpose and communion, and in my case at least, no small amount of joy. There’s no reserve. You give it all you’ve got. Still, there’s no disappointment when you can’t reach a note or flub one, miss a word or even a verse. You’re all in it together, and that’s the real harmony in music. I’m going back to U-tube now, and sing a song with Phil Ochs, again. A little later, maybe I’ll travel, by mental time machine, to the Avant Guard, or the Mushroom, and do the open mic night show. “Thanks for listening, folks”, and I’ll say to the crowd, after my first song, and when it’s my turn to do another, “Now, let’s all sing one together. I’ll bet everyone knows ‘Hard Travelin’, by Woody Guthrie.”
Everyone will know it, and we’ll all sing along…. Together.
About the author:
Bill Dixon is author of Disorderly Conduct, a book about the group he hung with in the 1960s at Ohio State, and Guitar Collecting, a niche book about building a collection with minimal investment. Besides being a writer, his varied background includes artist, bank CEO, teacher, bartender/bouncer, zoo keeper, iron worker, political campaign manager, musician, real estate manager and smuggler of Russian Icons out of Eastern Europe. He spends his time these days pretty much between Maine and Florida. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
April 28, 2014 Comments Off on From the Edge/Bill Dixon
Library of Congress Collection
by J. Palombo
There are a number of problems facing the country today and the “deep state” topic underscores this point. A special thanks to Henry Giroux for his contributing piece, the important considerations he raises speak for themselves. Enjoy the provocative reads and as always your comments and questions are most welcome.
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The term “deep state” refers to a political agenda that operates by means of a deep-seated allegiance to nationalism, corporatism and/or state interests. A simple Wikipedia search will show that the term has its history tied to the Turkish military that controlled political leadership there in the last century. One might notice its current use particularly in the context of the Egyptian military’s powerful control of the political and economic processes in that country. The reach of this control extends into actual business interests/investment in water, gas, tourism and other economic enterprises, investments that translate into political influence on a variety of levels. And, given the covert and overt measures that are used to maintain this power, it appears impossible to escape the policy objectives tied to the military interests, no matter who gets elected or what political ideas are presented to the people.
Of course this all points to a perilous situation, which is evident in what we see happening in Egypt today. This “deep state” of affairs brings to mind our own concerns regarding what President Eisenhower first termed as the military industrial complex – where the development and maintenance of a large military as well as war itself happens with a focus on profit rather than on security interests. Although clearly a danger in terms of both political and economic agendas, there is a difference in the Egyptian circumstance. This is primarily so as the military there is more in a position to wield power over the political processes via its direct economic interests/investments. Nonetheless, the comparison is certainly a point to reference.
Having made the “deep state” concept clear, I would like to present its application in another way, one not often considered but one which could be argued is as damaging as the one referenced above. To begin, let me note that over the past quarter century I’ve been involved with attempting to bring to the attention of the American public the fact that we have not adequately come to grips with the nature of our capitalist identity. This effort, rising out of my own personal and professional experiences with our “American experiment,” has involved writing books and articles, holding discussions with both public and private individuals and groups, integrating related material in classroom lectures, developing a website and reaching out to hundreds of people and organizations on both sides of the political spectrum involved with trying to make America “a better society.” Now one might think that this effort wouldn’t result in any grand struggle, after all it’s obvious that almost all we do and consider, in both public and private venues and across all of our institutions, is tied to market-related, capitalist variables. But, even though I’ve gotten a fair share of positive encouragement (no one has dismissed the importance of what’s being referenced) it has been/continues to be a grand struggle indeed.
This has happened in large part due to our understanding that the country most predominantly represents a democracy, which to some extent is true. But we are also very much linked to the elements of capitalism – in fact we are the most advanced capitalist system in the world. Yet, outside the language of it being a free market, supply and demand system, we tend not to discuss capitalism in its fullest content (including its critical analyses) nor with any national consistency, even given its significance. Therefore, even though the influence of capitalism is evident on every level of our society (consider work, the media, the law, politics and daily personal decisions just to name a few) we are left in situation where there is ignorance and confusion over what this might actually mean. And of course this has a significant effect on our ability to understand and address both national and international concerns. (And it also hampers our ability to comprehend what other countries might be doing.)
In essence then there is a gap in our understanding relative to measuring our country in terms of the practicalities of capitalism as opposed to the ideals of democracy, a gap which makes the work focused on making America a better nation more difficult than it already is. Take for example the work designed to address social issues like crime, employment, education, and poverty. In an “unaware atmosphere,” it makes it very difficult to first offer analyses of the problems and then to discuss any meaningful ways to rectify those problems. In effect, we seem to be existing one step above where the rubber actually meets the road, talking and working around concerns that should be clearly on the public table of understanding. And at the same time, we remain in a state where we are virtually controlled by economic elements without having the requisite information to understand the nature of this control. So it’s this combination of “the gap” and the simultaneous unwillingness to attempt to close it that gives rise to our version of “deep state.” (A fair comparison to trying to understand the country without talking about capitalism is trying to understand baseball without talking about the pitcher and the catcher. Leaving either mechanism unattended is simply nonsensical!)
It might occur at this point to ask, how did this circumstance develop? In other words, how is it that a country so tied to the advent of modern capitalism could have a public so shrouded in mystery as to what this actually means, enough so that the “deep state” analogy could make sense? Well, there are several explanations and they are intricately tied to why there is such a struggle to bring the definitions of capitalism to the public table. It might be that, as Karl Marx suggested, a capitalist system grows so exploitive of the general public that those with the power will do anything, including deceiving others and manipulating the truth, to avoid “letting on” what is happening. For the most part this would help explain the “elitist” control of the wealth/power in our country as well the continuing vagaries of political and economic discussion that surround this control. (This raises the possibility that talking about democratic ideals is a ruse to cover the practicalities of capitalism.) Yet as easy as this “conspiracy” is to internalize, it seems difficult to accept, particularly as the sole explanation for our current situation.
In other words, taking into consideration our fortunate history, and given the substantial accomplishments as individuals and as a country in that context, it is fair to propose that we, as a public, simply came to believe too strongly in our democratic and economic freedom. In this light our spirit, energy and our prosperity became so ignited and fueled by our democratic and free market ideals that, even amidst our struggles (issues regarding equality via the civil war, the labor union struggles and the civil rights movement come immediately to mind), there appeared little room for seriously integrating alternative thought, especially thought that could be critical of what we so steadfastly believed. (It is important to note here that in terms of public awareness, a substantial part of our capitalist identity developed consistent with an animosity toward and outright fear of communism, particularly in the post World War II years. And this, especially coupled with our post-war successes, proved to create an environment where developing a coherent and legitimate dialogue about capitalism seemed virtually impossible. On this point keep in mind that the concepts of socialism and communism grow out of Karl Marx’s critical analysis of capitalism. This means that it is an analysis that contributes to meaningful discussion about capitalism as well as socialism and communism. Yet a good number of people who don’t know any better tend to characterize those who discuss this significant analysis in terms of unpatriotic Marxists who want to turn American into a socialist or communist state. This is a ridiculous overstatement to say the least. Nonetheless, it is a notion that remains strong enough to have supported the fear that continues to stymie legitimate public discourse.)
So, in this light it can be argued that we, the public, cannot escape assuming a portion of the responsibility for our “deep state” state of affairs. This is especially so as we seem to be continuing on this course of ignoring what we see happening around us. Even with articulating things like: “the acknowledgement of ignorance paves the road toward wisdom” and espousing efforts that encourage “creative and outside-the-box” thinking, and emphasizing across the political and academic spectrum that we need to have more civically aware/responsible citizens, we remain stuck in terms of coming to grips with our own reality.
It hard to believe that we can/will stay in this “the world is flat” mindset much longer – the obviousness of the current economic crises as well as the poor market controls speak for themselves. Also, the continually developing growth models, like that of China, are pushing serious and long-term looks into the nature of capitalism. Said another way we, as a public, can hardly avoid taking on the task of examining all aspects of capitalism, especially given the issues and concerns we/the world must all face. (The recently released book by Orville Schell and John Delury, Wealth and Power – China’s Long March to the 21st Century, is a compelling review of what China has and is doing in terms of developing its current growth model. Suffice it to say, we could learn from/ borrow some important considerations from what is presented by the authors.)
Obviously the task ahead of us won’t be easy, especially in the sense of owning up to our own shortcomings. Yet there is a way to make the effort a bit easier to undertake. In essence, we can begin our work by recognizing ourselves as a young country, one whose history has been touched with great fortune, one that has allowed us to prosper to almost unparalleled levels of success. And like we would encourage any young person who has been so fortunate, we must be willing to assume more of the responsibility that should come with that good fortune. In other words, it’s time for us to grow up, to admire our accomplishments while also acknowledging the requisite responsibilities we must embrace as we move on. And in this context, whether Republican or Democrat (or whatever), this will demand that we take a hard look at our connection to capitalism, both on its own and its relatedness to democracy. There is simply no other way around this – it’s as clear as reminding ourselves that to make things work better, we must first understand how things work.
In a previous column, I noted several organizations that are currently at work asking the question, “What will it take for our democracy to work?” Implied in this question is the idea that we have to examine the elements that might be in the way of this happening. Of course, what we find out may not alter our course (hopefully it will) but we will at least be able to lay claim to the notion that we can make informed decisions regarding the pressing problems we face. In this light, I am hoping to continue to work with organizations like the National Issues Forum and the Kettering Foundation to integrate the concerns noted above with their mission of making our country better civically skilled through education and civic dialogue. As always, I promise to keep you posted as to what develops whatever the outcome. And on this point I hope that you too will do your best to be involved with how we might come to better understand our collective selves. For instance, simply asking those in the political or economic arenas or those in academia about these concerns would certainly help contribute to the motion we need to generate. Whatever course of action you take, consider that it may be up to the next generations to come up with better systems/models than those currently in use – but it is no doubt our responsibility to help dig us out of the hole we have, unwittingly or otherwise, helped create.
About the author:
Jim Palombo is politics editor of Ragazine.CC. You can read more about him in About Us.
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Jonathan Kelham Illustration
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March 1, 2014 Comments Off on Deep State/Politics-Jim Palombo
by Stephen Poleskie
So, I have been invited to write a column for Ragazine, a task I have tentatively accepted, as I, having reached the age of 76, rarely get invitations for anything anymore. Well this is not exactly true—what I should say is that I don’t get many invitations that I am willing to accept. I do get plenty of invitations from people in Nigeria and other exotic places to participate in dubious money transfer schemes. Not that I couldn’t use an extra 26 million dollars. So let me begin.
“Wait!” you say, “You’re 76 years old? What is the demographic of this here Ragazine? If I wanted to read the AARP magazine I would be reading the AARP magazine.”
“So what if I am 76?” I respond.
“So what! Did you ever take a course in writing? You’ve used the word ‘so’ four times in your first three paragraphs. That’s bad form old man.”
“But the last ‘so’ was uttered by you.”
“Words you put in my mouth. Who the hell are you anyway?”
“I’m not really sure myself. You can go to Google, type in my name, and there will be pages of references to things that I have done — along with a lot of pop-up advertisements. Or you can try Wikipedia. . . .”
“Look, if I wanted to go searching the web, I would be searching the web, not reading this article.”
“Then you have the advantage over me. You can stop reading this article any time you want— and I am honored by your attention. I, however, cannot stop writing until I have finished at least 1000 words.”
“So, who invited you to write this column anyway?”
“There, you’ve got it!”
“Got what? . . .”
“Unless you were born yesterday, which I am sure you were not, you are well aware that talent and ability gets you nowhere in this world unless you know the right people. And, knowing the right people can get you much further than talent and ability — look at Jeff Koons, for example.”
“That’s what people used to call him, until he married a famous Italian porn star named Chica something or other, who had been elected to the Italian parliament. He went farther to go further.”
“What do you mean? . . .”
“Jeff went all the way to Italy. Anyway, you must know the difference between farther and further; although most people today don’t — including some who write texts for TV commercials. A certain model of Ford automobile is praised in an ad on television for its good gas mileage, which gives it the ability to go ‘further’ than some cars manufactured by Ford’s competitors.”
“It should have been farther. Farther refers to physical distance, as in: When the car runs out of gas, it can go no farther. Further is used to express degree or intent, as in: Let us pursue this discussion no further.”
“You are correct . . . and very clever. Thank you!”
“Thank me for what?”
“. . . for helping me develop what I think should be the main focus of this column, that being education and discussion. People are getting stupider day by day, and no one seems to care. Not that I say I am perfect, but at least I try. Listen to the speeches of our politicians, read the newspapers. A caption under a photograph in an Ithaca newspaper a few days ago was of a man who had one, o-n-e, the baking competition. And that was just one example. Are there no proofreaders anymore?”
“It should have been w-o-n.”
“U R rt, as the text message would say, I think, never having sent a text message. Text message speech seems to have invaded the language.”
“You have never sent a text message? . . .”
“You forget that I am 76 years old. I broke both my hands many years ago in a motorcycle racing accident, now I have arthritis — my fingers don’t work so well. I can’t tap those tiny keys like kids do nowadays . . . especially while I’m driving a car.”
“Have you ever written a column before? . . .”
“Many years ago, probably before you were born, perhaps before even your parents and maybe your grandparents were born . . . sixty years to be exact.”
“Sixty years ago! What was it about? . . .”
“I was in high school, the class artist; I designed the covers for the school newspaper and drew the cartoons. My chief rival was a boy named Eugene. He was considered the class writer.
“The school newspaper had a feature called ‘The Phantom,’ kind of a gossip column that was written anonymously. It was a well-kept secret who the author of this column was. Now imagine my surprise when, at the start of my junior year, Mrs. D, the faculty advisor for the newspaper, took me aside and asked me confidentially if I would like to be The Phantom. I probably should have refused, as then, as now, I was rather reclusive and not party to all the gossip and intrigue The Phantom normally penned in his/her column. However, Mrs. D reasoned that, as the previous Phantom had graduated and any new person showing up around the newspaper room would be noticed, I, who was not only the artist but also did most of the dirty work, like cranking on the handle of the mimeograph machine, and so was quite often around, would not be suspect.
“It went well for the first two issues. I kept my ears more open and picked up on some of the school gossip and did my ‘phantom’ thing adding, I must admit, a bit more fiction that was expected of me.
“There was one student who suspected my role — it was my rival Eugene. He was the class ‘writer’ and resented the fact that it might be the class ‘cartoonist,’ who was writing this popular column rather than him. He took every opportunity to get me aside and question me. But I would not reveal my secret.
“It was in the third column that I made my fatal mistake. I reported on an incident that had happened on the Pringle bus, the one I rode home. At the time it was a big deal. I mentioned that Tony B had tried to kiss Margie K in the back seat. Now-a-days we would have Margie performing fellatio on Tony and nobody noticing, or the stoned bus driver running over the crossing guard and dragging him/her for three blocks while the riders cheered. But, as I said, back then a stolen kiss was big news.
“Eugene jumped on this piece of information like a KGB agent in heat. No one, other than me, who rode the Pringle bus, had anything remotely to do with the school newspaper. He deduced that since I knew this tidbit, and had revealed it, I had to be The Phantom. He confronted me with this fact, but not before having first whispered it all over the school. Mrs. D called me in. My cover was blown. Starting with the next issue Eugene would be writing The Phantom column.”
“So what are you going to write about for Ragazine? . . .”
“Well . . . I have a number of ideas, if I get beyond this first venture, mostly things from my past: NYC gangsters I have known, what I taught Andy Warhol about screen printing, drug dealers who made it big in real estate, hanging out with The Mercury Riders motorcycle gang in the Bronx, the night I saved Peter O’Toole from being kicked out of Max’s Kansas City, drinking sherry in the cockpit with the captain while over the Atlantic on a flight to Africa — all little anecdotes that I hope will be educational and entertaining. You can leave a comment below if you have any suggestions. Best wishes, and thank you for the read.”
About the author:
Stephen (Steve) Poleskie is an artist, and writer. His artworks are in the collections of numerous museums, including the MoMA, and the Metropolitan Museum, in New York. His writing, fiction, and art criticism has appeared in many journals both here and abroad, in the anthology The Book of Love (W.W. Norton), and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He has published seven novels. He has taught, or been a visiting artist, at 27 schools, including: The School of Visual Arts, NYC, the University of California, Berkeley, MIT, Rhode Island School of Design, and Cornell University. He lives in Ithaca, N.Y. More information can be found on his website: www.StephenPoleskie.com
March 1, 2014 Comments Off on Steve Poleskie/Now & Then