Monday, January 31, 2011

The Book of Devine

One of my prized possessions is the old trunk my father used in 1950's when he was in the military. Notice that it has his Social Security number stenciled right on it.

Obviously it dates back to a time when people were not so paranoid about identity theft, perhaps because those were the days when your Social Security number was only used for Social Security, and not as a pass-code to every database about you. In fact I wouldn't show you that picture except that my Dad has been dead and buried for years and is now beyond being robbed in the material world.

One of the many reasons I wish my Dad were alive is so I could ask him about an insignia on the trunk. With it's iron crosses it looks almost like some Nazi artifact, although my father never served in World War II nor was he ever stationed in Germany.

However, maybe it's a decal my Dad got from his father, who did serve in World War II and who did bring a lot of Nazi stuff back from Europe. My Grandfather served all over Europe but never saw a moment of combat, serving instead as one of the military cooks; a humble wartime calling but an essential one because, as my Grandfather used to say, "An army marches on its stomach."

My Grandfather was full of war stories, which unfortunately I've forgotten most of. It is a shame that when we are young we only half-listen to the tales of our elders, only to wish when we are older that we could rehear them, but the tellers have vanished into the realm beyond telling.

One story I remember that my Grandfather used to tell involved an Irish monk and his sacred mission regarding a book. At the end of the war all of Europe was flooded with refugees of various types, people who had been displaced by the war and who were now returning to their homes - if their homes even still existed.

My Grandfather said that one day driving in Germany he came upon an elderly Irish monk who was walking along the road, carrying an old book. He stopped his jeep and asked the monk where he was going. The monk replied that he was trying to return to Ireland, from which he had fled after his monastery had been bombed.

"What is that book you're carrying?" my Grandfather asked.

"It is the only thing I was able to save from the ruins of my monastery," the old monk explained. "It is a book of genealogy dating back to the fourteenth century."

My Grandfather asked to see the book, and then was shocked to read its title - The Book of Devine. In it was the listing of the name, birth, baptism, marriage and death dates of every member of the Devine family going back five hundred years! My Grandfather quickly showed the old monk his dog tags.

"Look!" he cried," My name is Devine! This book is the only known complete record of my family history! I must have it!"

"NO!" the old monk exclaimed, "It is the last remaining relic of my monastery, and I have made a sacred vow that I shall return it to Ireland where it belongs. You cannot have it."

My Grandfather laughed, "Sorry old padre, but if you'll notice I have a gun and you do not, and I'm taking this book back to America with me." Then he walked to his jeep carrying the Book of Devine and returned to the base.

That night my Grandfather went to the tavern with his friends for a night of drinking, and as he walked there he kept thinking that he saw a shadowy figure behind him just out of view. When he got to the bar he saw a small shape slip in the door just behind him. Looking in the direction the figure went he recognized the old monk seated in the corner. There he sat and stared at my Grandfather from across the room the whole evening, making it difficult for my Grandfather to relax and enjoy himself. Finally at closing time my Grandfather went up to him demanding, "What are you doing here? Leave me alone!"

"Give me the Book of Devine." the old monk solemnly stated. My Grandfather refused and returned to the base.

The next morning, as my Grandfather left the base, a little down the road he saw a familiar figure standing by the side of the road. "Old man, this is a military installation! What are doing here?"

"You know why I am here." the old monk stated. "Give me the Book of Devine."

"Go away you old fool!" my Grandfather ordered. "Leave me alone!"

But every day for the next week, when he left in the morning and when he returned at night, there would stand the old monk. Whenever he went to the tavern, there the monk would appear sitting in the corner. Always when my Grandfather confronted him he would make the same, solemn demand.

"Give me the Book of Devine."

Soon it became time for my Grandfather to leave to return to America. As he left the base driving the jeep carrying him to the waiting plane, as always there was the monk waiting down the road, only this time he was standing in the middle of the street, blocking the way.

"Get out of the road, you idiot!" my Grandfather commanded. "Or I'll run you over!"

"Kill me if you must," the old monk replied, "for I prefer death to failing in my sacred duty before God to return the Book of Devine to Ireland."

My Grandfather could see that the monk was serious, and would not get out of the road. The resulting stand-off in which my Grandfather attempted to threaten and cajole the monk to move was both time consuming and futile. The delay soon threatened to cause my Grandfather to miss his plane, and he was anxious to return to his family in the Pine Point section of Springfield. Finally my Grandfather reached into his duffel bag and took out the ancient text and angrily hurled it at the feet of the old monk. "Take it and get the hell out of the way!"

The old monk snatched up the book, "Bless you my son!" he said as he quickly ran off and vanished from view. My Grandfather made it to his plane with only seconds to spare.

Is that story true? My Grandfather had the gift of blarney (that's Celtic for bullshit) so one can never be sure. But whenever he heard that anyone was returning for a visit to the old country, he would always tell that story and urge the traveler, "Keep an eye out for The Book of Devine!" No one has ever found it.

Returning to 2011, all it ever seems to do in this new year is snow. Here the usually congested King Street in downtown Northampton is left deserted by the weather.

Even media personalities like David Pakman had to dig his own car out from the snow.

The view out the window of Dunkin Donuts.

A few months ago I showed you this tasteless graffiti on a dumpster outside a UMass frat-house.

Since then someone has painted something more politically correct over it.

Filmed entirely at the Forbes Library in Amherst.

Sunrise on Springfield's Porter Lake by Burt Freedman.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Neal versus Rosenberg?

Tom Wesley in bad company.

When the final campaign filings from the Pioneer Valley 2010 political races came out on Monday, November 22, 2010, eyebrows were raised behind closed doors at the report filed by south Valley Congressman Richard Neal. I say behind closed doors, because the general public was never informed of the figures by the mainstream local media, which is typical regarding matters pertaining to "The Congressman" that might be interpreted as embarrassing.

But the mind-boggling sum spent by Richie Neal to win re-election last year was really the great uncovered story of our local elections in 2010. How much did Richie blow this time around? According to his filing he spent a staggering $2,235,180, which I believe qualifies as the most expensive local race in Pioneer Valley history.

What also makes Richie's money bomb so unique is not just its gargantuan size, but the target against which all that cash was directed - Neal's penniless, unknown opponent, political novice Tom Wesley. To attempt to unseat Neal, Wesley raised a paltry $123,203, which on the congressional level is the equivalent of challenging your opponent on the proceeds of a lemonade stand.

Even more awkward for Neal is how little he got for firing this cannon of cash against a housefly. Although Republicans of a certain stripe can occasionally win in the Pioneer Valley, Wesley was not of that type. He had a military background in a district of peaceniks, was anti-abortion among rabid feminists, and against gay marriage in one of the queerest parts of the country. Wesley was also running as a Republican Tea Partier in a year when Massachusetts (and California) were unique in resisting the GOP wave that swept the other 48 states.

And yet, even with all that against him, the final tally was startlingly close, with Wesley winning a very solid 43% of the vote. It is hard to believe that a sudden attraction to Wesley's right-wing views can account for that turnout, especially since there was no Republican surge in any other races. Although Wesley did have an enthusiastic base, his high vote total can only be fully explained as a personal anti-Neal backlash. In other words, there were a surprisingly large number of voters out there who were prepared to hold their nose and vote for a candidate they disagreed with rather than cast their ballot for Richie Neal.

And no doubt they had their reasons. Years of unchallenged incumbency had made Neal appear as if he took the seat for granted, with many voters even asking "Richie who?" since the lack of the need for Neal to campaign for the seat for 16 years had left much of the public uncertain of who he was. No doubt Neal's inside polling showed him in deep trouble, thereby explaining his frantic spending spree, even against an unpopular opponent with no money. That is the only logical explanation for how you end up with the bizarre sight of a two million dollar race against a guy with pocket change.

Yet Neal won by a margin slim enough to leave one wondering whether Neal could have lost the seat had the GOP had the sense to have nominated the much more electable libertarian Republican Dr. Jay Fleitman of Northampton, who had challenged Wesley in the primary. But that's just idle speculation at this point, in politics the winner takes all, whether victory comes by a sliver or a landslide, and under normal circumstances Neal would be able to sigh with post-election relief and enjoy another term.

But these are not normal circumstances. As a result of slow population growth in Massachusetts, we are losing one of our ten congressional seats. That means that if all ten incumbents want to run for re-election, one of them is going to have to be forced to run against a fellow incumbent. And if you know anything about the way things are done in Massachusetts politics, it ain't gonna be somebody in Boston who is going to have that problem. As usual they will shaft - I mean shift - that difficulty to us here in the Wild West, and make our two congressmen, Neal and John Olver of Amherst, do an electoral duel to the death in a Democrat Party primary.

Both Neal and Olver (like the other eight incumbents) have publicly announced that they are seeking re-election in 2012; but how seriously can we take their intentions? There is no doubt that Neal is sincere, he is poised to possibly become chair of the powerful Ways and Means Committee in the unlikely chance that the Democrats retake the House. Neal is also just in his early 60's and considered still young by congressional standards.

Olver however is a another story. For one thing, doubt is raised by the fact that Olver is required to say he is running in 2012 even if he has no intention of doing so, just to preserve any chance of saving the two Western Mass seats from consolidation. The ten incumbents are just dying to be relieved of the pressure of removing a seat by having someone retire, since then they could just wipe out that person's seat and leave all nine remaining incumbents safe and sound. So if Olver did not say he was running, it would become an irreversible certainty that we would lose the second seat, with no chance of escaping Boston combining Neal's and Olver's districts.

Despite such political posing, everyone is all but certain that Neal and Olver's districts will be combined anyway, it just isn't possible to imagine the scenario where Boston would kill off one of their own to accommodate Western Mass. So would Olver really participate in such a brutal political death match? He is well into his seventies and did not impress people with his doddering, spacy performance in last year's debates against his challenger Bill Gunn. Many suspect that if push comes to shove, Olver will defer to Neal by retiring should it turn out that only one of them can have the seat.

But of course the Pioneer Valley political universe does not consist only of Richard Neal and John Olver. Some powerful Democrat could come forward, and the whispering is growing louder that the someone who may step in to challenge Neal if Olver steps down is Amherst State Senator Stan Rosenberg. After all, Rosenberg is widely considered to be Olver's hand-picked heir, and previous speculation about Olver's retirement has regarded Rosenberg's candidacy to be a foregone conclusion. Why should that certainty be changed should the seat have Richie Neal competing for it?

My personal opinion is that if it is a Neal versus Olver Democrat primary, Neal will win because of his relative youth and the lopsided margin the Democrat machine in Springfield can deliver to Neal to overcome all the small towns that comprise Olver's base. However, a Neal versus Rosenberg race, now that's a whole other story. It's early yet, but meanwhile let us watch with keen interest as events unfold.

The rising sun hits the woodland way into downtown Northampton.

Transforming it into a golden road of unlimited devotion.

Singing along to animal posters in Northampton last week.

On the street by Tony Mateus.

Friday, January 21, 2011


On the way home last night, as the snow began to fall, I pointed my camera at the sky.

Along the woodland way into downtown Northampton, someone hung a lost glove on a twig in hopes that its owner would pass by.

The view out the front door of the Haymarket Cafe.

A wreath made of CD's.

Neil Young and Jerry Garcia in the snowy doorway.

The UMass students have returned from their winter break, an event inspiring this act of creative vandalism on Herter Hall.

This picture by S.P. Sullivan shows the Dickinson Estate in Amherst as it appeared during the snowstorm early this morning.

Here is a smart and heartfelt song about Ms. Dickinson.

A hawk and its pinned pigeon prey in downtown Springfield by Greg Saulmon.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Frederick M. Whitney

Mr. Republican

I'm saddened to hear that former Springfield State Representative Frederick Whitney has died. Among his many distinctions was that he was the last white person to represent the neighborhood then known as Winchester Square (since re-named Mason Square). Whitney voluntarily stepped aside to allow Ray Jordan to become the city's first black representative, perhaps recognizing that the changing demographics of the Square made his defeat inevitable anyway. Still, it was considered a classy exit that avoided what might have been a divisive campaign. Whitney later ran against former Congressman Ed Boland and was defeated. Whitney never ran for public office again, but often threatened to, even well into his seventies.

I first met Fred Whitney as a result of receiving an angry letter from him. Indeed, being a Republican in Springfield meant Whitney's career was punctuated with angry letters. He had seen me on television one night in the early 1990's when I was filling in on Channel 40 for Dan Yorke. I was presenting this shtick I used to do at the end of each year called "Heroes and Villains of the Year." Making my "Villains" list was the Springfield Republican Party, which I ridiculed for being so ineffective in winning elections, despite having the advantage of competing against such an obviously corrupt and incompetent Democrat Party machine. I believe I even used the word "pathetic" to describe the local Republicans, a strong word perhaps, but I was only saying publicly what everyone said in private.

Shortly afterward Channel 40 forwarded to me a letter they had received and it was from former Representative Whitney, who was at that time the president of the Springfield Republican City Committee. He lambasted me for being so critical, complaining that I had never been to any Republican functions nor had I any first hand experience of their activities. So how could I know enough about the local GOP to call them pathetic?

Well, I knew for certain that they were losing elections even when running against obvious crooks, but I called Whitney anyway and he invited me to join him and some of the local Republican leaders for lunch at the Mass Mutual Insurance building on State Street. In those days the Pioneer Valley Republican Party was pretty much run out of Mass Mutual, where the late insurance executive Bill Barbeau used to hold regular luncheons at which political figures would gather to plot in vain for the overthrow of the local Democrat Party machine.

I soon found myself a regular at these gatherings, which I enjoyed almost as much for the chance it gave me to explore the architectural majesty of the Mass Mutual building itself, which is as impressive on the inside as you might expect from its exterior. I also enjoyed meeting many old time pols from Whitney's state rep days, some of whom could tell intriguing, sometimes shocking, and often very funny stories of local political lore, many of which can no longer be told by anyone now living.

Personally I've never been much for political parties of any stripe, and my inclusion in the Republican party's innermost sanctum was a sometimes uneasy one, myself being a bit more liberal on a number of issues than your typical GOPer. Still, the hapless Republicans were in no position to be choosy about their friends, and besides I had media connections that they desperately needed, the area GOP being all but censored by the local mainstream media.

But the real connection was between myself and Whitney, because we were both "good government" crusaders. Whitney was originally from Wisconsin, and he was a Republican in the tradition of the 19th century reformer Robert LaFollette. That reformer tradition inspired Whitney to focus on issues of process more than policy, and he was primarily concerned with honesty and transparency in government. He and I both shared the view that one of the main problems in the Valley in general and Springfield in particular was that there was no balance of power, no loyal opposition to keep the Democrats honest and responsive. With Democrats occupying all of the major offices by lop-sided margins, it was hard to get anyone in political office to hold anyone else accountable because everybody was on the same team. The result was that even the honest Democrats, few as they were, could not effectively challenge the corrupt machine. Or as I wrote at the time using cold war terms, "One party rule has not worked in Russia, or in China or in Cuba, and it ain't working in the Pioneer Valley either."

Whitney's great crusade was ward representation in Springfield. He felt that the at-large system had made downtown special interests too powerful at the expense of the neighborhoods. It was exactly the powerful versus the little guy sort of issue that he relished. Whitney fought for many years for ward representation, railing against the downtown power players even with no one else showing any interest in the issue, until finally some local liberals took up the cause primarily from the perspective of increasing minority representation. In a cruel irony, those liberals had little desire in joining forces with a Republican, and Whitney, who had been a lonely voice for ward representation for decades, found himself shoved to the sidelines by the new ward representation activists. Yet he was still thrilled when ward representation finally passed, and felt no resentment that no one acknowledged his activism. "It is amazing what you can accomplish in politics," he told me, "as long you don't care who gets the credit."

I fell out of touch with Fred Whitney in recent years, as had most people. As Whitney entered his late eighties his hearing went bad, and he couldn't see well enough to drive at night, so it became hard for him to attend political functions. Of course there were many who would have been honored to drive him to any function he wanted to attend, but then he couldn't have left whenever he wanted, which was important to him if the proceedings turned, as political events are known to do, into what he used to call "hogwash" but which a less genteel man than Whitney would have called "bullshit."

Yet even in his final decline, if anyone in our Valley could be called "Mr. Republican" it was Fred Whitney, and not everyone realized what a sometimes difficult role that was to play. There were many politically barren years when it was hard even to find Republican candidates, let alone get them elected, and many Democrats laughed openly at their Don Quixote campaigns. It is not overstating it to say that there were years when the only thing keeping two-party democracy alive in Western Mass were the efforts of people like Fred Whitney. He never did live to see the Republican party revived, but someday, when the people of Massachusetts have had enough, the state's Democrats may finally get the good drubbing they so richly deserve. And on that happy day, I hope that the Massachusetts Republicans will remember to tip their hat to the tireless efforts of those like Fred Whitney, who carried the torch for them through the darkest years.

To read the obituary of Fred Whitney in the Springfield Republican click here.

The other day in the Haymarket I ran into local radio star Jaz Tupelo.

Jaz is teaming up with her old sidekick Bill Dwight for a new morning show on Valley Free Radio. I hear the show will feature music as well as politics! Starting January 24th, you can find it at 103.3FM - Monday through Thursday, 8am to 9am.

Newbury Records has left their longtime Amherst location and re-opened in downtown Hamp in a much bigger space on Pleasant Street.

If this sign were for real, the people of Northampton would be fighting for the space.

Demented lounge music in Easthampton.

Taped on a Northampton bus stop.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


Wow, it sure has been snowing around here! It was so bad on the woodland way into downtown Northampton that people were on skis!

Arriving downtown, only starving spirits would venture out to buy bread from the Hungry Ghost Bakery.

Humans may not want to go anywhere, but a dog's gotta do what a dog's gotta do.

Silent Cal Coolidge stays out whatever the weather may be.

Non-New Englanders may not know what this red disc is sticking out of a snowbank. It is to tell firemen the location of the hydrant buried beneath.

Pity the poor fool who left their bike outside overnight.

When it was all over, the snow was piled so high that the streets were nearly impassable.

The smartest people in our Valley chose to stay in their local coffeeshops with the comfort of their computers.

Matt Larson and Greg Saulmon in South Hadley.

Northampton 1994

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Prospectives

More About the Pioneer Valley Guru

From time to time people send me stuff about Michael Metelica Rapunzel and the Brotherhood of the Spirit, the mystical cult whose dramatic rise in the 1970's and fall in the 1980's had a profound effect on the entire Pioneer Valley. I myself once visited there, and recently someone sent me this anonymous testimonial of their own experiences among the Brotherhood.

Michael Metelica Rapunzel

Brotherhood of the Spirit was a rural commune in Western Massachusetts. Michael Metelica, a young man with flowing blond hair and penetrating eyes, was the leader of the Brotherhood. Like Manson, Lyman, and many another less publicized latter-day shaman, Michael exuded a charisma that the drug-zonked, the suicidal and the chronically inept find irresistible in their flight from the ugly realities of war, overpopulation and pollution. What seemed to distinguish Michael is that he showed the courage of his convictions at such an early age. In the spring of his seventeenth year, he founded the Brotherhood.

Michael said he never planned on the Brotherhood growing to the proportions it did - 300 members, with houses and property in Warwick, Northfield, Turner's Falls, and Bernardston. In spring 1968, after experiencing an apocalyptic revelation, Michael returned from the West Coast and with a few friends and took to a tree house behind his parents' home near Greenfield, Massachusetts. There they sat, quite literally up a tree, fully intending to contemplate their navels for the rest of this lifetime, when a young girl on speed threw herself at Michael's mercy. He saw this as a sign that he was meant to illuminate the way for those in search of themselves and willing to perceive the truth as revealed through him.

Michael in the tree house

This interpretation was corroborated when another vision revealed to Michael that he had worked out all his karma in previous lives and no longer had to return to Earth, but chose to do so in order to lead mankind into the promised land during this, the last generation. Soon young people began flocking to him looking for a simpler way of life and the Brotherhood began to grow.

In his vision, Michael perceived that the only way to overcome the excessive negative energy in the world is through positive thought force. This force, man's unique creative energy, holds the secret to mankind’s spiritual transcendence,
Most members of the Brotherhood believed in re-incarnation, ESP, astral travel, and other supernatural phenomena to a greater or lesser degree. The keystone of their faith though was Michael's prophecy of the Earth Chang, to begin in 1972: the western United States would fall into the Pacific Ocean; Red China would then launch a nuclear attack against the U.S. and worldwide cataclysm would ensue.

After Earth Change, each member would become a teacher of multitudes. Man would transmute into pure spirit and shed his manifest form. Conventional forms of communication would be replaced by telepathy. Levitation would obviate all other means of transportation. Until deliverance, Brotherhood's earthly needs were being met in several ways:

Michael's gospel rock band, Spirit In Flesh, brought in hard cash by playing at dances and concerts. In November 1970, they received a reported $50,000 for signing with Metromedia Records.

In addition to raising vegetables, at harvest time Brotherhood members gave neighboring farmers a helping hand, for which they usually received payment in crops. Parents eligible for food stamps used them to purchase brown rice, flour and other staples in bulk.

Finally, as with many religious orders, membership was a lifetime commitment and all of one's worldly possessions become communal property. Upon acceptance, everything had to be signed over into Michael's name. Several people who had received inheritances from the death of their grandparents gave all their money to Michael.

Members ranged in age from infants to several in their forties. Most were in their late teens to mid-twenties, comprising high-school dropouts as well as former graduate students. The Aquarian Gospel According to Jesus Christ was their bible. The outside world was known as "The Illusion."

This my story: After three years in the Army, followed by four more grinding out an English degree, I spent the summer in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I made ends meet as a night receptionist at a Boston hospital. My friends and I filled the days swimming along the North Shore, working on volunteer community projects and shopping at Haymarket Saturday afternoons.

Now and again I read about Brotherhood in local papers. Shortly after Labor Day, I met a member named Marion who was proselytizing in the city. In October, I visited the commune's 25-acre farm near Warwick. I spent two days working with them on a giant dormitory they were building. There seemed to be no friction among the nearly 200 members, and it was a productive community. Had they solved the eternal dilemma of how to live in harmony? I wanted to find out. I returned to Boston and gave the hospital two weeks' notice.

A late Indian summer day I steered my old red Dodge Valiant, weighed down with most of my belongings, over to the shoulder of the road and came to a stop. A farmhouse, white paint peeling, sat off to the right, a hundred feet back from the blacktop country road. A dirt driveway ran' up alongside the house, and a large sign was staked at the drive's entrance reading: VISITORS PARK ON ROAD. I turned the engine off and got out.

A low, vine-covered embankment sloped to the shoulder of the road. More signs, these nailed to birches along the embankment, advised in red, blue, and yellow hand-lettering: NO DRUGS NO BOOZE NO SMOKING NO PROMISCUITY.

Fifty feet straight ahead through the birches, the muted notes of electric guitars came from a two-story brown building. Behind the homemade music studio, a garden of cabbage and carrots stretched. A series of additions extended behind the main house-laundry room, large kitchen, locker-room style bathroom facilities and a huge rec room with fireplace for meetings and meals. To the left of the house spread a giant turnip patch. Beyond, the skeletal wooden frame of the dorm rose four stories against the dark backdrop of the encircling woods.

I grabbed my hammer, rolled up the windows and locked the car. Several children and adults romped in the leaves on the front lawn. I jammed the hammer into my belt and headed for the dorm. Midway through the afternoon a girl brought a kettle of brown rice and several jars of tamarind sauce from the house.

"Think you're going to like it here?" a bushy-haired boy asked me through a mouthful of rice.

"Yea, I think so. I feel like I belong here."

"That's only natural," said another member. "You know, it's no accident you happened to come here now. We're getting very near The End."

Their intense gazes made me uncomfortable. I filled my apron with nails and went back to work. I noticed that most members wore the fixed expression of the ex-junkie. Yet, while I had never sampled anything stronger than pot or hash, there were the usual affinities and antipathies based upon first impressions, and most of these strengthened as the days passed.

That evening, after a dinner of baked soybeans, string bean-and-tomato stew and fresh gingerbread, I started around the rec room to introduce myself. Prospectives must express their inmost selves to all members before being considered for membership. One young girl remained a prospective for four months before being accepted.

"Why are you here? What are you looking for!" a member known as Weird Paul demanded of me. I glanced up above Paul's head at a wall tapestry bearing Brotherhood's creed:


I grew uncomfortable under the eye-lock Paul was trying to engage me in, and also at the prospect at having to justify my presence. I felt like saying that this was just a groovy little vacation in the country for me after living in the city for five months. As it turned out, I should have laid my cards on the table right then and there.

I was still trying to formulate an acceptable answer when a bell began clanging.
"Meeetinnnn'!" someone hollered. "Members only!"

The four other Prospectives and I left the rec room. A kitchen of dirty dishes awaited. After finishing dishes and glasses by myself, I decided to leave silverware, pots and pans for some other volunteer. The members' meditative silence allowed the medium's voice to be clearly heard in the kitchen. The medium was communing with the deity Vishnu. When Vishnu spoke, the medium's voice would deepen. Having never been able to stomach cant, I removed myself from earshot.

As soon as the meeting broke up, I grabbed my sleeping bag from the rec room. The other Prospectives were bedding down in front of the fireplace. I started outside.

Dale Sluter

"Where you going'?" It was Dale, in charge of the Prospectives. Earlier he had told me to give him my car keys. I had refused because of his bossy manner.

"The fireplace doesn't draw properly, and it's like a smokehouse in here," I answered. "Besides, I dig sleeping under the stars, Okay'?" I was dog-tired.

"But sleeping alone is not where it's at," Dale said. "We want all the Prospectives to stay together tonight so in the morning you'll rise as one cohesive force."

"Yes, but it's going to be a long winter. We'll have ample opportunity to get together then."

I stepped out into the blackness of the night and closed the door behind me.

For the rest of the week, I grew increasingly aware of a pecking order at the Brotherhood just as strong as any found back in the so-called "Illusion" of the outside world. Under Michael, one had to convince the other members of one's greater mystical powers and spiritual enlightenment in order to move up the ladder.
I had no desire to play that kind of game. The empty forms of my childhood religion of Episcopalianism had left me cold by my first communion. Now, after several days of encounter group therapy, a bastardized version of Hinduism, and arbitrary rules handed down by Michael, it didn't look as if I was even going to get through confirmation classes this time!

The only persons I felt I could talk with without being confronted were the other Prospectives. We swung between the extremes of commiserating with one another to repressing our misgivings in order to concentrate all our energy on the super-human effort of willingly becoming a zombie. There was no such thing as talking to a member as an individual, only as a link in the ever-growing, ever-strengthening chain of the Brotherhood. Once a member began acting and speaking in terms of what was best for the group (meaning Michael and his band), only then were they given serious consideration for membership.

Of course, the strongest chain has its weakest links, and while I was there two members did cast off their bondange, choosing uncertain freedom over secure bondage under Michael. The first, one of Michael's original disciples and the architect/master carpenter of the dorm, split in the middle of the night after becoming convinced that his Messiah had become corrupt. The other was a young girl named Karen, who had formed one-third of the female choral back-up on Spirit In Flesh's first album. She left after ten months when she decided that she wasn't helping herself or Brotherhood to grow anymore and that Michael's outbursts of egotism during the recording sessions in New York City had shaken her faith. She was also angered that Michael had expelled others for promiscuity, while he did as he pleased in his erotic life, fathering several children by several different women.

It became obvious that Michael and the band was the focal point of the commune. It was said of Michael that "If Billy Graham was lead singer with Steppenwolf, this is what it would sound like." Michael told everyone that Spirit in Flesh was going to be more famous than The Beatles.

I first started to question the Brotherhood when, after finishing the dishes and sitting in the kitchen talking with the other Prospectives that first night, a member stormed in and shouted, "Shut the fuck up! We're trying to have a meeting and we can't meditate with all this goddamn noise." Later I learned that those being groomed for the band didn't have to undergo the same rites of passage as did ordinary Prospectives.

It was no use. I felt I had gone more than halfway in trying to understand, and adopt to the Brotherhood. But, of course, they were racing so far ahead of themselves, toward immortality, that they weren't about to wait for anyone to catch up, let alone to meet them halfway. You had to swallow the whole spiel about Michael and Earth-Change and Spirit In Flesh hook, line, and sinker, or else it was no go.
And most important of all, you had to have faith that faith and faith alone can still work miracles in this day and age. Saturday night I stopped in to visit Weird Paul on my way down to the tent he was continuing to camp out in.

"Hi, mind if I come in a minute?"

"Not unless you mind," Paul said cryptically.

I sat on the floorboards of his winterized hovel. A candle, the only light, stood between us. He sat nude in a full lotus, his eyes glowering up at me.

"Well, what do ya think of Brotherhood? You think you'll stay?"

"Oh, I'm going to give myself at least another week before deciding," I said. '" want to be perfectly honest....“

"Yea," he cut me off, "but you must be inclining one way or the other by now. Personally, I don't think you belong here. You're a good person, but you're content with three meals a day and just being amiable with people. We've got to move beyond that, onto a higher plane. Someday you'll wake up to the fact that God is within you-that you are God—and then you'll live up to that responsibility."

I nodded wearily. "You're quite right, Paul. I am easily satisfied. Perfection never was one of my goals, and, quite frankly, a little bit of sanctimony goes a long way." I stood up. "See you in the morning."

Sunlight flooded the tent. Hammering and shouts echoed between the dorm, the house, and piercing the stillness of the woods. I unzipped my sleeping bag and sat up. The spell was broken. When I reached the rec room, a member was expounding to the Prospectives, now nine, the virtue of accepting everyone without reservation. I sat down outside the circle gathered around the fireplace. The lesson drew to a close. Marion stepped into the circle.

"I need a ride to Boston," he announced.

"I'II take you," I heard myself say. "I'm splitting at noon,"

As I said my good byes there was a mutual sense of relief at my leaving. The Brotherhood was a court of last resort, their members had played out all their options; for most of them there was nowhere else to turn. I was searching for answers; too, but not with the terrible sense of despair that I had to find them at the Brotherhood or not at all.

With Marion at the wheel, we had driven no more than two miles when I noticed a faint hot odor. I reminded myself that the car was overdue for an oil change. Then a thin smoke began coming in through the air vents and then I knew that something was seriously wrong. I glanced at the dashboard. The temperature gauge needle lay pinned over on "Hot."

"There's a farmhouse around the next bend," Marion said. "We know the people there."
He pulled into the driveway. We got out and I checked the radiator. Steam pressure blew the cap off. Marlon got a bucket of water. I began slowly pouring it in.
"Wow, man, it's coming right out the bottom!" Marion cried.

I knelt and looked up under the radiator. The stopcock was wide open. My mind raced: Weird Paul? Bob? Dale? Michael? Vishnu testing the limits of my patience? Or had it been local farm boys? I’d heard about their stealthy night raids on the commune.
Once the radiator was filled and the engine had cooled, we headed for Boston. The miles fell behind, but I continued fuming over who was responsible for the malicious prank. Then, without warning, the tension broke. I settled back and let out a long sigh of relief.

There always has been and probably always will be a lunatic fringe. None of them has managed to save the world yet. On the other hand, none of them has gained enough momentum to make their prophecies of doom self-fulfilling. Manson's Family. Lyman's Fort Hill, Hubbard's Scientology, DeGrimstons' Process, Metelica's Brotherhood—aII will attract a certain number of followers, those looking everywhere for salvation except within themselves.

In the end though for every such lost soul, there will always be millions more who will find nothing particularly fascinating about the atavism of petty despots.

To read my account of life among the Brotherhood click here.

Rockin' in Northampton last week.

Holyoke Alleyway by Greg Saulmon.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Blind Justice

Well, the new Hampden County District Attorney Mark G. Mastroianni was sworn in this morning, and we all wish him good luck in the performance of his difficult duties. At least we can say that he will probably do a better job than the man he defeated for the office, Steve Buoniconti, a notorious hack with close connections to some of the sleaziest people in the Valley. However, we can't welcome the new D.A. without a few parting words of commentary about the one headed out the door.

That would be William Bennett (above) who has occupied the office since 1990, despite a campaign promise that he would serve no more than two terms. Bennett deserves credit for professionalizing the office, which was run like a personal fiefdom by his scandal plagued predecessor Matty Ryan. Frankly, it wasn't hard for Bennett to look good following that act.

But while Bennett did a competent job prosecuting the murderers, bank robbers and other crimes committed primarily by the region's underclass, Bennett's great flaw was his inability to take any action against the high-level political crooks who operated with impunity during his tenure, until the FBI finally came in to clean things up.

Bennett's defenders say that it wasn't his jurisdiction to pursue public corruption cases, that such prosecutions are the responsibility of the Feds. While that may be technically correct, that is a lame cop-out. The D.A. is supposed to be the primary crime fighter in the Valley, sworn to pursue wrong-doing wherever it may be found. Bennett might at least have sent the FBI a few memos such as "Excuse me, but the Albano Gang seems completely out of control" or "Those Asselins look like they're up to some pretty outrageous stuff" or just plain "Hey Feds, shit stinks around here!" Instead there came from Bennett's office nothing but a deafening silence.

Now he's off to make some serious money with Springfield's machine embedded power-player law firm Doherty, Wallace, Pillsbury & Murphy, which also happens to be the very same law firm that Matty Ryan golden parachuted into after his fall. Springfield - a town of the damnedest coincidences!

But at least let history record, that while Bennett can be credited with reforming some of the worst abuses of the Matty Ryan era, in one major respect the more things changed the more they stayed the same - that when it came to the sins of those in high places, under Bennett justice truly was blind.

Meanwhile in other news, UMass was declared the 43rd druggiest school in American by The Daily Beast. What?!! Back in the 70's we would never have settled for anything less than a Top Ten ranking!

The holidays are finally over, and here are a few final pics. This is Northampton's official holiday tree in Pulaski Park.

Here is the wreath over the mantle of the lobby of the Hotel Northampton.

At the Cumberland Farms on King Street in Northampton is this sign for a caffeine sale featuring someone holding a cup in front of their face with a smile drawn on it.

Of course the children of Northampton could not resist the dare of so ripe a target.

In Northampton the other night.

Northampton New Year by Cher Lovestrong