Thursday, July 31, 2008

Dope Roundup

And marijuana nostalgia.

In honor of the announcement today that stoner comedy duo Cheech and Chong are going to reunite let's talk about dope. I don't get high anymore, but I sure as hell used to, and I'll always take an interest in whatever's going down on the high side. As Ken Kesey used to say near the end of his life whenever someone asked him whether he was still a Merry Prankster, "Nobody quits dah mob alive!"

The use of drugs for recreational or mind-expanding or otherwise non-medical purposes is not without risk. But how dangerous is it, and which drugs are the most risky? A new study by the The Academy of Medical Sciences starts from scratch in evaluating the relative harm of various commonly used drugs, and did not exclude alcohol and tobacco.

The new system was based on the first scientific assessment of 20 legal and illegal stimulants used in contemporary Britain.

Alcohol was rated the fifth most harmful drug, ahead of some current class A drugs, while tobacco was listed as ninth. Cannabis, currently rated a class C drug, was below both those legal stimulants at 11th.

The MPs said including alcohol and tobacco in the classification would give the public "a better sense of the relative harms involved".

What is interesting is that marijuana, LSD and Ecstasy rate lower on the danger scale than alcohol and tobacco. Personally I think that the only reason alcohol and tobacco are legal is cultural, we have traditionally used them in the past. However, if we were starting from the beginning in devising which drugs would best be made legal for recreational use the way alcohol and tobacco are today, I believe we would dismiss legalizing alcohol and tobacco out of hand as being far too dangerous. Logic would dictate that the drugs that should be legal are marijuana and the psychedelics, and when we are a wiser society than we are today, those are the drugs we will make available while making alcohol and tobacco against the law.

Roman is a student who works with us at the Amherst Survival Center. Today was his last day before leaving to spend the rest of the summer traveling.

Sheesh, the kids these days live a lot better than I did when I was their age! However they do not have the righteous herbs at the reasonable prices my generation did.

I used to have this dealer who lived in the neighborhood behind Duggan Jr. High School in Springfield. He was a biker about ten years older than me with a beautiful blond wife and the finest sticky icky primo kush in the Acres. Let's say his name may or may not have been Leon.

One day when I was around 19 years old I walked over Leon's unannounced to pick up some weed. That was fairly common for me to do and it was a night when I knew Leon was usually home. However, when I got there and rang the front door no one answered. Yet there were lights on in the house and I could hear a TV. Then I recognized a splashing sound coming from the backyard.

Leon had a beautiful swimming pool in his backyard with a nice big deck. No doubt his dope dealing had helped pay for it. Walking around the back of the house I saw Leon's wife swimming in the pool. She was totally nude.

I tried to sneak away without being seen but she spotted me and cried out a friendly and hearty greeting. "Hey Tommy, where ya goin'? C'mere!" She laughed when she saw how awkward I was about the circumstances. "Whatsa matta, Tommy? Ya never seen a naked lady before?" She was laughing at me thinking I was some shy virginal kid, unaware that ever since I was thirteen or so I'd been one of the best fucked kids in Pine Point, only it wasn't with girls.

I went over to the edge of the pool, where she was frolicking bareass with no inhibitions, putting on a bit of a show for me. If I'd been straight, I would've been thanking Jesus and all the saints. As it was I just told her I was hoping Leon was home so I could score some weed.

At the sound of Leon's name she frowned. On some occasions when I had come over I had witnessed them sniping and even yelling at each other. Most often she accused him of being a no-good drunken stoner and he in turn would accuse her of being a no-good cheatin' tramp. One time when Leon wasn't there his wife had sold me some weed and we had talked a bit and she said that she would leave Leon but for the money he made between dealing and working at a motorcycle shop on Bay Street. Me, I tried to stay completely out of their marriage troubles, since I wanted nothing to go down that would interfere with my access to their magnificent marijuana.

"Leon's still at the shop," his wife explained, "I'll get you some herb but hold on will you? I mean what's the rush? Why don't you get undressed and take a little dip?" I might be queer but it was hot and the water looked inviting and hanging out with Leon's wife was always fun. So I climbed up on the deck, got nude, and dove into the water.

The wife stopped her little aquatic nudie show once I was in the pool with her, and we just sort of horsed around like kids. There was a beach ball in the pool, and I kept chasing her and bombarding her in the head with it, as she squealed with laughter trying to get away. It was as innocent as two children at play. But who knows what would have happened if our nude water romp had continued much longer. Neither Leon nor his wife knew I was gay, so perhaps she might have made some type of move on me at some point, us being together naked and all. Ya just never know. But our play came to a dead stop at the sound of a stern voice.

"What's the fuck is going on here?" Only it wasn't asked in the tone of a question, but in the tone of one who is very certain of what is going on, and is very, very angry. There on the deck stood a man with a goatee, shirtless but for a leather vest. It was Leon, and he was standing with his legs spread and his hands hanging at his side. In one of those hands was a gun.

I was paralyzed with anxiety. I don't think I pissed in the pool, but if I did it was understandable. I was not reassured when Leon's wife broke the terrible silence by speaking and I could hear a tremble of real fear in her voice. "Leon, honey," she said, genuinely pleading. "Baby, it's not what you think!" Thus far Leon had ignored me, never even looking in my direction. Instead he slowly raised the gun to point in the direction of his wife. "NO!NO!NO!" she screamed, in a tone I had never heard before outside of a horror movie.

Then for the first time Leon looked directly at me, his eyes burning into mine. I did not shit in the pool, but if I had it would have been understandable. Leon winked. Then he laughed. He laughed and laughed. Nervously his wife softly giggled. So did I only louder. Then we all laughed, louder and louder. Leon was fooling. Leon was just playing with us. Leon got undressed and jumped in the pool. Later his wife got out and cooked steaks for us, standing naked by the grill. We sat around the picnic table nude, eating and drinking and smoking the righteous weed, as if two of the three of us there hadn't seriously believed, at least for a moment, that this would be our last night on Earth.

I remember the various kinds of marijuana I used to buy in the old days. These are the types of herb that were most common in the Springfield area in the 1970's and early 80's.

Columbian - The standard high quality weed. Whether it actually came all the way from Columbia or not I have no idea. Probably, because that's where all the coke was coming from. I kid you not, I remember paying Leon thirty dollars for an ounce bag of Columbian buds.

Mexican - Sometimes called ragweed, no one wanted to buy standard Mexican weed, which was harsh and had only a mild buzz. Still, I found myself buying it when nothing else was available. In the words of those wise philosphers, The Furry Freak Brothers, "Dope will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no dope."

Jamaican - A step above Mexican, but of unreliable quality. When it was good it was very good, but you could also get burned.

Michoacan - Sometimes called "lambs breath" because it was supposedly as gentle on the lungs as the breath of a baby lamb. I thought it was overrated, and have you ever actually smelled a lambs breath? Neither have I, but I'll bet its nothing too pleasant.

Thai Stick - Did it really come from Thailand? Who knows, but it sure was powerful and tasty, coming wrapped around a thin reed. You had to be careful, there was some versions that were Mexican ragweed dipped in the animal tranquilizer PCP.

Opium Hash - Sent overseas at regular intervals in a standard letter envelope by a friend while he was stationed in Germany. He wanted me to hold it for him until he came home on leave, but it was so good more than half of what he sent was gone by the time he arrived. A beautiful, dreamy high.

Panama Red - It was rusty rather than red, but it sure did kick ass.

Lebanese Hash - It was everywhere for a long time, then vanished almost entirely. Very tasty and very effective. I once had a big block of it with that squiggly Arabic writing pressed into it. It's a miracle I didn't ruin my lungs before the block ran out, but if I had it would've been worth it.

Mauwi Wowee - Allegedly from Hawaii, it was so stupefying you forgot to laugh at the silly name.

So those are the main brands I can remember smoking. Have I missed any you used to smoke?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Rare Sight

The Massachusetts legislature does a few things right.

Well, whatta ya know? Even the country's dumbest legislature, located right here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, can occasionally get things right.

The first unexpectedly sensible thing they did was repeal a racist law left over from 1913 that banned people from other states from getting married in Massachusetts if they would be forbidden to marry in their home state. The reason for the law was to prevent people from down South, where interracial marriage was once illegal, from coming up to Massachusetts to tie the knot.

The law has rarely been enforced in recent times, but was revived when former Governor Mitt Romney found the law useful to limit the number of gay marriages performed in Massachusetts. He famously declared that he didn't want Massachusetts to become "the Las Vegas of gay marriage" just as our forefathers originally passed the law to prevent Massachusetts from becoming the Las Vegas of mixed marriages.

In both cases, the goal was the same: To prevent people in love from obtaining the legal protections they needed to insure their happiness together. For some shriveled souls that happiness was simply more than they could endure, but the killjoys went down to defeat when the legislature voted overwhelmingly to repeal the hateful law. Governor Patrick has promised to sign the liberating legislation.

Myself, I ain't the marrying kind, so the whole gay marriage thing is sort of abstract to me. In fact I'm sorta glad gay marriage didn't exist when I was younger, because otherwise I probably would have made some of the same poor choices my heterosexual friends did and got married too young and to the wrong person. Indeed the real education for gay folks since the legalization of gay marriage has not been living together in matrimony, since gay couples always lived together anyway, but gay divorce, which has been a real eye-opener to those once used to walking away from failing relationships with no strings attached.

While many joyously celebrated their right to marry by rushing to the altar, the reality of gay alimony has taken some of the bloom off the rose. For gays and straights alike the old saying is still true: Marry in haste - repent in leisure.

The other unexpectedly sensible thing the legislature did was reject Governor Patrick's irrational desire to drastically increase the fees gun owners must pay to get their license. The increases were a thinly veiled attempt to hinder gun ownership, whose status as a basic American right was recently firmly stated by the U.S. Supreme Court. Gun grabbers may be bitterly disappointed, but they have been totally defeated and must learn to accept that fact.

So the usually asinine Massachusetts Legislature has finally done a few things right by standing up for the rights of lovers and gunners. Let's hope it's the start of a trend!

From the Washington Post:

Columnist Richard Cohen is described in the Wikipedia as "liberal on most issues" but even he is forced to concede that when it comes to the issue of character John McCain far outclasses the opposition.

"Just tell me one thing Barack Obama has done that you admire," I asked a prominent Democrat. He paused and then said that he admired Obama's speech to the Democratic convention in 2004. I agreed. It was a hell of a speech, but it was just a speech.

On the other hand, I continued, I could cite four or five actions -- not speeches -- that John McCain has taken that elicit my admiration, even my awe. First, of course, is his decision as a Vietnam prisoner of war to refuse freedom out of concern that he would be exploited for propaganda purposes. To paraphrase what Kipling said about Gunga Din, John McCain is a better man than most.

But I would not stop there. I would include campaign finance reform, which infuriated so many in his own party; opposition to earmarks, which won him no friends; his politically imprudent opposition to the Medicare prescription drug bill (Medicare has about $35 trillion in unfunded obligations); and, last but not least, his very early call for additional troops in Iraq. His was a lonely position -- virtually suicidal for an all-but-certain presidential candidate and no help when his campaign nearly expired last summer. In all these cases, McCain stuck to his guns.

When I was in Maine earlier this month, I was saddened to see that when charging three dollars per hour it is still necessary to show people what that means. Don't they teach the multiplication tables anymore?

At UMass they have learned how to avoid the inconvenience of having to put up a thin ice warning on the campus pond every winter. Simply never take it down!

Here is a soothing new video from the avant-garde Amherst band called ZEBU or No Sound or something.

Monday, July 28, 2008

This is News?

Local edition.

Get a load of the headlines this morning in the Springfield Republican. I realize that the stampede of readers and advertisers to the internet has resulted in staff cutbacks, but can't we do better than "Thunderstorms Strike Region" - I mean that's news I already got looking out the window. Then look at the one next to it; "Retailers Expected to Raise Prices." Oh really, when have they not been expected to?

You can almost see the scene in the newsroom yesterday, and hear the conversation that transpired.

First Reporter: Hey man, what are we gonna do? It's less than an hour before deadline and the whole top of the front page is blank!

Second Reporter: Well, what do you expect? How can we gather enough news to fill the paper when there's just you and me and Bill the janitor in the whole damn building?

First Reporter: Actually, Bill the janitor left an hour ago. He only works part time since the last round of cutbacks.

Second Reporter: We gotta come up with something for the main headline. Are there any investigative pieces on local corruption ready to print? We sorta owe the public something after all those years we were silent while our publisher's pets robbed the public blind.

First Reporter: Investigative pieces? How can there be any investigative pieces when we haven't got any investigative reporters left!

(Suddenly there is a loud crash of thunder)

Second Reporter: Wow, that sounded real close by!

First Reporter: Too bad it didn't strike the newspaper building and put us out of our misery!

Second Reporter: Eureka! That's it! Let's write about the rain!

First Reporter: Oh yeah, great idea! That's something we can cover by watching the weather station and looking out the window! We can whip out a story like that in ten minutes! I can see the headline now, "Thunderstorms Strike Region."

Second Reporter: Oh wait, but there's a small strip along the left hand corner that is still blank.

First Reporter: Here, run this wire story "Retailers Expected to Raise Prices."

Second Reporter: Um, aren't businesses always expected to raise prices?

First Reporter: Nevermind, it fills the space! Now it's time to put this paper to bed! Call down to the press foreman and tell him we'll be ready to print in fifteen minutes!

Second Reporter: Excellent! I knew that two highly trained journalistic professionals with advanced degrees from elite universities like ourselves could come up with the news!

First Reporter: Yep, that's why they pay us the big bucks!

From Creators Syndicate:

Looks like Obama got a bit of a bump in the polls from his European tour, but before we start practicing saying President Obama, columnist Suzanne Fields suggests we remember the election of 1896.

President McKinley

When William Jennings Bryan, at 36 the youngest man to be nominated for president, delivered his "Cross of Gold" speech at the Democratic National Convention at the old Chicago Coliseum in 1896, the Democrats thought their "Boy Orator of the Platte" was irresistible, unstoppable and inevitable.

So did the Republicans. The crowds were frenzied and passionate. He was the candidate of change, "the man we have been waiting for." William McKinley, the experienced war hero, had a quieter campaign style, and invited voters to his home in Canton, Ohio, to listen to him speak from the front porch.

The German movie director Wim Wenders used the polished red marble of the Victory monument as a setting for his "Wings of Desire," about an angel who is reduced to a mere mortal. Barack Obama might retire to a friendly front porch to reflect on whether there might be a lesson there.

It was so foggy this morning the sun looked like a hazy yellow ball as seen below hovering over the Amherst Cinema.

Hanging from the wire is a pair of sneakers, which drunken students sometimes use to decorate their environment.

There was a blood drive on campus today in the Cape Cod lounge. I was surprised to see it because there aren't a lot of people on campus this time of year besides UMass workers and weird characters that haunt the place like me.

Of course as a queer I am forbidden to give blood because of the fear of AIDS, even though I just had a physical in June and tested negative.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Lover #2

Of the female persuasion.

Although I was born queer as a three dollar bill, I have nonetheless managed to have sexual intercourse with three (count 'em) three women in my life. That doesn't represent the whole of my heterosexual experience - I've messed around with women to varying degrees over the years more often than I can count - but only on three occasions have I actually successfully completed full scale cock in cunt intercourse. Ouch, that's kinda crudely put, but you know what I mean.

Last time I told you about the woman to whom I lost my hetero virginity, Kim Rousseau, and promised to tell you about the other two encounters in the by and by. Here are the circumstances behind the second occasion where I had full hetero sex with a woman.

I think most straight women are more accepting of male homosexuality than most straight men are. Women don't seem to be threatened by gayness the way straight men are, perhaps because women have no societally imposed sense of masculinity to defend, with less of a tendency to consider a person's sexuality the central fact about them, at least not to the degree that men do. Naturally sex figures into a lot of things women do, as it does with every human, but the only women I've known who were totally against homosexuality have been very religious. I don't worry about what such religious women think about me because I have a hard time respecting the opinions of people whose judgement is so poor that they believe in a God who fusses over people's sex lives.

However, I've also encountered another kind of woman, more rare than the religious type, who regards a man's gayness as a challenge. I think it's a female version of the same lust that makes straight men get excited by seeing women in a lesbian encounter. Somewhere in the fantasy is the notion that the women will somehow be "set straight" by a male who suddenly appears in the midst of their lesbo encounter and who then fucks the women into heterosexuality. The female version tends to be intelligent, sensitive types who like male company but not the boorish horniness of straight dudes. When a girl is out looking for a little meaningful conversation, seeking out the gay section of the bar can be where she finds just what she's searching for. Sadly, straights in their bigoted cruelty sometimes call such fun and interesting women "fag hags."

I met such a woman one night at the old Rathskeller, which was located beneath the former Drake hotel in downtown Amherst. I was a student at UMass at the time, and had gone to the Rathskeller with some friends to see the local space-rock band Martian Highway. Late in the evening this really nice looking chick came and sat at our table and starting flirting.

As, the night wore on and the drinks flowed, there were numerous outdoor pot breaks. What was odd was that the woman was ignoring my hetero friends and paying the most attention to me. Finally at one point I realized that my friends had all left and I was alone with this hot looking chick, who of course had no sexual interest in, but whose conversation I found intelligent and entertaining. Around last call she boldly said, "Let's talk about sex."

I had to laugh. "Can't you tell I'm gay?"

"Yes," she replied, "and I find that fascinating!" She said she wanted to ask me some questions about what it was like to be queer, and as the band had stopped playing and last call was past, she asked me if I had a place we could go and continue the partying and conversing. I told her I lived in a communal home in Northampton, but she said she wanted us to have some privacy. Instead she suggested that we go to her place, a rented room in a motel just off campus. In retrospect the fact that she had a rented hotel room should have struck me as strange, but I was pretty high.

When we got to her room she showed me she had a refrigerator full of beer. I broke out my supply of weed, among the finest in the Valley, which is the only kind I would buy. We drank, we smoked, and then she suggested we get comfortable and take our clothes off. Since I often partied nude with my gay friends that was no big deal, but then after talking a while she suggested we fuck.

"I'm queer," I reminded her, "plus I'm really high."

"I'll get you up." she promised, then reached for my crotch in an attempt to prove it. Hey, I thought it would be rude to deny her the chance to try. She was good at stroking it for a girl. In general, only a man truly knows how to fully pleasure another man's junk.

Well one thing led to another, and soon we were kissing, hugging, our hands and mouths going everywhere. She was teasing my earlobe with her tongue when she whispered, "I'm gonna fuck you straight!" I laughed, but I didn't resist.

She really got into it. All of her inhibitions seemed to melt away as she became a totally sexual being that seemed to exist for only one purpose - to provide me with sexual pleasure. Nothing was taboo, nothing was refused or withheld in the total surrender of her body to the single goal of bringing me to orgasm through heterosexual means.

It worked. By that I mean she finally brought me to orgasm in spite of my drunken queerness. It was fun, but naturally I was still as queer as ever. We fell asleep, and when I got up the next morning she was gone. No good-bye, no note, just gone. I almost thought it was all just a weird erotic dream, but then how did I end up nude in this strange hotel?

Later that day I ran into my companions of the previous evening, and they confirmed the existence of the woman whom they said had mysteriously appeared at our table. I also discovered to my surprise that she had been discreetly urging my friends to leave us behind so that we could be alone. I hadn't realized that she was the reason that my friends had all left early and without telling me they were going.

The whole incident was pretty mysterious to me, until one day a while afterwards I made a startling discovery. I won't give any details of how I found out, because that would be awkward for people who I don't want to embarrass, but in any case I later discovered that the girl who had surrendered to me with such abandon that night was a prostitute! More than that, she was actually working the night she made herself my sex slave. And beyond even that - most shocking of all - was the discovery that the person who had paid for the prostitute was my own father!

Imagine how I felt when I discovered that my own Dad had bought this prostitute in a Springfield bar, and paid her to come up to Amherst to find his son, who he was afraid was in danger of becoming "a fairy" and who gave her the instructions to "fuck him straight." Wow, what a thing to deal with emotionally!

Of course it didn't work, I'm genetically programed to be queer and a mansion full of Playboy bunnies couldn't change that. There's also the environmental factors, what Allen Ginsberg called in his poem Howl "mountains of cock and canyons of ass" built up in my psyche by all the homosex I'd had since I was twelve years old. That sexual conditioning can't be erased in one night.

But I don't think my Dad completely wasted his money. I did have fun, and I look back and I'm glad that I had a chance to really have my way with a woman with no restrictions. I'm not sure that would've ever happened to me with quite that degree of lasciviousness had someone not paid to make it happen. So thanks Dad, I appreciate the gesture, however futile.

To read about Lover #3 click here.

Today I went to check out the remains of the two famous willows at the UMass pond who were tragically destroyed by lightning last night.

Their death represents the loss of two of Amherst's oldest residents. Here the two trees are seen overlooking a tug of war (it's obviously a picture of the losing team) in the early years of the 1900's.

The willows were a famous make-out spot. Anyone who was ever in love at UMass sat with their beloved beneath those willows. No doubt much of the Valley's shock and dismay over the death of the trees is in part a mourning over lost youth.

Yes, I once kissed a boy beneath those trees. Actually more than one. But those willows were not my favorites. Here is a video I made a few years ago about my favorite tree.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Chris O'Brien

Local boy done good.

I was glad to see a picture of a gay couple on the front page of The Boston Globe yesterday.

I was glad because they appeared in a real estate article where their partnership was barely mentioned, as opposed to the journalistic ghettos of gay marriage or AIDS that queers are usually confined to. I'm also pleased that they appear absolutely normal, like they could've been straight roommates, instead of as the impossibly sissified, male-fems that gay guys are so often portrayed as on TV and in movies. Sadly, many queer guys adapt those oppressive and false images in hopes of gaining acceptance by conforming to the stereotype of being feminine and funny so that straights can be comfortable in their prejudices. As I said in my essay last year I'm Queer but I'm Not a Fag it's a gay version of playing blackface.

Queers can do anything straights can do and do them as well, including such things that straights have long claimed to themselves like raising children. One good local example is renowned folk singer Chris O'Brien, who was raised by a group of Northampton lesbians. Here's a moving account of his Valley upbringing by one of his Moms.

I met him (Chris) when he was 5, my best peep Denise was 17, and I was 19. Denise had just started seeing Chris' Mom, who was in her early 20's. They ended up being together for 8 years give or take, and Denise was more often than not the one home taking care of Chris during those years. I spent countless days over at their house, watching football, smoking cigarettes, playing street hockey, devising ridiculous money making schemes (a favorite: combination day care and worm farm), and generally just being young, silly and stupid. It was like kids raising a kid, really. Chris was always along for the ride, or just there playing with toys, laughing at TV shows with us, playing catch in the yard, being hyper and getting into trouble. We went to his hockey and little league games, made him macaroni and cheese, procured rescued kittens for him (a favorite: a tiny orange tabby that grew into a giant lovable lug, dubbed "Tex" by Chris), and did our best to figure out how to help parent a kid when we were barely adults ourselves.

I remember sitting in the stands one time watching him pitch a little league game, and the coaches' wife circulated through the stands handing out flyers for some upcoming team barbecue. When she got to us, four or five dykes lounging in the upper bleachers with tank tops and flip flops, she paused ever so briefly, and then flashed a sunny smile and said "Are you all Chris' Moms?", then she proceeded to give us each a flyer. We took them, smiled and shrugged. We sort of were all his Moms, in a way.

Chris was not always the easiest kid, and we were not always fabulous role models. But we all did the best we could, and in the end when I look back, the most important piece was that we all loved each other and had fun, in between the angst and confusion of course. Yes, little Chris was raised by lesbians, and so what else was there for him to do but become - a folk singer....

Chris is 26 years old now (pause for shake of head in disbelief). He lives in Boston and is part of a thriving music and folk scene there. He is a regular at Club Passim, one of the oldest and most renowned folk clubs in the country. He recently came out with his first CD and swung out this way to promote it. The Iron Horse was packed with enthusiastic family and friends, and boy, could you feel the love. The room was full of that sort of impossibly proud energy that adults feel when kids grow up to do something great. And it's not like he's famous or anything, it's just that he's a contender in a very competitive art form, and he's good. He's really good. And we all have this enormous, proud, fragile hope for him that was just palpable in that room. The fact that Chris has matured into a good-hearted, warm and funny man only makes us all prouder. All in all, it was a very emotional evening and the music was great. There's something about sweet, sincere young men singing folk music that gives me hope for the world, really it does.

My musical experiences this past week remind me of a saying that was painted for many years in large script along the wall in the Iron Horse, among many old instruments hanging on the wall. I'm sure someone will be able to tell me where it originated.

The quote said simply:


By the way, Chris will be playing another hometown show at the Iron Horse in Northampton on August 7th, so don't miss it!

Also appearing September 4th at the Iron Horse is this essential concert.

Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady have been playing and performing together for over forty-five years, from their high school days through Jefferson Airplane to the many incarnations of Hot Tuna, which they founded together. This acoustic show features Jorma and Jack at their finest with Barry Mitterhoff on mandolin.

Even if the heavens fall, I shall not miss this show!

Looks like the Democrats haven't fully united after their bitter primary battles, at least that's how it looks from this sign still stubbornly hanging in the window of a house in Amherst.

Then again, I notice that they haven't taken their Christmas lights down yet either. Maybe they aren't so much Hillary-holdouts as procrastinators who won't get around to removing the sign until after McCain wins in November.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Presidential Visit

Clinton comes to town.

In November of the year 1996 President William Jefferson Clinton came to Springfield to give a speech in front of City Hall. I was there, and this is what I wrote about it afterwards.

President Clinton in Springfield in 1996.

I don't want to make a big deal out of this, but remember the widely reported figure claiming that 25,000 people attended the Election Eve rally in downtown Springfield at which President Clinton spoke? That figure is almost certainly false. There was unquestionably quite a large crowd, especially considering the cold weather, but I strongly suspect that the numbers that were reported to be in attendance that night were exaggerated. I say this because if there had been anything like the 25,000 reported, the exceptional events which ultimately placed me just a stone's throw away from President Clinton could never have occurred.

This my ticket to the event: (click to enlarge)

Here's the way it went down. Professor Richard "The Twig Painter" Doyle of American International College, my brother-in-law Steve Schneider and myself were originally watching the Nov. 3, 1996 rally from a fenced in area enclosing the back half of Court Square. It wasn't a bad location, as we were right up against the fence and so could see and hear quite clearly everything that was taking place on the stage that was set up at the base of the steps of City Hall. However, without special tickets or passes, the security controlled fence kept us from entering the front section of Court Square, where the best views of the proceedings were available. That seemed a shame, because Professor Doyle was hoping to get photographs that he could use to create a painting that would memorialize the President's visit. There was no place in our closed-in section that would allow us to get close enough in order to get photos of sufficient quality to create a painting.

It was from this somewhat distant location that we listened to the first round of warm-up speakers. State Rep. Paul Caron made some forgettable remarks, as did Mayor Albano, but at least the Mayor's comments were redeemed by the fun of seeing him so gosh darn happy. Usually an emotionally reserved man, that evening the Mayor seemed as thrilled as a kid at Fenway who's unexpectedly been invited to watch the game from the dugout.

One unexpected surprise was seeing at the podium "Good Time Charlie" Flaherty, the disgraced former House leader who was forced to resign in the wake of his conviction on felony tax charges. Then again, what would a political rally in Springfield be without at least one convicted felon on hand? Rounding out the sleaze quota that evening was former State Rep. Ray Jordan, better known in some circles as "The Godfather of Mason Square," who was up there talking as innocently as if no seas of controversy had ever swirled around him.

By far the best of the local speakers that night was Hampden County Sheriff Michael Ashe. Years of unchallenged incumbency have made occasions for him to give serious political speeches quite rare, and I had forgotten what a barnburning, almost evangelical speech Ashe is capable of giving when the spirit moves him.

Then, during an interlude when the UMass band was playing and before the President had arrived, something almost surreal happened. Without warning, several security people walked up to the fence directly in front of where we were standing and opened it up wide. We were so surprised we almost didn't have sense enough to step forward, until suddenly we felt pushed by this enormous swelling from behind us. All at once I was propelled forward into a crowd so tightly packed that my arms were pinned helplessly to my side, and I was forced to waddle along in this human wave like a penguin in bondage.

It was genuinely scary, for if I had tripped and fallen, I would have been discovered afterwards as a gooey red smear on the pavement. I think I may even have screamed at one point, but in the roar of the mob I couldn't hear my own voice. The people who were already standing in the front section were understandably resentful of this relentless tide of humanity wedging its way like a Panzer Division into their midst. Yet the force of the crowd behind me was such that it was impossible not to keep going forward. I could not have stopped or turned back had I seen myself advancing on the Gates of Hell.

With unexpected suddenness this relentless forward thrust came to a halt (I assume because they closed the gate). I was amazed to discover where I was. Incredibly, I found myself standing dead center in front of the Presidential podium. Somewhere in that human tidal wave my brother-in-law had been swept away from us in another direction, but the Professor was still by my side, and we looked at one another in disbelief. Had the President sent the secret service to personally escort us to the best location on the premises, they could not have brought us to a better site. Had we been any closer, we would have had to look upward at the podium where the microphones would have blocked our view. Had we been further back, the crowd in front of us would have been in the way. It was uncanny, if I had had a rubber ball in my pocket, I could have easily thrown it and bounced it off the Presidential seal on the podium.

There is only one logical explanation that I can think of for why they went and opened that gate, letting so many of us pour into the front section. That could only have happened if someone decided that there were an unsatisfactory number of people in the fenced-in front section to make the crowd look sufficiently packed for the TV cameras. The order must have gone out to let more people from the back section into the front so as to flesh out the crowd standing in the area before the podium. In any case, nothing like that would have happened if there had been the overflow crowd of 25,000 that was claimed.

I don't blame the organizers of the event for exaggerating the turnout, it was in their best interest to do so if they could get away with it. But shame on our lazy local media for accepting that spin at face value. (I later heard from a well-placed media insider that the President's advance team was surprised and amused by the passive way the local media blindly reported anything they were told. As a joke, the president's people told the local media that the largest crowd of the entire campaign was expected in Springfield. That of course was patently absurd -surely the President was capable of drawing larger crowds in places like oh, New York City? Los Angeles? Supposedly the President's team laughed out loud when they saw that their ridiculous prediction was printed in all seriousness in the Union-News the next day).

Unfortunately, much of what I experienced from my ideal location was anti-climatic. Only Ted Kennedy was in top form, alternating between the persona of a droll Irish bartender and then shouting and waving his arms like an angry union boss. Ted's nephew Joe, the himbo (male bimbo) of Massachusetts politics did what he does best - smiled and waved. He did attempt to speak at one point, but couldn't even remember the Mayor's name, mispronouncing it as "Mayor Albono."

As for the President's address, ABC's David Brinkly put it best in his controversial Election Night commentary, when he said that as a speaker Bill Clinton is "a bore, and will always be a bore." Yet there were a few moments, when the President first stepped to the podium, that were truly magical in a way that not even I could resist. Putting partisanship aside, it's hard to be in the presence of the office once held by Jefferson and Lincoln, Coolidge and Reagan, and not be in awe of the history it represents. With the band playing, the crowd cheering and the majestic columns of City Hall towering in the background, one would have had to have been terribly cynical not to have been moved. It was a proud night for Springfield whatever your political persuasion, and a special occasion for everyone present, whatever the numbers.

After writing about former Valley Advocate reporter Al Giordano recently, some people emailed asking what Al is up to these days. He currently writes for the Huffington Post, and is fighting for credentials to the Democrat Convention to be held in Denver later this year. Read all about it by clicking here.

This weekend I was passing by the Academy of Music in Northampton when I noticed a rare sight - the door was open!

Peeking inside, I saw that the old fashioned concessions stand is still intact.

I hope to see the place open more often! Later at Raos in downtown Amherst I sat at a table that was covered with graffiti.

This afternoon my friend and I were walking down Fearing Street in Amherst when suddenly a torrential downpour occurred. We were forced to run onto a stranger's porch to avoid getting soaked. Fortunately it was just a cloudburst caused by the humidity, and in twenty minutes or so we could leave the porch and continue down Fearing Street. When we reached the little brook that feeds the UMass Campus Pond I was surprised to see that in the storm's aftermath the usually calm brook had become a wildly raging stream.

"When I speak I put on a mask. When I act, I am forced to take it off."


Saturday, July 19, 2008

Good Books

Rating the top 100.

Many of you know that I am a former Massachusetts state certified English teacher. Therefore it shouldn't surprise anyone that when our Alaskan friend Zoomabooma listed the top 100 books of all time and what he thought of them, that I should be tempted to do the same. Of course the list itself is a little whack. Nothing by Kesey? No Ayn Rand? Where's Dr. Seuss? Oh well, despite these glaring omissions, it seemed like a fun pastime for a hot Saturday afternoon to just go through the list and make a quick quip about each.

1. The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger - This is number one? You're kidding!
2. The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams - I saw the movie on Ecstasy.
3. The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood - I liked this novel, but her poetry sucks.
4. Lord of the Flies - William Golding - Pretentious but creepy.
5. Life of Pi - Yann Martel - Sorry, not a math major.
6. The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett - Sounds like a dull mystery.
7. The Color Purple - Alice Walker - The movie was good but did not inspire me to read the book.
8. Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - No one could fail to be entertained by these tales.
9. Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte - Movie versions always looked boring.
10. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee - The book was better than the movie, although the movie was very good.
11. Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte - Struck me as a dull antique soap opera.
12. Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell - The best political book ever written.
13. His Dark Materials (trilogy) - Phil Pullman - So dark I never saw it.
14. Great Expectations - Charles Dickens - Overlong.
15. Catch 22 - Joseph Heller - One of the great war novels.
16. The Hobbit - J.R.R. Tolkien - Personally I like it better than the trilogy.
17. Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger - Salinger is a great stylist but this book lacks substance. Most overrated book of the post-war period.
18. Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh - Shreiks boredom.
19. Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky - Great psychological insight into the nature of guilt.
20. Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll - Acid consciousness before there was LSD.
21. Chronicles of Narnia - C.S. Lewis - My neices loved this book, but it bored me to read it to them.
22. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – C.S. Lewis - See above.
23. Winnie the Pooh - A.A. Milne - Cute and clever.
24. Animal Farm - George Orwell - The second best political book ever written.
25. Brave New World - Aldous Huxley - He was a stoner and it shows.
26. Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck - He writes so beautifully his laundry list would be worth reading.
27. On The Road - Jack Kerouac - The best bohemian book ever written.
28. Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens - Corny but readable.
29. Charlotte’s Web - E.B. White - The artwork was better than the story.
30. Hamlet - William Shakespeare - Some of the best lines in the English language.
31. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - The Johnny Depp movie version looked interesting.
32. Complete Works of Shakespeare - Not everything he wrote was a masterpiece.
33. Ulysses - James Joyce - A tiresome literary fraud.
34. Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad - A powerful mood piece. Wasn't Apocalyse Now based on this?
35. Les Miserables - Victor Hugo - A wonderful book, but skip the introduction.
36. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen - The title suggests more than it delivers.
37. The Bible - God and Friends - I was raised Catholic, okay?
38. The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald - Some great passages, but overall dull.
39. War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy - Not worth the effort.
40. Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck - Good read despite socialist propaganda.
41. Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy - His darkest work, a real downer.
42. The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini - Never read it but it sounds like fun.
43. One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez - Sounds very dull.
44. Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen - Seems like an overrated bore.
45. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon - I'm curious to know more.
46. Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov - Another overrated author.
47. The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery - Some people worship this book. I think they have psychological problems.
48. A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole - Is this about Springfield politics?
49. The Lord of the Rings - The movies were better.
50. Harry Potter series - A stiff writer, the movies were better.
51. Little Women - Louisa M. Alcott - For chicks only.
52. Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy - Sad but well-written.
53. Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier - Not familiar with it but it sounds dull.
54. Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks - Based on the song by Jerry Garcia?
55. Middlemarch - George Eliot - Another probable bore.
56. Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell - Forever eclipsed by the film.
57. Bleak House - Charles Dickens - Sounds like a load of laughs.
58. The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame - Zoomabooma says, "playin' "Tea for Two" ... sky was yellow and the sun was blue?"
59. David Copperfield - Charles Dickens - Not bad for Dickens.
60. Emma - Jane Austen - Maybe chicks will like it.
61. Persuasion - Jane Austen - Unconvincing.
62. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres - Who choosing these books, some French fag?
63. Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden - Straight people will like it.
64. The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown - This cost the list a chunk of credibility.
65. A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving - This is not the best John Irving novel.
66. The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins - Another insomnia cure.
67. Anne of Green Gables – L.M. Montgomery - Is this the book about which the critic wrote, "I could not put it down, instead I hurled it against the wall!"
68. Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy - Annoying.
69. Atonement - Ian McEwan - Who needs a literary guilt trip?
70. Dune - Frank Herbert I hope the book was better than the movie.
71. Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons - Where you don't want to go.
72. A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth - Another yawner.
73. The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon - Slow, plodding plot.
74. A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens - The only really good Dickins novel.
75. Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez - Painfully depressing.
76. The Secret History - Donna Tartt - More about Valley politics?
77. The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold - A morbid bore.
78. Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas - Men in tights are always tiresome.
79. Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy - Not obscure enough.
80. Bridget Jones’ Diary - Helen Fielding - Watch the X-rated version.
81. Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie - Makes you wish the fatwa had been successful.
82. Moby Dick - Herman Melville - Tiresome beginning, but a cosmic trip overall.
83. Dracula - Bram Stoker - No film has matched the book.
84. Notes From A Small Island - Nice, but no classic.
85. The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath - Weepy tale of suicide and depression.
86. Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome - Yawn.
87. Germinal - Emile Zola - Tiresome Frenchman.
88. Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray - The magazine is better.
89. Possession - A.S. Byatt - See the Exorcist instead.
90. A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens Some good lines, but overall sentimental pap.
91. Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell - How about Atlas Shrugged?
92. The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro - Literary leftovers.
93. Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert - Even less interesting than it sounds.
94. A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry - Makes you want to tip the scale.
95. The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom - But what if you're going to hell?
96. The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton - For nature lovers only.
97. The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks - Don't get stung.
98. Watership Down – Richard Adams - Will give your kids nightmares.
99. A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute - Don't go there.
100. The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas - The candy bar was better.

It was so hot and humid in downtown Northampton last night that I wish I could've been dressed like this guy.

I saw this morning that the old willow by Southwest at UMass was hit by lightning last night, the second time this summer that I'm aware of. Thankfully the injuries do not appear to be life threatening, but how long before the old tree gets hit with a death blow?

Majestic sentinel, long may you stand.

In a parking lot at UMass someone stenciled this word of encouragement.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Number One

The first issue.

Now I'm really reaching into the back of the vault to show you the cover of the first issue of The Baystate Objectivist, as it appeared upon its release in November of 1991. (click to enlarge)

Not exactly a model of professionalism, but hey, it was only a zine. The zines were an underground publishing movement that grew out of the early "word processing" technology of the late '80's and early '90's. Zine is a contraction of "magazine" which they sort of resembled, except that they were totally not slick or commercial or mainstream. Zines existed to publish things that the rest of the media ignored. That might mean a zine about a punk rock band, or an x-rated comic book or otherwise censored political discourse. My zine was a dagger (or perhaps more like a rusty metal shard) aimed at the heart of Springfield's corrupt political machine.

The first issue was about housing issues in Springfield. The political insiders were flooding the city with subsidized housing (often owned by politically connected people) and the growing imbalance between subsidized and private homes was radically altering the make-up of Springfield's neighborhoods. The "Abrashkin Strikes Again: Taxpayer's Weep" headline on the "Union-Snooze" (the Springfield Republican at that time was called The Union-News) refers to housing judge William H. Abrashkin, who many criticized in those days for doing little to help local landlords keep their properties. It also covered the municipal elections of 1991, where Robert Markel defeated Ray DiPasquale to become Springfield's mayor.

While I did most of the writing for the zine, a lot of the ideas of what to write about came from Jay Libardi, the co-founder of the zine although he was listed on the masthead (at his own insistence) as merely the "Distribution Manager." That's a fancy way of saying we used his pick-up truck to deliver the zine throughout the city.

In 1994 Jay was found dead in his home of what appeared to be drug related causes. I cut out a copy of the above masthead and slipped it into his pocket at the funeral. Unless something supernatural happens, that masthead will remain in his pocket six feet beneath the ground of Saint Michael's cemetery in ol' Pine Point until the end of time.

Jay Libardi

Monday I visited this restaurant in Belchertown. The natives call it "The Cow Place" but its real name is Hawley's Family Restaurant.

The food is good and the prices are low. It also features photos on the wall by the respected Valley photographer Les Campbell.

Here is a Les Campbell photo of the UMass Grad Research Center, where I used to work.

In Northampton, the Faces Department Store urges you to Freak Your Friends.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Past Pics

Scenes from yesteryear.

I was rummaging through my vaults the other day and came upon some old pictures. Here's a few I thought I would share from the archives.

This is the Futureliner, which Peter Pan buslines built for the 1939 World's Fair. What, they thought the people of the future wouldn't want to look out the window?

This is the Breckwood Plaza in Springfield around the year 2000.

When computerized voting was introduced in Springfield for the first time in 1999, a city worker had to demonstrate the new technology for the poll workers.

In 2004 Charlie Ryan poses with historian Greg Metzadakis at City Hall.

Former Mayor Albano stands by as Veterans Affairs head Daniel Walsh speaks at City Hall in 1996.

Peace protesters stage a "die-in" in front of the federal courthouse in Springfield in 1998.

City Hall security confronts activist Karen Powell in January 2004.

Springfield City Councilor (now mayor) Dom Sarno in Springfield's South End in 2001.

The headquarters of the Springfield Newspapers as seen about a decade ago.

During the great baseball stadium controversy of the late 1990's, the liquor store that would have been destroyed by the stadium mocked the proposal by building their own "McCarthy Stadium" out of cases and cans of Budweiser.

Here is radio personality Fred King at the WHYN studios in 1999.

This is me on the air at WHYN.

Here's me and my late father in the City of Devine, Texas.

Here I am in 2005 hamming it up at the International Headquarters of The Baystate Objectivist.

Finally, a concise definition of what citizen journalism is.

When the people formerly known as the audience employ the press tools they have in their possession to inform one another, that’s citizen journalism.

--Jay Rosen

I'm saddened to see in the paper this morning that longtime Springfield activist Carmencita Jones has died at age 82. She was a big fan of this website and used to email me regularly. She was a tireless advocate of racial harmony and used to correct the dumb white people mistakes I'd sometimes make when I'd write about black folk. Once I said that I thought that former UMass Chancellor Randolph Bromery was too light skinned to be considered black. "Tommy dear," she wrote me, "you should know that we come in all shades!" Jones had a great love of her neighborhood of Mason Square, and was a fountainhead of information about its history. I'm tempted to call her a pillar of the black community, but the truth is she would be considered a pillar of any community - black, white or whatever. Our Valley is poorer for her absense.