Friday, July 31, 2009

Michelle Malone at The Evening Muse

It takes alot to get me out on a weeknight. I'm like that old dog that wants to sit by the fire or watch TV. But when Michelle Malone comes to town Sue and I head out to see her. And she never fails to deliver a scorching brand of rock and roll, slide guitar and a couple of slow soulful things for old guys like me.

With the solid backing of Jason Rogers on bass and Katy Herron on drums, the beat is driving and intensifies Ms. Malones already savage sound. The music they deliver, ranging from the sultry "Mississippi" to a ballad such as "Cypress Inn" draws on so many roots. Southern rock, Bonnie Raitt, Stevie Ray Vaughn all come to mind- and then through in some very original vocals and guitar styling- and you have an accurate picture of their sound.
Seeing them in a venue like The Evening Muse located in the NoDa District of Charlotte(North Davidson Street)also gives you the chance to see and hear really good, independent music up close and personal. The Muse holds maybe 100 people, giving you a feeling of being part of something special. And you are.

Sue and I have been following Michelle Malone for about 3 years since the night we drove 100 miles to see Will Kimbrough at "Gottrocks" in South Carolina. We have seen her every time since. And the music keeps getting better and better. Thanks Michelle for a wonderful evening!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Occupied Japenese Stuff

I'm a sucker for anything Made In Occupied Japan. When I was a kid anything stamped Made In Occupied Japan meant cheap. But over the years it has become apparent that some of this stuff was really delightful to look at and display. These two little pieces are good examples of some of the cheaper, earlier Occupied Japenese things that were common in my house.

The fact that they came from so far away and were made by our former enemies always gave me pause to think as I looked at the items and pictured small Japenese people laboring, lovingly over their craft. In my mind they were happy to be free of the war and all the terror it had wrought. General MacArthur, for all his faults, really knew how to "wage peace" as well as war.

This beautiful plate was part of a complete tea set for 6. It is of much better quality than the other stuff and is very collectible.It is one of the earliest things I remember from my childhood. I used to have the entire set but some years back I foolishly sold the tea pot and cups and saucers. All that I have now are the 6 plates, which I treasure. They stand in the China Closet in the Piano Room-where we keep my Mom's old piano.

Time marches on and things change rapidly in todays world. That's what makes these old things so comforting. I have been looking at these plates my whole life. And knowing that my children will be enjoying them after I'm gone gives me a sense of continuity. Not bad for something as simple as a plate.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Dewey the Small Town Library Cat by Vicki Myron

Okay,I confess,I am reviewing this at the suggestion of Garden Lust Journal( and I was,to say the least, skeptical. I am allergic to these guys- they actually intefere with my breathing. So, as I said, I was skeptical.

But this is a great book! Not just an animal story- but the story of a remarkable town. A town that burns down in 1931 because a kid was careless with a sparkler- but no one will say who he is- electing instead to go forward with rebuilding, renewing.The farm crisis of the late 1970's devastates the town economically and they are in kind of a rut when into their lives walks Dewey, the Small Town Library Cat. No hat like Dr. Suess' "Cat In The Hat"- but with a bag of emotional tricks that would make Felix the Cat envious.

This little fellow has been tossed into a library return bin on a cold (-15F degrees) night in Spencer,Iowa. The author saves him and he becomes the official mascot of the library, winning over everyone- even people like me with allergies to these guys are rooting for him. I know I was.

The author keeps you engaged by interweaving her own life with that of the cat and the history of the town. You really like these people. They are imaginative and resilient, always bouncing back. The antics of this little guy and his attempt at independence by running away will have you laughing.

On the other hand, his recognition of the needs of others gives him an almost human dimension. He befreinds the local elementary school Special Ed class but attaches himself to the most needy of the children- and the results are tangible- the girl, confined to a wheel chair- glows.

Through the authors own struggles as a single mother while battling breast cancer and a double mascetomy the bond between the two is forged. The relationship with her own daughter is a direct result of Dewey- through his presence they found a bridge.

It later becomes apparent that Dewey is ill and things are not going to end well. And they don't. But through it all the author cares for Dewey until the very emotional ending, as the town first mourns his loss, and then learns to rejoice in the legacy he has left behind.

It is a tear jerker in parts towards the end, but the tears are ones of grief as well as joy. It is hard to say this, but I am better off for having read this book.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Skizzenbuch- Sketchbook

The first time I saw this sketch was in Germany in the late 1970's and I fell in love with it. But being "in transit" so to speak there was no room for pieces of art in my portmandeau. So I settled on the sketch book- indeed that is the title of the book- "Skizzebbuch" or Sketchbook in German.

Apparently at some point the book was taking up too much room as well, and so I ripped the page out which is reproduced here. The reason this sketch means so much to me is simple enough to understand in retrospect.

I was very lonely traveling as I did, and this sketch represented to me, my own awdwardness and inability to sucessfully survive on my own. And the beautiful woman helping the elephant learn to walk was my ideal of finding someone who would help me through life's awkward steps, for which I was ill prepared.

If anyone knows the name of the artist,or even the sketch itself,I would be grateful. I have been unable to google him or the book. Also- let me know what this sketch means to you. I really want to know...


They're tiny and seemingly meaningless- but in their day these little babies were the gateway to the rest of the world beyond my own neighborhood. They have always held a fascination for me. The first time I saw one was on my father's dresser with his change. I remember that I didn't need one until I was over 6. I still recall the slogan- "Little enough to ride for free- little enough to ride your knee."

As a coin ccollectorI used to shun these little guys- but I always made sure to save one or two whenever the NYC tokens were changed. I have given them away, one by one, over the years, to friends and my kids. My wife even has one of the older little ones as a necklace. In 1967 I went by "D" train into Manhattan and shopped at Macy's on 34th Street for Christmas using one of these same tokens.

The best part of holding one of these in your hands is the unknown, untold story that each could tell. Look at the Honolulu token for instance. I see a sailor on liberty in pre World War II Hawaii. The trolley probably took him from the docks to the bar district or maybe he even had a girlfriend. Where was this token on the morning of December 7th, 1941? Oh, how I wish these guys could talk!

The Baltimore and the South Carolina tokens are from the days of segregation and were once held in the hands of white, blue collar workers as well as the African American passengers, who, after handing over the fare had to "move to the rear of the bus." How odd that they could share the tokens but not the seats...

The Miami token recalls a time when people from New York went down to Florida for the winter. While there they used the streetcars and rode alongside the Cuban maids and hotel workers. I have a picture of my mother's family in Miami in the 1940's and can't help wonder if she; or even my great granddad Max; used one of these on the way to Neiman Marcus to shop. Maybe even this one!

The delicate designs, the flourishes at the edges and the delightful cutouts in the centers give these tokens all the grace of real coins. They are hallmarks to the past.

You can find these little beauties in almost any coin shop- usually in a box marked "Special" and selling for less than a buck. I like to turn them over in my hand and read the inscriptions and spin stories in my head about them, where they were and who used them. Not bad for less than a buck.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Linthead by Wilt Browning

I moved to North Carolina 11 years ago. I had never seen a "Mill Town" before. I had been to some coal towns in the Appalachians when I was a kid with my parents. They took us to see a company coal town in 1964 around the time Lyndon Johnson was cranking out his "War Against Poverty." We went home greatly appreciative of all that we had.

Time, though, has a way of erasing and replacing the bad memories with Nostalgia.

I have seen many of the former mill towns here in North Carolina, most notably Mooresville, which was a bustling place through the early 1960's. It was a mill town, a railroad town and a farming community. All of that changed when Lake Norman was built and the Interstate came through several miles to the West about 45 years ago.

But I have walked the streets of, and worked in Mooresville for a good portion of my time here and always wondered what it was like in its' prime. "Linthead" gives me some answers.

In less than 200 pages Mr. Browning has painted a wonderful, sepia tinged potrait of the mill town of Easley, South Carolina in the 1940's and 50's. His was the last generation of true "lintheads". Lintheads were the people who worked in the mills. The carpenters, loom hands and spinners all came home each day covered in the white lint of the mill.

This was a time of Company Stores, scrip instead of cash, hog boiling time and baseball. It was also the generation that would witness the demise all these things as they were replaced by Unions,cash,chain stores and the general breaking down of the old order.

This is an unusual book written by a man who escaped working in the mills (he became a sports writer) but is clearly proud of the simple way of life which he once knew.I think that is the charm of this book- we all want to go home again- but can't. The way is filled with memories, some good and some bad. The past ways are harder to live with as we age. We have all become a bit softer, yet we want to go back to the struggles of our earlier years.

We can't and so Nostalgia is the next best thing.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Movie Review- 10 Items Or Less

I never do movies, so this one must have got to me. If you're tired of your TV/DVD Collection then you might want to check this one out.

Short synopsis: Morgan Freeman plays an aging actor who no longer commands the big roles- so he has agreed to scout out the location of a low budget independent film that he has been offered a part in. It's in L.A. and at a Spanish Grocery. There he meets Scarlet,who is from Spain(played wonderfully by Paz Vega)the checkout girl at the 10 Items Or Less register.

Initially skeptical of him as he checks the place out, he slowly draws on her insecurities and tries to build her up. After he becomes stranded at the store on the eve of the Jewish Holidays she agrees to give him a ride but has to stop for a job interview first. This is her first attempt, at 25, to get a real office type job. He preps her for the interview by going to Target, doing an impromtu interview with her in the car and just getting to know themselves through one another. A warm and uplifting film and well worth the time to watch.

In the end you realize that it is only you that holds you back. You can do what you want. You just need to try. It's okay if you fail. It's never okay not to try again.

(PS Look out for a fantastic cameo by Danny Devito and Rhea Perlman)

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Family of Secrets by Russ Baker

This book is the final word on the JFK Assassination and it’s connection to the Watergate break-ins in 1972 and the eventual seating of the first unelected President in the history of the United States. From there it moves on to explain how George H.W. “Poppy” Bush, with the aid of Zappata Off Shore Oil (headquartered in Medilin, Columbia (200 miles from shore) went on to become President of the United States, establishing a political dynasty along the way and leading to the election of Geoge W. Bush and the Iraqi war.

Ever wonder what the Pepsi Convention in Dallas had to do with the murder of the President? Ever asked yourself how could anyone possibly engineer a plot so tightly that it would ensure that the President would pass by the Book Depository? Ever wonder who owned the Book Depository Building and how Oswald got the job a mere 6 weeks before Kennedy’s visit? Ever think about what, if any, was Vice President Johnsons’ role in all of this? Why were 3 of the countrys’ subsequent Presidents in Dallas on the day of the assassination and what does their presence there indicate?

What was Abraham Zapruders unwitting role in all of this? And why was his 8mm film taken by Time-Life and locked away from the public until New Orleans Attorney Jim Garrison forced its release with a Freedom of Information Act Lawsuit?

These are not rhetorical questions. They are the details that have bugged me for years. And this book takes it all the way back to Prescott Bush and his early days establishing his family in finance and oil. The trail is murky until you shed some light on it as Mr. Baker has painstakingly done with this book.

For those that believe Lee Harvey Oswald was a lone nut, acting of his own twisted accord, this book will not interest you. But if you, like myself, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, to name a few, have any lingering doubts as to what really happened, then this is the book for you.

Layer upon layer of twists and turns all lead back to the inescapable conclusion that the Oil Lobby along with the CIA plotted, planned for and finally executed the President of the United States. Who pulled the trigger is another story- and a backseat one at best. The real story is who paid for and orchestrated the biggest crime of the 20th Century. A crime that has continued to pay dividends to the oil industry, the munitions manufacturers and one particular family.

Follow the political growth of the Bush family from its nefarious oil dealings as Zappata Off Shore Oil Group through the turbulent late 50’s and the 60’s. Follow the money as it flows and funds covert op after covert op. Follow George H.W. Bush on his climb to the 41st Presidency of the United States.

Who was George DeMohrenschildt and why did he and his wife take Lee and Marina Oswald under their wing during the months leading up to the assassination of the President?

What was the connection between the Bay of Pigs and Dallas and later Watergate? Why did President Nixon demand that the Watergate Burglars be paid off or it would “lead back to the whole Bay of Pigs thing.” And why did Richard Helms react so violently when this was relayed to him by H.R. Haldeman?

This is the penultimate book on the covert operations of the 1950’s CIA in Latin America and Southeast Asia. It ties together all the questions raised and argued by conspiracy theorists and refutes all the assertations put up by the Lone Assassin Theorists, showing along the way what the real goals were and how they were achieved.

Follow George W. in his early years and see how he was groomed to protect the family and secure power, both political and financial.

I cannot recommend this book enough. For me it is the final word on the events of November 22nd, 1963. It is also an explanation of the Watergate Burglary and its ultimate consequences for American politics, right up to the present day.

You will be amazed by this painstakingly researched and annotated book.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

RIP Walter Cronkite

Walter Cronkite, the most beloved and remembered icon of TV news and noted chronicler of 1960's politics and the space race has died. He was 92.

My own memories of him are interwined with some of my earliest memories of TV. "The Twentieth Century" was a staple in my home during the late 50's. Even at the early age of 4 I knew that this guy was important. I could tell by the very way he spoke. The authority in his voice was palpable.

In all of my formative years I recall him as always being there- sort of an Uncle to us all. Whatever we agreed or didn't agree on- we all loved Walter Cronkite.

My sense of history and love for the subject are directly related to his "Twentieth Century" broadcasts. They made me aware of a larger world, just as his "You Are There" broadcasts spurred my curiosity of history- how did it happen and why.

Today's 24 hour news cycle and it's attendant spin offs such as The History Channel all owe him quite a debt. He was the pioneer,the trailblazer.

Rest in peace Walter Cronkite. We miss you already.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

From the Vault - A Sea Story - Storm Off Cape Hatteras

We were steaming off the coast of the US heading back from operations in the Carribean on the USS Milwaukee at the time the following occurred in February 1980. It was a Wednesday and I believe it was the 6th. I had the Dog watch that afternoon, that is the watch that runs through evening chow and you get relieved for about 30 minutes or so by the oncoming 8-12 so that you can get to eat.

Upon returning from chow I noticed that the barometer had dropped another .02 of an inch for the second hour in a row. Something was brewing along the lines of a low pressure system that would bear watching in the coming hours. I informed the officer of the deck, I believe it was Ensign Tyler that evening- he was a portly, pipe smoking fellow who affected an intellectual air that was mostly a fa├žade. He reacted with a derisive “Hmphh.” This was not all that unusual a response to receive from some of the younger officers. They seemed to look down upon the enlisted as an inferior class of people, lacking the money, or brains, or sometimes both- to get into college and become officers. They never understood that there were people who wanted to enlist, in the ranks, and serve there.

So nothing was done except that I informed the deck officer that heavy weather was approaching and a life line on deck would be a good idea. A 500 foot mooring line was secured to the after and forward bulkheads by means of shackles affixed to padeyes which were welded to the respective bulkheads. For some reason no precautions were taken to secure the ship for heavy seas.

I was relieved by QM3 Baker at 1945 for the 20-2400 watch. Star time was not an issue that evening due to the weather. We were running on Omega and Loran with a dead reckoning tracer as a back up. I entered into the Pass Down the Line log that the barometer had fallen for 2 hours in a row and to be aware of any changes in the sea etc. I left the bridge, and as was the custom of the day, smoked a joint before preparing to shower and retire.

By the time I got back to the after house and the Navigation Division berthing space the ship was being tossed and buffeted by huge swells and violent gusts of wind. The helmsman was a deckhand and the ship was not being handled properly. We were taking a lot of punishment that could have been avoided by having a more experienced man at the helm.

By now, objects all over the ship were being loosed by the storm and there was no way to stop the seeming avalanche of food supplies, crates, forklifts etc that had not been tied down. The 7 million gallons of fuel that we carried started to have its’ own inertial effect upon the handling of the vessel, making it even more unstable. The “Mighty Milwaukee” was taking rolls in excess of her design and the ship would shudder as she laboriously struggled to right herself after each successive roll. Standing was now impossible and most of the men were braced in their “racks” with feet and hands braced against the nearest stanchion or bulkhead, feet dug into the rims of the thin sleeping surfaces that served also as covers to the coffin like clothes compartment that lay beneath each. The coffin like similarities of these lockers were not lost on the men at a time like this.

Lockers were toppling and tables and chairs were being literally pitched as the violence of the storm increased. Most of the crew was now motion sick and those that weren’t were unable to do anything but hang on for the wildest ride any of us had ever been on.

Shortly after 2300 (11 PM) the phone rang and someone told me that the bridge was on the phone. I was told that the Captain was ordering me to the bridge. I went, on the double, expecting that I was about to be chewed out for the storm having taken us by surprise. I started across the deck and made it about 50 feet before turning back and using the cargo deck- which although it had the advantage of being enclosed , had the hazard of forklifts,tools and cargo being tossed and thrown about with considerable violence. Added to this was the possibility of falling into one of the open elevator pits. These were large, seven story deep shafts that were sometimes left open. Tonight , unfortunately, was one of these times. The effect of the ship moving about under me not only prevented me from walking a straight line at this point, but it was now carrying me close to these pits and several times I came near to falling in one. They were located on both the port and starboard sides, increasing this likelihood as I struggled forward.

At the end of this journey on the cargo deck I was faced with 4 interior ladders, steeply angled as compared with a normal stairway, but still an improvement over the exterior ladders which were precisely that, ladders welded to the bulkheads. Unknown to me at this time was that many of these ladders had been torn away by the tons of water crashing against the superstructure.

The bridge was a scene of disaster. There were 22 people in there- way too many. Captain Page was braced in a corner, legs apart and arms against the forward portholes, concerned but very much in command. “Well Willie- what do you think we should do?” Captain Page had been a Pilot– flew A-6’s and also was a flight instructor. With a good sense of humor and a relaxed demeanor among the men, he was a well liked captain and a good leader. He had a hard act to follow, coming on the heels of Captain Hawkins, who had come up from enlisted ranks via the NESEP program, which although not that rare, was quite an accomplishment and the men had idolized him as “one of us.” But Captain Page had more than filled his shoes and it was a ”tight” crew.

My first suggestion was to rid the bridge of as many of the puking , moaning men as possible, placing them in the passageways leading to the bridge itself. Everyone had plastic trash bags to puke in and the stench was beginning to become overpowering.

Standing was impossible at this level, we were hanging on to the overhead and the wire banks and piping that line it. Captain Page ordered me to take the helm.

The compass card was swinging wildly, port to starboard and back again over a field of approximately 180 degrees. We were at the mercy of the sea unless we could stabilize ourselves and begin to make some sort of headway. The Captain then ordered me to steer as necessary to make headway and hold course- I was hanging onto the overhead and steering with my feet- literally counteracting the swells by kicking the helm hard left and hard right.

I then received via the Captain , several course changes prompted by the other officers present on the bridge looking for the course that would give us the “best ride”. Captain Page asked my recommendation and I chose West as that would bring us toward our destination of Norfolk but not put us in shallow waters that could hazard the vessel. I was of the opinion that with 65 foot swells breaking over the bridge and winds of 98 knots (107 mph) with gusts greater than that, there was no course that was going to give a good ride. The Captain ordered me to make it so, which I immediately did.

We spent the next 9 hours or so riding through this maelstrom and upon breaking out of it in the morning and later approaching Virginia Beach, we were greeted by the most dazzling sight- over 12” of snow blanketing the Beach and everything beyond! After the violence of the past 10 hours the contrast was extraordinary and we began to open hatchways and portholes to air the ship out. The crew began to come back to life- restowing all the gear that had been thrown about but not washed overboard. The Officers took toll of the structural damage to the ship- ladders gone, boats torn loose, rigging fouled and ruined.

We moored at D and S Piers on the James River and there my memory fades a bit- we were very tired and I imagine that we cleaned ship and had an early knock off that day.

A week later on the 12th of February we were back out at sea- headed to the Azores to bring a load of fuel to the Task Group operating there. We were doing an underway replenishment when Captain Page approached me at the helm with an envelope saying “It’s a little bit late- read it later.”

It burned a hole in my pocket for several hours until I was able to leave the wheel and read it- you have to remember that Captains do not often slip notes to their crewmembers. The note- which I have memorized, said the following;

"As I think back on the events of last Wednesday night and the sudden and completely unpredicted storm- I continue to think of you and your performance on the helm.

From the perspective of the Commanding Officer, several of the variables which were being experienced were reduced the moment you took the helm. You obviously had the “feel of the ship” and your expertise helped me greatly in making the decisions regarding course and speed to order.

I operate with complete confidence when you are on the helm, and your performance last Wednesday night under the most adverse of conditions reinforced my previous observations of a real ‘pro’.

Many Thanks for a job extremely Well Done.

I called Captain Page one night and we spoke for 20 minutes or so about the storm and the “old days” aboard the Milwaukee. And just before we hung up- Captain Page asked me- “ Hey Willie- do you remember the collision with that Malaysian oil tanker? “

Well, that's another story……

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Making Jack Falcone by Joaquin "Jack" Garcia

If you enjoyed "Donnie Brascoe" in either the movie or book form, then you will love this book. This is the true story of a guy who goes so deep undercover within the Mob that he actually becomes proposed for membership. A "made" man.

Juggling several cases at once and playing various roles would seem more suited to a Hollywood Actor than to a typical FBI Agent. But Jack Falcone is not your typical agent,as you will see when you read this book.

A veritable giant of a man physically, at 6"4" and weighing at times over 400 pounds, he must find his emotional and mental strengths to endure the complexities of the assignments he undertakes. At times he is forced to fight the beauracracy of his own FBI in order to fulfill the requirements of "taking down" the real criminals to which he has been assigned.

The futility of having his case "shut down" inexplicably by his superiors takes a toll on the sensibilities of the reader. You can actually feel the disappointment of Agent Falcone after so many years of working this case to it's apex.

From the streets of Philadelphia to the nightclubs of Miami, this is one of those fast paced, page turning reads which has left me wondering why I bother to write of my own experiences. They pale by comparison.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

July 4th, 1986

Saturday is July 4th- lots of fireworks and hot dogs and celebrating- especially for me and Sue. We have been married 23 years on the 4th. The license was taken out a few weeks earlier while I was out on my own recognizance for the Great Donut Crime of 1986- I have the Charging Documents to prove it. But that is a seperate story. 23 years with the same person can be trying at times- irritating at others. And sometimes it’s just damn infuriating. But at the end of the day- or 23 years, you always know that there is someone beside you,- or in my case, one step ahead.And when all is said and done we are always waiting for the other one- always weathering a crisis together- seeing things through. Raising kids. Grandkids. Fighting.It all goes together and comes out as 23 years of loving one another. And letting each other know…Happy Anniversary Sue. I love you always,Robert

Kodachromes- Nice Bright Colors....

Remember Kodachrome? Not the song- the slides. My Mom and Dad never went anywhere without a Japenese made Canon and shot Kodachrome for slides.

Holidays were never quite complete without a slide show- and the older the slides, the better.

The example above is 52 years old and from my own family collection of over 300 slides taken between 1957 and the last ones in 1965. The print of the slide is me pointing at something.(probably nothing- just told to point for a pose)

The images are reversed- you can see that are coats button opposite of the print version- which is the correct one. The explanation is that the slides were mounted in the frames backwards - but I wanted to show the borders.

And thanks to Suzy at Garden Lust Journal for the idea to put this on here.