Friday, October 31, 2008


What a difference a year makes.

At the drive-up window outside the Northampton Banknorth branch is this video contraption that allows you to see yourself.

Arriving for work at the bank itself was a witch.

At UMass someone hung a little ghost from a tree by the road.

Who did it? Perhaps it was the person that came to UMass riding this Halloween bike.

Arriving at the Amherst Survival Center a pumpkin welcomed me.

Inside was the Foodbank Fairy and her assistant.

Heather was a fright in this wig.

No one had ever seen Rob in a suit and tie before.

Chris and me.

A year ago on Halloween I was in rehab. This Halloween is a lot more fun.

Someone sent me this picture of a heart attack on a plate.

In case you want to help someone commit suicide, here's the recipe.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Naked Valley

How much is too much?

In 2006 the town of Brattleboro, Vermont attracted national attention for its high tolerance of public nudity. As reported at the time in the Boston Globe:

"Here on the banks of the Connecticut River, in the busiest parking area of a downtown peppered with bookstores and coffee shops, more is meeting the eye than some people want.

A politely rebellious collection of teenagers passing time in the Harmony Parking Lot this summer has taken to disrobing. Seemingly on a whim, they shed clothes and soak up the sun, nude.

What began as a lark or an ode to youthful exuberance has now turned into a municipal quandary, because public nudity is permissible in Brattleboro.

In the words of Town Manager Jerry Remillard, if you're naked in public, and you're minding your business, you're legal."

But that didn't last. The following summer town officials voted 3-2 to pass an ordinance banning nudity in the downtown area and near schools. The reason for the change of heart was that all the publicity had turned Brattleboro into a nudist tourist destination, with all kinds of folks showing up nude from out of town. Some of them were acting pretty lewd.

Brattleboro's experiment in public nudity raises an interesting question - why exactly is being nude in public against the law? In Massachusetts such a ban is perhaps less surprising, just look at the attire of the Samuel Chapin statue next to the Quadrangle in Springfield. Buckled and buttoned from head to toe and wrapped in a flowing cape, the Bay State's puritian heritage is perfectly represented in the Chapin statue's far from revealing clothing. The women of his time wouldn't have shown a bare ankle, let alone a bare breast.

Although standards of modesty have relaxed considerably since the 1600's, complete nudity in public is still far from legal in Massachusetts. In fact "public indecency," which is the charge usually brought against those who are too undressed in public, can be a serious black mark on your record. Employers who see such a charge are not as likely to think you were a hippie at Woodstock as they are to think you were caught in a schoolyard dressed in nothing but a raincoat. It can be a hard conviction to explain away, even though the circumstances may have been quite innocent.

For example, you might have been arrested for streaking. That was the big fad of the college campuses of the late 1970's where students, sometimes alone but usually in groups, would strip off their clothes and go running around campus in the nude. I was a student at UMass during the streaking craze. While plenty of my classmates participated, I can't recall that I ever did. However that might be because I was part of a gay scene in the Southwest dorms where paryting naked was common. In fact next to what me and my queer friends were doing, the straight kids with their innocently nude running seemed almost quaint. Frankly, the pre-AIDS gay scene was awfully loose.

At first the campus police would chase streakers and arrest them if they were caught. Then the cops learned that chasing the kids only encouraged the streakers, and that ignoring their behavior tended to take the fun out of it. So the fad faded once the novelty wore off, but the prevalence of nudity on campus continued to increase in other ways. For example casual nudity in the dorms became more common.

In the 1990's UMass decided to crack down on the level of nudity in the dorms, resulting in student protests. WNNZ Radio personality (and Valley Advocate writer) Al Giordano expressed his solidarity with the protestors by doing his radio show in the nude. Of course it's hard to tell what someone is wearing or not wearing on the radio, but no one who knew Al, a disciple of 60's radical Abbie Hoffman, doubted in the least that he was starkers in the studio.

Without anyone really taking note of it, today's college students have adopted an almost European indifference to nudity. I lived in Amherst until recently and occasionally got invited to student parties. I'm surprised by how common it is after midnight for people to wind up nude, guys mostly but some women as well.

There seems to be a double standard for the sexes in regards to nudity at parties, which perhaps reflects the double standard in society at large. For example men can go naked from the waist up almost anywhere anytime, but women can still be charged with indecency for doing the same. In fact, it has only been in recent years that exceptions were allowed for breastfeeding. Are guys running around bareass just boys being boys, while girls doing the same thing are acting slutty?

A female UMass student I know told me about an experience she had last semester at a "Socks on Cocks" party. This is a gathering where the guys party nude except for socks that cover their genitals, a fashion inspired in part by the popular rock band Red Hot Chili Peppers who in their early years used to perform live so attired.

My friend said that at first there were several women at the party, all of whom were fully dressed. However as the night got late one of the women ran around the room pulling off the socks and throwing them out the window. This caused most of the women to leave, but my friend and one other woman remained. She said the guys started urging them to get nude as well, or at least remove their tops. Although the other girl did bare her breasts my friend kept refusing until she finally felt compelled to leave. She told me that the next day all her friends told her she had done the right thing, and that she would have degraded herself to strip.

My friend's experience showed there is still a sense that you shouldn't just get naked under all circumstances, especially if you are female. Yet at the other extreme is our insistance on nude celebrities. Today it is a mark of success, a sign that you have finally arrived, if you have paparazzi stalking you in hopes of catching you with your pants down. For those who have truly achieved stardom, to be nude before the public has become almost a job requirement, for male stars as well as female.

For some, their objection to nudity is aesthetic - they fear that if nudity becomes legal all the wrong people will get naked. They point to the lessons learned by the arrival of the bikini in the 1950's. At the time it was heralded as a great new fashion destined to reveal the best attributes of the nation's youth. Instead, it sometimes seemed as if the truly beautiful people remained modest, while every overweight middle-aged slob on the beach wore the tiniest of swimwear.

So what is this brave new world of nekkidness? Should people be arrested, even stigmatized, simply for appearing in public in the nude? It is one thing to advocate for the right to be casually nude on a hot summer day, but what about the dude that wants to strut down Main Street naked with his hard-on bobbing up and down? What about nudity around children?

Clearly there needs to be some relaxation of the public nudity ordinances to reflect changing societal norms. Obviously the standards have changed, with nudity being much more common in television, movies and especially advertising than was the case just ten years ago. It also would be a good thing if we finally shed the unhealthy vestiges of our Puritan heritage and learned to celebrate our bodies rather than be ashamed of them. But how much public nudity should be allowed and in what context? As Brattleboro learned the hard way, it is not as simple as just allowing people to get undressed, because exactly what the difference is between innocent nudity and tasteless lewdness is not quite as transparent.

In the UMass Campus Center today Students For Life had a table set up. They have been very active this semester.

Outside, there were free classes in pumpkin carving. While the instructions were free, the pumpkins cost five bucks each.

Nearby were trash bags meant to symbolize the bodybags of victims of the genocide in Darfur.

Am I a bad person because I can't make myself care about Darfur?

I'm saddened to hear that longtime Grateful Dead "family" member Merle Saunders has died. From the obituary in the San Francisco Chronicle:

SAN FRANCISCO -- Keyboardist Merl Saunders, the gentle lion of the San Francisco music scene best known as co-captain of guitarist Jerry Garcia's solo excursions outside the Grateful Dead, died Friday at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center after fighting infections.

The 74-year-old musician suffered a debilitating stroke 6 1/2 years ago and, although he lost the ability to speak, he made numerous sentimental guest appearances at shows over those years playing with one hand.

"I never met anybody so happy who had a stroke," said Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart. "In the end, the only thing that lit him up was the music. Sometimes he'd cry, but I've never seen anybody so happy in the realm of music."

"Merl was an ensemble guy, a groupist," said Hart, who played with Mr. Saunders in his early '80s solo group, High Noon. "He brought those sensibilities to the Garcia band. He let Jerry have his flights of fancy."

After Garcia fell into a diabetic coma in 1986 and lost some of his basic motor skills, Mr. Saunders spent hours daily with the stricken guitarist running scales, working him out on jazz standards such as "My Funny Valentine."

Here's Merle performing in 1998:

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Drug Dreams

They only come out at night.

When you first get sober, it is common to suffer sleeping disorders. For one thing, you're not used to going to sleep naturally. Addicts usually don't fall asleep as much as they pass out. So once you get clean and you try to go to sleep like normal people, it doesn't always work. That's why many addicts describe their first month clean as "thirty days and a thousand nights."

I'm happy to report that I am long past that stage and fall asleep quickly soon after my head hits the pillow. However, staying asleep is sometimes a challenge. Periodically, I'm plagued by nightmares about taking drugs. I often get high in my dreams, drinking alcohol and smoking crack, but always under circumstances which turn the dreams into something scary.

A reoccurring dream throughout my sobriety has been of me in what I first think is a crackhouse, but gradually realize is actually the Worcester Dining Commons at UMass. I also come to realize that the people I'm smoking with are not my friends but evil people intent on killing me. The dream always ends before I'm harmed but only because I suddenly come awake frightened and sometimes even sweaty.

I'm baffled by what the dream means, or why it takes place in a dining commons I haven't eaten in for decades. But the dream keeps coming back and ruining my sleep, so I asked one of my shrinks about it. He could offer no suggestions, except that the dream was probably rooted in something so deep in my psyche that I had no conscious understanding of it. I asked how I might come to such an understanding and he suggested to me I should go to the dining commons itself and walk around a little. Maybe something I saw or heard there would bring something bubbling up from my unconscious.

So I did. The next day after I got out of the Amherst Survival Center I went to the Worcester Dining Commons, where students were still going in and out for lunch.

When I went inside I realized I couldn't go past where you have to show some kind of ID in order to go to the place where food was served. Even though I stood well away from that area, a matronly woman behind a cash register kept scowling at me. I suppose people are always trying to sneak into the place just like in my day. You always had a visiting friend or relative you wanted to get in somehow.

But I ignored her disapproving stares and tried to take in some of the vibes. I had nothing in particular I was trying to tune into. I don't know what I expected to see or feel. What I really felt was nostalgia, to see this old place again, and to remember a younger more innocent me, a version of myself that could never have imagined my coming here, so many years later, and on such an errand. I thought of the students I ate here with, most of whom I never saw again after UMass, and a few others whom I know have died. I was nostalgic for who we were, who we hoped to be, and the unlimited possibilities we thought lay before us.

That lady behind the cash register was really starting to glare at me. And why shouldn't she? Who was this old guy just standing and staring into the commons? Some stalker? Some pervert? Someone criminally insane? I gave her my sweetest smile, which didn't melt her glare one bit, and then I shuffled out the door.

No enlightening insights into my psyche occurred at the dining commons, but you know what? Something must have happened on some level because I haven't had that scary drug dream in over a week. Instead I've had really erotic dreams, and that's cool. In one I made love to a person that's now dead. In another it was with a stranger. In a third dream I had sex with someone I know, and in a fourth with someone I now want to know better.

Sweet dreams.

This is Gordon Daniels from the Daily Hampshire Gazette/Amherst Bulletin. He came to the Survival Center to take pictures for an article they are doing. He took my picture and wrote down my name, so maybe I'll be in it. Whatever. I asked to take his picture for my blog and he said yes.

We chatted and he told me that he probably wouldn't see the picture I took of him, since he wasn't a computer person. That's just as well, I don't think my picture of him came out that good. He told me he has worked for the Gazette/Bulletin since 1965.

Wow, that's a long time! Such lengthy careers in journalism at one venue specializing only in photography will not be possible in the New Media. Many writers today are expected to also be skilled in photography and to take their own pictures to accompany their stories. They're increasingly called upon to make their own video as well.

The Survival Center also put out a new brochure, and I'm in it, along with Ryan, a volunteer from Holyoke Community College.

A perfectly fine picture, but Ryan and I both felt we could do better. Here's Ryan:

Here's me wearing my Keith Haring t-shirt:

Keith Haring was an artist famous for his t-shirt designs. He died of AIDS.

Finally, I take you to a pub in Ireland.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Nader in Hamp

Breaking the Record.

Despite the terrible weather last night, I and about a hundred other people were able to hear presidential candidate Ralph Nader at the Raven Used Book Store in downtown Northampton.

A bookstore may seem like too small a venue for a presidential rally, but it's hard to draw a crowd out at ten o'clock on a miserable rainy Saturday night, especially since the mainstream media, in their arrogance, have decided that Nader is simply not a serious candidate. This despite the fact that he's on the ballot in 45 states, with organized write-in campaigns in the other five, and the public debate over the rip-off economic bailout bill involves issues on which he is a recognized expert.

I first saw Nader back when I was a student at UMass. He also passed through our Valley during each of his prior presidential campaigns. But every time I've gone to see him he has always been late. I read somewhere that he is the sort of person (Springfield's Charlie Ryan is another) who is simply impossible to keep on a schedule.

Last night was no exception, although this time more was at stake. Nader was attempting to break the Guinness Book of World Records total for the most political speeches given in at least 15 different towns or cities by a credible presidential candidate (meaning on the ballot in enough states to win 270 electoral votes) before an audience of at least ten people who are not part of the candidate's entourage, within one 24 hour period. Nader was supposed to appear at 9:20 but kept the audience waiting until a few minutes before ten. But hey, if you have to wait around, what better place to do so than a bookstore with all that great reading material to look at?

I knew some of the people who were waiting. Here is Joe, who used to volunteer at the Amherst Survival Center. Last I heard he had moved to Nova Scotia, but I'm glad to see he's back.

Here is a video showing when Nader first arrived.

Up close, Nader looks every one of his 74 years.

His speech was better than the overly wonkish one he gave several weeks ago at UMass. Nader was as usual very professorial, pointing to books he spotted on the shelves that he had read or were written by friends. He did little to attack John McCain, and never mentioned Sarah Palin, perhaps assuming that there were few borderline Republicans in the room.

Instead he launched into a merciless attack against Barack Obama, essentially calling Obama a phony and a sellout who will quickly disillusion his supporters if elected. Nader can be a dull speaker, but Saturday night he was on fire. At times he seemed to be openly calling for revolution, describing the system as irredeemably corrupt. His was not at all an optimistic appraisal of the near future, saying "hard times are coming" and said that the suffering may create fertile ground for a widespread uprising. At the end Nader stood with his fist raised in a power salute while a sea of fists pumped in the audience. It may have been October of 2008, but for a little while the radical spirit of the 1960's was alive in the Raven Bookstore.

Afterwards Nader signed books for those who made a financial contribution to his campaign. The man below with the goatee made a five hundred dollar donation on the spot.

Also present was Phyllis Rodin who ran for Mayor of Northampton in 2005. She first met Nader in the 60's and knew his mother.

Nader recognized Rodin and at the end of the night he gave her an autographed copy of his mother's autobiography.

Here a snippet of Nader's speech, where he talks about his family associations with Northampton's Smith College.

Afterwards as I was leaving, hurrying off to get to the bus stop and out of the rain, I was startled to see Nader himself being escorted to his car. I quickly whipped out my camera and captured this photo.

And so it was that one of the last of the uncompromising idealists of the 60's disappeared toward the highway. It was reported in the media today that he successfully beat the campaign speaking record.

At UMass they have started to compost the waste in the Blue Wall restaurant. If you've ever seen how much trash is generated everyday at lunch, when the place is packed blue wall to blue wall, you would know why this is a good thing. A 3-D poster over the trash bins tell the students what is suitable for composting.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Nader in the Valley

He's the only one who loves us.

Barack Obama didn't come here. John McCain didn't come here. Sarah Palin didn't come here. And why should they? McCain and Palin know that they'll never carry Massachusetts and Obama figures he's already got this heavily Democratic state in the bag. Although the Democrats take our votes for granted, they adore our money, so Joe Biden alighted briefly in Holyoke last month to pick up $300,000 at a Log Cabin fundraiser where tickets cost $2,300. That's a lot of scratch to be bored by Biden. In this unintentionally funny picture taken by Christopher Evans of the Springfield Republican, Biden is shown with a sign in the background that makes it look like he got shot with an arrow.

But the barely acknowledged third party candidate Ralph Nader has rallies planned all over our Valley. A few weeks ago he spoke at UMass, and tomorrow he is going to attempt to break the Guiness Book of World Records total for most campaign speeches given in one state on one day. Here's the press release and the campaign schedule.

The Nader/Gonzalez Massachusetts Marathon is THIS Saturday, October 25th.

Ralph Nader Needs Your Help to Break The Guinness Book of World Records for Most Campaign Speeches in One State in One Day.

In 2000, Ralph got his third highest vote total in Massachusetts and it's critical that we help make one last push to reach voters before November 4th.

Come be part of history and meet Ralph in your town or one near you.

Onward to Massachusetts

The Nader Team

Ralph Nader's Massachusetts Marathon -- The Route:

Stop 1: 8:10-8:30: Dunkin Donuts -- 93 Main St, Westfield.

Stop 2: 9:00-9:15: Public Library -- 449 Front Street, Chicopee.

Stop 3: 10:45-11:05: Federal Reserve -- 600 Atlantic Ave, Boston.

Stop 4: 11:15-11:45: The Middle East ($50 min donation) -- 472 Mass Ave, Cambridge.

Stop 5: 11:55-12:20: Tufts University, Student Center, Bottom Floor -- Somerville.

Stop 6: 12:25-12:45: Danish Pastry Shop -- 330 Boston Ave, Medford

Stop 7: 1:00-1:20: Energy Awareness Fair -- 251 Waltham St, Lexington.

Stop 8: 1:35-2:00: Old North Bridge -- 174 Liberty St, Concord.

Stop 9: 2:25-2:45: Waltham Farmer's Market -- Main and Moody St, Waltham.

Stop 10: 3:00-3:20: Watertown Public Library -- 123 Main Street, Watertown.

Stop 11: 3:35-4:00: Lasell College, Yamawaki Auditorium -- 1844 Commonwealth Avenue, Newton.

Stop 12: 4:20-4:40: Ben's Deli -- 5 Turnpike Rd, Southborough.

Stop 13: 5:10 to 5:30: Clark University, Lurie Conf. Room, Higgins U.-- 950 Main St, Worcester.

Stop 14: 5:40-6:00: The Coffee Mug -- 286 SouthBridge St, Auburn.

Stop 15: 6:55-7:15: Press Conference, Location TBA -- West Springfield.

Stop 16: 7:30-8:00: Nadim Cafe Lebanon -- 1390 Main St, Springfield.

Stop 17: 8:15-8:30: The Waterfront Tavern -- 920 Main St, Holyoke.

Stop 18: 8:40-9:00: House Party -- 47 Lamb St, South Hadley.

Stop 19: 9:20-9:35: The Raven Used Bookstore -- 4 Old South St #1, Northampton.

Stop 20: 10:30-10:50: The Lions Den -- 30 Main St, Stockbridge.

Stop 21: 11:10-11:30: Campaign Party -- 615 Boardman St, Sheffield.

Nader is the kind of uncompromising idealist I most admire. Unfortunately, I also disagree with him on nearly every issue except the travesty of the Wall Street Bailout. Only he really expressed the proper outrage, while Obama and McCain sold out completely. Here is Nader on the bailout.

There was a big t-shirt sale today at UMass. I laughed to see that there is a category called "Weed and Expanded Consciousness."

Also at UMass today some "psychics" were giving "readings" or whatever they're called.

This cat and sign are outside Swartz Farm in Amherst.
Psst....a week from today is Halloween!

Critics considered the Jefferson Starship's We Built This City the low point of the band's transformation from 60's counterculture icons into one of the biggest pop bands of the 80's. The public however apparently disagreed, making the song the best selling #1 hit of the Airplane/Starship's four decade career. My main memory of the song when it was new was that it was the tune that played during the fireworks at the 350th birthday celebration of Springfield in 1986. Intended to be a love song from Grace Slick to San Francisco, today it is one of the most popular songs for people on YouTube to make videos to. Here's a funny one.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Fun Frauds

Ghost Hunters in Springfield.

Well, like most of the Valley I watched the episode of Ghost Hunters last night that featured an investigation into whether ghosts are haunting Theodore's in downtown Springfield. Their verdict: The joint is haunted.

However, their evidence was pretty flimsy. Some totally subjective claims by the investigators is what made up most of the so-called "proof" with the exception of a shadow image of a "figure" that really could have been anything. I mean those Ghost Hunters really lay it on thick, with all their pretending to be scared in totally unconvincing ways. At least they could have hired good actors!

But don't let my hard cold reason ruin the fun. The building itself was really the star of the show. It was great to see the long abandoned upper floors, as well as the genuinely creepy downstairs. The special effects also made the building, with clouds speeding by, genuinely look like a place where ghosts might live. The show will no doubt also be great for Theodore's business, with curious tourists sure to start stopping by.

To read my opinion on ghosts click here.
To see a little segment from the show click here.

The paparazzi are stalking teenage star Miley Cyrus in a desperate effort to get pictures of her with her new boyfriend, underwear model Justin Gaston.

According to Gossip Girls, Justin has earned the Cyrus family's full confidence and approval.

The underwear model/singer has almost become part of the “Cyrus Family,” spending most of his nights at Billy Ray’s house (even when Miley’s not there).

According to a source in the know, “Justin goes to church with them, takes Miley’s little sister cycling and claims to be a bible toting teetotaler.”

The insider adds, “Billy Ray apparently is completely taken in by Justin’s squeaky clean image and approves of his little girl’s crush.”

But now some photos have surfaced showing Justin at a Hollywood party going buck wild! Does this look like "a bible toting teetotaler?"

Oh my, such a rude gesture, and what must poor Miley have thought of the blonde?

But then how well behaved can you expect an underwear model to be?

I wrote the other day that I will not be voting for Barack Obama, although I still haven't committed to voting for John McCain. In any case, sent me this video warning of what may happen to me if I continue to refuse to endorse Obama.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

On Van Gogh

Perhaps he needed sexual healing.

My psychiatrist has prints by Vincent Van Gogh in his waiting room. I'll bet lots of psychiatric offices do.

Few artists personify mental illness as reflected in art like Van Gogh. Studying his paintings is like following a progression into deeper realms of madness, culminating perhaps in the time he cut his ear off and then painted his self-portrait.

Popular legend has it that he cut his ear off to impress a woman, but the actual reason is not known for certain. According to the Wikipedia:

Van Gogh cut off the lobe of his left ear during some sort of seizure on 24 December 1888. Mental problems afflicted him, particularly in the last few years of his life. During some of these periods he did not paint or was not allowed to. There has been much debate over the years as to the source of Van Gogh's mental illness and its effect on his work. Over 150 psychiatrists have attempted to label his illness, and some 30 different diagnoses have been suggested.

Diagnoses which have been put forward include schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, syphilis, poisoning from swallowed paints, temporal lobe epilepsy and acute intermittent porphyria. Any of these could have been the culprit and been aggravated by malnutrition, overwork, insomnia, and a fondness for alcohol, and absinthe in particular.

There is definitely something compelling about Van Gogh's work. As one critic put it:

Vincent Van Gogh was sui generis. A movement unto himself. Of all the great Masters, he had arguably the least influence on other artists (save for his legendary life, which as Picasso remarked was the Passion of Christ for painters). Among his fellow post-Impressionists, Cezanne had a million imitators, so did Monet, Gauguin, Seurat, but no one ever painted like Van Gogh, before or since. He painted at a pitch that was so high and burned so bright that you couldn't replicate his style if you tried.

Yet I don't consider Van Gogh a first rate artist because of the sense of madness that comes through his paintings. There is nothing that can really be called inspirational about his work. His life story will always be inspiring to anyone who has struggled to achieve something despite great drawbacks, but what he actually produced in the form of his art is very paranoid. At the end of his life, in this painting done at the time of his suicide, even the stars have become looming, threatening things.

There appears to be a strong sexual overtone to his paranoid visions, as seen in this close-up from one of his sunflower paintings.

Surely you didn't think it was only the pretty sunflowers that inspires buyers to pay millions! Van Gogh comes across to me through his art as somebody who is miserable and sexually obsessed. It makes me wonder whether a big part of his problem may have been he just didn't get laid enough.

Humans have few natural instincts. Animals are often programmed from birth to already know how to do everything they need to know. For example, most birds can build a nest without having any other bird show them how to do it. But humans appear to have very little instinctual knowledge. Among them is the instinct to suck on something; babies don't have to be taught what to do when presented with a bottle or their mother's breast. Another is to blink; flick your fingers near a baby's eyes and it will know enough to shut them in protection. A third is to grasp someone; place your finger on an infant's palm and it will know to close its hand. That's pretty much it - except for the urge for sex. That too is programmed into us, and of course it lasts our whole lives.

That's why sex causes so many problems. It is the one subject we can never quite completely dismiss. Everyone is interested in sex on some level, as it is the one topic that is of universal interest. That is what makes it so effective in advertising. In trying to attract someone's attention, nothing works quite like sex.

So it's no surprise that a lot of mental illness is sex related. I personally think everyone, at a young age, should have the opportunity to pretty much have as much sex as they want. I don't know how you do that safely, and without entanglements, but it is very worthwhile to be sexually satiated in early adulthood.

It happened to me when I was about seventeen. I was not sexually inexperienced at the time, but the relationships I'd had were not very healthy, mostly furtive and filled with guilt. Then there came along in my life this guy about five years older than me who had been at Harvard before he dropped out of college to follow the Grateful Dead. Although he was sensitive and intelligent, the most striking thing about him was his physical beauty. He was also straight, or at least he had a lot of girlfriends, but one night he made an exception for me. He never explained why, he just said he thought I was sexually uptight and that maybe it would help if I just did whatever I wanted to him and with him. He said it would be liberating, and it was.

That was one of the nicest gifts anyone ever gave me, and at an important time of my life too, near the beginning. It meant I didn't have to waste a lot of time running around making a fool of myself and perhaps being used by people who didn't have my best interests at heart. I got a lot of stuff cleared out of my head before it turned into hang-ups or obsessions. I learned how a true lover honors your best self, and how to put sex in perspective. I think a lot of people go through a lot of misery for the want of just such a lover and teacher.

I think Van Gogh was probably one of those sexually hung up people. I can see it in his paintings, and art is the place where it is most difficult to hide your true self. I suspect that a good sexual relationship probably would have done wonders for him. On the other hand, it might also have deprived the world of several masterpieces.

Why is this ugly fence around Springfield's Stearns Square? It looks awful.

That globe like sculpture in the center is by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the same dude who did the Puritan statue at the Quadrangle. It's a shame how it's been neglected.

Have you ever been to Skera Gallery in downtown Northampton? They've been there since 1974, making them one of the longest survivors in one of the Valley's most cutthroat markets.

All the best dressed cows go there. Here Mrs. Cow tries not to notice....

But all the purple her husband wears is causing her to suspect he has taken a gay lover.

Finally, channeling Jerry Garcia is a good way to avoid helping your girlfriend clean the room.