Sunday, August 30, 2015

"Beale Street Dynasty" by Preston Lauterbach (2015)

This book is yet another stone in the path of musical history in the United States. New Orleans may have been the point of entry for much of the music which came from Africa and the Caribbean, but Memphis is one of the towns in which it was reshaped into its own unique form. The Memphis Blues is different than let’s say Chicago Blues, or Delta Blues. They may all have begun at the same place, but the journey up the Mississippi left its own mark on the music with each town it passed through.

Just as in his earlier book “The Chitlin’ Circuit and the Road to Rock and Roll”; which I reviewed here in 2011, Mr. Lauterbach brings to life the tumult of post-Civil War Memphis and the interracial society which sprang up there in the days before Jim Crow.  Memphis was a virtual Mecca of the way things should be regarding race relations. There were African-American lawyers, barbers, accountants, newspapers, hotels and everything else you would expect in any community in the 1870’s.

Politically the town was also seemingly color blind, and with the guidance of Robert Church, a mulatto steam boat Captain, the town continued to thrive. As a matter of fact, in many ways it was the exact opposite of other Southern towns. In many ways the African-Americans were prospering, and even leading, in the areas of finance and entertainment. Interracial marriage was a common thing and African-Americans enjoyed most of the privileges of their white neighbors.

With a deft hand and a keen style of writing, Mr. Lauterbach charts the course of change in Memphis from the riots after the Civil War to the time when it was the gem of the South around the turn of the Century. At that time it was said that any white man who spent even one night on Beale Street would never want to be white again.”

But, with the advent of the First World War came the first harbingers of change. Just as in New Orleans, the authorities clamped down on the music and the prostitution, and strengthened miscegenation laws to keep the races apart.

The story of Memphis, Robert Church and W.C. Handy; along with scores of other musicians; is widely known, but Mr. Lauterbach has taken the politics of the time and melded it with the cultural and criminal elements which made Memphis the place it was then, as well as today, and turned it into an all-encompassing history of Beale Street and the blues in Memphis . 

For a review of Mr. Lauterbach’s “The Chitlin’ Circuit” hit this link;


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Accident (1993)

The following incident happened 22 years ago today. It doesn’t seem so long ago; but it was. This was taken from a larger chapter about the time I spent in Maryland. Noticing the date I thought it was appropriate to post it; you might even find it interesting. I know I did…

One episode which sticks out from this period is my accident in the Catoctin Mountains outside of Camp David, Maryland. This was in the summer of 1993. (The previous posting of this story had the date incorrectly listed as 1994)The road there is one lane in either direction and I took a curve too wide; coming face to face with a fully loaded 20 ton dump truck. I remember thinking, “Oh, shit!” Then there was a shattering of glass and a twisting of metal. The sky was turning around and around as my truck, an S-10, reacted to the collision by doing several 360 degree spins. When everything stopped there was a deathly silence.

I was passing in and out of consciousness and at one point a sheet was placed over my face. I came to with my arms flailing and yelling, “I’m not dead- I’m not dead!” The sheet was lifted and a soothing voice informed me that the sheet was to protect my face while they removed the windshield. I was pinned by the steering wheel and my right leg was impaled by some sort of rod.

At one point when I was conscious I asked Trooper Updergraff to take charge of my pistol, which was under the front seat. I did not want it to fall into the wrong hands. It was registered in my name. I recall seeing the Firemen and Troopers playing with it before I passed out again.

Using the Jaws of Life and various saws it took an hour and a half to remove me from the wreck. The mountain was closed in both directions. Being outside of Camp David had its advantages. I had 3 helicopters trying to claim the jurisdiction to fly me to the hospital in Hagerstown. The Marines from Camp David claimed me; as did the National Guard; but in the end the Maryland State Troopers won.

Sue was summoned and raced the 60 miles to the hospital. She was pulled over for speeding on the way, but after explaining the situation the Trooper let her go.

When Sue got to the hospital I had already been scanned from head to toe. I had several broken ribs and a puncture wound to my right leg. They told me the puncture wound was not serious. I disagreed and after several hours I realized that staying there was going to be a problem. They refused to debride the puncture wound!

I told Sue to grab a wheelchair- we were going home. The doctors and nurses were furious and had lots of papers for me to sign about leaving against medical advice. I signed them all as Sue wheeled me out.

The next day I went to see Doctor Shaffer, my personal Physician. He agreed about the puncture wound and debrided it. You could hear my screams way out in the waiting area.

On Sunday I woke up and the wound was bad- it was going toward gangrene. I called Dr. Shaffer and he came to the house after church. He arrived without his bag and had to debride the wound again using a knife from my kitchen, which we sterilized with boiling water and alcohol. All in all I was lucky to be alive and was back on my feet in a week or so.

Now, back to the gun; it was approaching 16 weeks after the accident, which happened in August, when I began to try and retrieve my pistol. This was not easy. Apparently my weapon had disappeared. In addition there was no record of it having been turned over to Trooper Updergraff or its' being received at the Property Clerks Office. This was going to be tricky.

On the one hand I did not want the weapon floating around and turning up after use in a crime. On the other hand I did not want to engage in a battle of wits with the State Police. But my real fear was that the pistol was going to be used as a “drop” gun by a police officer. A “drop” gun is a stolen or unregistered weapon that is “dropped” at the scene by an officer after a shooting. This gives the officer a cover story if the shooting was not “clean.” I could also picture myself being charged at some later date with a homicide if the weapon had been sold and was on the street. In short, if I could not recover the weapon I wanted a receipt.

I was informed by the State Prosecutors Office that receipts were not issued for lost property. I reiterated my position to no avail. I called Trooper Updergraff and explained my concerns. He threatened me with arrest and incarceration pending trial. This is when I started thinking... and so, accordingly, I went to the library.

Looking up the State Statutes on Weapons Charges I found one that I could live with and which would also serve as a receipt for the pistol. I called Trooper Updergraff and had him meet me in the woods behind Rick Stine's. I demanded to be cited for “carrying a handgun in a vehicle against the Peace and Dignity of the State.” It was like a traffic ticket and though it carried a penalty of 1 year and a $1,000 fine it was never enforced. Trooper Upergraff was not pleased and so he gave me a ticket for crossing the centerline as well as the weapons citation. Court was scheduled for January.

I arrived at Court early and, as usual, without counsel. The Prosecutor and Trooper Updergraff were waiting for me and we arrived at an agreement. I would plead guilty, pay a small fine and serve no time. I would also formally forfeit the weapon to the State, but this was not to infringe upon my right to Possess Arms in the future. It was a misdemeanor. I would also agree to not ask the State to produce the physical evidence. With supreme confidence we entered the Courtroom.

The Judge was in a foul mood and gave me 30 days! This was after he bullied me about not having a lawyer. We were clearly not getting along! Trooper Updergraff and the Prosecutor both approached the Judge and then summoned me to join them. It was agreed by all that the 30 days would be suspended and I would pay a $300 fine. I would also do 18 months Unsupervised Probation. I also agreed to a forfeiture of the weapon without future infringements upon my rights to purchase firearms.

This was acceptable to all parties and the case was closed. I now had my de facto receipt. This deal would never have been accomplished had I used Counsel. The next 18 months passed uneventfully, during which time I even bought a new pistol to replace the one which had been stolen.

Monday, August 24, 2015

"Satchmo" by Louis Armstrong (1954)

This is the book which opened up the world of coin collecting to me as a hobby. I was 11 years old at the time I first read it. That was in 1965 and the book had been out since 1954, the year in which I was born. From the very first page, when the reader is told that Mr. Armstrong was born in 1900, I had to have an Indian Head penny with that date. Not a brand new shiny one; that would never do. I wanted a used and slightly worn one, in the hope that this may have been one of those which had been tossed at Louis Armstrong when he played the streets and honky tonks in New Orleans.

The amazing thing to me is that the book is written so vividly that my memories are pretty much in line with the book I just re-read.  All of the color and noise of New Orleans at the turn of the century ring from Mr. Armstrong’s unique prose and his keen sense of observation.

Born the son a big hearted woman and a no count father he never really knew; he was roaming the streets of the city, absorbing the sights and sounds. When he was about 8 he fired a pistol on New Year’s Eve and was sent to the Waifs Home for several years. It was there he first came in contact with the coronet through the school’s band. In short time he was the leader of that band.

Upon release he worked with a mule cart, delivering coal and playing music at night. During the last days of Storyville and the vice crackdown in World War One, he was playing with some of the original greats; particularly Kid Orley and King Oliver; his boyhood idol.

By the early 1920’s he was playing with the King in Chicago; never looking back. This book covers only the first years of Louis Armstrong’s life. It was written in 1954. He wrote one more in the late 1960’s covering the rest of his remarkable career. Both books are equally candid and informative, and I recommend them both highly.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Who is a Citizen Under the Constitution?

The current contretemps concerning who is a Citizen under our Constitution seems to be revolving around the term “anchor baby”, which is a way of referring to a child born on U.S. soil automatically being a citizen. Although that has long been our accepted policy, the Constitution is not crystal clear on this issue.

Since this topic is destined to dominate the news for a couple of days, at least, I thought it might be helpful to post the 2 places in the Constitution where Citizenship is mentioned. The first is from Article 1; while the second is from the 14th Amendment, which seems to have become the “eye of the storm.”

I have synopsized the meaning of each quote from the Constitution in an effort to give them some historical context.

Article 1, Section 4:8 states “Congress shall have the Power to……Establish an Uniform Rule of Naturalization…”

This implies that Congress would be responsible for setting up a bureau to deal with the specifics of Immigration and Naturalization. Today we call that organization Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, as it is more commonly referred. At the time it was written many of our leading citizens; including some of the leading politicians of the time; were not born here; hence the need to define the term Citizen.

The 14th Amendment states in Section 1; “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and the State wherein they reside.

The point of contention here seems to rest not in the opening phrase that all persons born here are Citizens, but rather in the phrase “subject to the jurisdiction thereof.” The phrase was included as a way of addressing the issue of “Indians not taxed” in the 2nd Section of the Amendment.

I hope that this information will prove helpful to the reader as the controversy rolls forward.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

"Paper Doll" by Molly Hart (2015)

One of the best things that can happen to me on any given day is receiving a box of stuff from Molly and Julia, my granddaughters who live in Rochester, New York. Due to circumstances beyond my control I don't get to see them except by digi-cam. But the boxes of stuff kind of keep me connected to them.

This paper doll cutout was drawn by Molly, who is 6 years old. It has hair! It's definitely going up in the kitchen- probably on the refrigerator. And it immediately put me to mind of the old song by the Mills Brothers, which is one of my all time favorites. Here they are on TV sometime in the 1950's, singing about the paper doll my granddaughter was going to make for me in about 50 years. I don't know how they knew about that...


Monday, August 17, 2015

The Sunday After Midnight (2014)

Midnight, my prized stray cat, passed away one year ago today. He was a true friend to me, in spite of my severe allergy to cats. Some things can't be explained; except to say that he came along right when I needed a companion the most. This is free verse but it has a rhythm if read properly. 

You could never tell where the kitten
would be sittin’.
He had so many places he liked to hide.

In the summer it was the porch
lying in the shade.
In the winter he found shelter inside.

In the garage there was a heating pad and chair.
And on summer stormy nights
there was a Christmas tree in there,
and he took special comfort from the lights.

We ran them anytime,
when the wind began to whine
or thunder cracked.

And it worked in winter, too,
making him feel that he was warmer than he was.
He loved that tree.

And the shadow from the lights grew longer
as the kittens time grew shorter;
‘til there was an empty place on my porch.

In my garage, the Christmas tree is gone;
the lights only lit the empty spaces in the night.


Sunday, August 16, 2015

A Midnight Tail (2014)


I live in a development. We have a home Owner’s Association. Along with all of the usual rules there is one that makes no sense to me at all. It is the rule which forbids screens in the front windows of the houses, as well as barring any screen doors.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I like a bit of fresh air on those rare North Carolina days when the sky is blue and cloudless. More so on the days when there is a nice breeze going. These are the days I like to “air out” the house, placing fans in open windows and letting the breeze course through.

The other day was one of those beautiful days I have just described. I opened every window I could and even one of the front ones without a screen.  Our resident stray, Midnight, was quick to exploit the opening; coming in through the window next to the chair he likes to occupy on our front porch.

I was a bit surprised, as he is not a “house cat” by any means. Also I have severe allergies, so I was a little worried about the effect on me from having him inside. But with such a nice breeze going I thought I’d take a chance and let him stay for a while. He immediately began exploring the premises.

It was about 10 minutes later when I noticed Midnight’s friend “Ghost” had elected to come in through that same window, looking for him. She was shortly joined by her “significant other”; at least when she is not “catting” around with Midnight; “Lucky”, who lives down the street.

Well, before too long I had about 4 cats roaming all over the place, happily purring as I watched them explore every nook and cranny of the house. It was a nice sight, but I had decided; only Midnight would be staying. The others would have to go. After all, they have homes; unlike Midnight; who lives on my porch or in the garage, depending upon the weather.

To this end, Midnight was already marking territory in the living room near the fireplace. I guess even on such a nice, balmy day he was thinking of where he would be spending his winter. I hustled the other cats outside and closed the windows after them. Now it was just me and Midnight. I was ecstatic.

But I was suddenly seized with panic as I realized that he simply could not stay due to my allergies.  Already my asthma was kicking in big time. Accordingly, I went to pick him up and place him outside. This was getting to be like a bad dream; he had to go! And when I awoke, I was already reaching for my inhaler…