Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Mom- 25 Years Have Flown

My Mom,Ruth Marcus Williams, was born 80 years ago this Thursday on July 2nd,1929 and passed away 25 years ago this Sunday July 5th, 1984 at age 55. I am now almost as old as she was at the time she passed. We had our differences, to be sure, but beneath it all we really loved one another very much. Perhaps it was our similarities which made things so difficult at times. She could be stubborn, like me; obtuse, like me; and at times, unreasonable; like me.

That said, she was the woman who carried me, delivered me, bathed me and all the rest that goes with being “Mom.”

She was the product of a broken marriage- she was born after her parents seperation in 1929, although the divorce did not become final until 1934. There was money to fight over and my Grandmother was a shrewd woman.

My Grandfather, Pincus Max Marcus, was a self made millionaire 3 times- and lost it all each time to the horses and the ladies. This was the reason for the divorce. She caught him, flagrant delecto, in the late spring of 1929- 4 weeks before the birth of my Mom on July 2nd and 3 months short of Black Tuesday when the market crashed, triggering the Great Depression.

Grandma Dorothy, as I said, was a shrewd woman and she exacted quite a price from Pincus for his indiscretion. Here she was, 8 months pregnant and initiating a divorce at a time when Divorce was a whispered word that carried many unwanted conotations. But she was determined to make the break.

While waiting for the divorce proceedings to begin she extracted a settlement from him in the form of $250,000 in Treasury Bonds. Quite a sum in pre Depression 1929 - and a fortune 3 months later when Pincus begged her to lend him some of it back to shore up his losses. She did- at interest.

So my Mom grew up without a father and with a Mother who was often absent, touring the world,socializing and traveling. My Mom had all the privileges of a spoiled child in a 1930’s movie. She learned piano, took voice lessons, horseback riding instruction, went to summer camp every year and never really wanted for anything- except a father.

She was considered a pretty woman, although as her son I would not be the best judge of that, she was just Mom to me. But when she would play the piano and sing inside our Brooklyn apartment, the neighbors would gather outside the door and listen to her, exchanging comments like “Oy, what a voice- she should be on the stage!” And she would have, if she hadn’t met my Dad. She was slated to tour with a road company of "Oklahoma" in 1949 and my Dad was about to join the Mechant Marines (which I would do later) when they came to an impasse. If she toured he would sail and that would be the end of that. Fortunately for me, they both gave in.

So now it is 80 years since my Mom was born on July 2nd, 1929 and 25 years since she passed away on July 5th, 1984. Lots of time to think back on things since then. We spoke a few days before she passed- she had been ill my entire life. This is what she told me in that last conversation by phone from a pier in Norfolk, Virgina- “You know Robert, you can never go on with your life until mine ends- you’ve been a prisoner of my illness for so long.” I replied that I knew that and perhaps it was the reason I went to sea for almost a decade- to get away from the marathon of her dying. We closed out all business and in 25 years I have never had a bad dream about her.

So in way of a tribute to her I would like to post the following story she wrote a few years before her passing. It’s about her Dad Pincus Max Marcus and the void she always felt concerning his absence. I hope you enjoy it.

And Happy Birthday Mom!

Daddy Doesn’t Sleep Here Anymore.
by Ruth Marcus Williams

Thursday was our maids’ night off. My brother and I then played a game we called “sneak.” It consisted of sneaking out of bed, running wild, and generally harassing our mother. As my brother was 5 years older than I, he got the brunt of my mothers wrath.

One Thursday night, at age 6, I said to my brother, “Let’s play sneak.”

“Not tonight,” my brother said.

“Why not?” I whined.

“Because Mommy’s crying,” he replied.

It was then that I saw my mother pacing up and down the long foyer of our apartment, crying.

“Mommy and Daddy got divorced today and Daddy got married to a Gold digger,” continued my brother.

“What’s a Gold digger?” I asked.

“Someone who marries someone for their money,” he said.

“Oh,” I said, not comprehending. “What does divorced mean?”

“It means 2 people are no longer married.”

“What does Married mean?”

“That’s when…oh forget it. Just go to sleep.”

And so, still not understanding a word he had said, I went to bed.

Afterward, the only thing strange to me was when I would visit other peoples homes and see one enormous bed! I couldn’t figure out why they had one and we didn’t. Finally I asked my brother and he explained that those were called double beds and were for married people. I thought it peculiar that a man and a woman had to sleep in the same bed when they got married. I thought it would be nice to have such an enormous bed just for myself.

One day when I was 10, friends came to the house to play. Upon seeing our 2 bedrooms one friend became vitally interested in who slept where. After my explanation she said, “But where do your mother and father sleep?”

“Oh, my mother and father are divorced,” I said with a casualness I didn’t feel. Instead, I felt ashamed. In the 1930’s divorce wasn’t as common as today. In fact, I didn’t know anyone whose parents were divorced. Thereafter, unless I was pinned down, as I was that day, I never told anyone that my parents were divorced.

During my teens, I became more and more curious about this man I now called “Father.” For reasons that were never explained to me, I could only visit him at his office where getting to see him was as unpredictable as playing Russian Roulette. Everytime I’d approach his secretary and ask to see him she’d say, “I don’t know if he’s in- let me check.”

I knew damn well he was there- it was just a question of whether he was in the mood to see me. More often than not she would come back saying, “I’m sorry, he left.” Then I’d leave feeling good for nothing. Other times when I’d been told he wasn’t in, my father would come flying out of his office just as I was about to enter the elevator.

“Look, I’m busy,” he’d say, “but do you need any money?”

Fighting back tears I’d say, “ I could always use some.” Then he would give me fifty or a hundred dollars. Damn it, I’d think, I don’t want his money; I want his love. If my own father doesn’t love me, who will?

Sometimes though, after checking, the secretary would say, “ Your father will see you now.” As I would enter his office, shaking from nervousness, he’d inevitably be on the phone and wave me to a seat. While he continued his conversation I’d study him- this enigma of a man who by blood was my father. Did I look like him? Did we have any traits in common? What would it be like to live with him? Question after question spun through my head.

Between calls he would scrutinize me , and at one time or another he would say, “Your hair is messy.” Or “ Your voice is too high pitched.” Or You’re wearing too much lipstick.” Or “ You’re too skinny.” Or “You’re too sensitive.” No matter what- I would leave that office feeling worthless.

During the ensuing years I saw less and less of my father, and he never got in touch with me. Until he died, 5 years ago, he had remained a stranger. I wish it had been otherwise…

Ruth Marcus Williams
Sunday, August 17, 1980

Monday, June 29, 2009

At Ease- Stories I Tell to Friends by Dwight D. Eisenhower

The first President I remember is Dwight Eishenhower. The Commanding General of Allied Forces in Europe during World war II, he is mostly remembered as a taciturn and reserved fellow. This book will dispel that notion.

Written in 1965-6 and published in 1967, this book is an unusual insight to a most unusual man. While the years of his Presidency are known for their “Father Knows Best” type atmosphere- bland, black and white - everything perfect- this book displays a side of Eisenhower we don’t really see or hear of too often.

This book delves only slightly into his family history- the story really begins with his appointment to West Point in 1911. One big surprise to most readers will be that Ike never saw combat in the First World War. He was assigned to the Quartermasters Corp. And the Ambulance Corps. And the fledgling Tank Corps. These assignments would take him on a cross country trip at the end of the war- testing tanks and rewriting battle tactics. This was also the period in which Eisenhower became interested in road building in America- envisioning a 2 lane cross country highway along the lines of the nascent Lincoln Highway- at the time the best road in America. As we all know now- that idea was bolstered by his service in Europe in World War II and his admiration for the German Autobahn. This led to his efforts, as President, in establishing the present day Highway system that we have all come to depend upon and bears his name.

It is during these first post war years that he forms a lifetime friendship with a returning Veteran of the Combat in Europe- George S. Patton. Having had experience in battle with French Renault tanks made him a very desireable friend for Ike and the two lost no time in concentrating their efforts on “rewriting the book” so to speak on tactics.

The book covers the Panama troubles in the 1920’s and 30’s- the Bonus Army in Washington in 1932 and some of the World War II years. The book is written plainly and captures the style of Eisenhowers demeanor- in a word- measured.

Loaded with anecdotes and stories of his many travels, this book is a very enjoyable and interesting read- sort of like having your Grandfather telling you about the old days.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

A Childs' Perspective by Sarah Hoffman

My wife, Sue, sent out an e-mail asking for responses about Great Grandma Deamer. This is the response from my daughter Sarah, encompassing her entire view of the adult world around her as a child.

--- On Sun, 6/28/09, sarah hoffman wrote:

From: sarah hoffman
Subject: RE: Romancing the Road

Well, I remember:

-going through her photo albums and being jealous that she got to live through the 1910's, 20's, 30's, 40's, AND 50's, 60's, 70's. I was jealous because I think it would be cool to be able to say that I remember a time when there were no televisions. I sat on her living room floor facing her tv set considering the impact this must have had on someone who grew up without one. There was no PBS to babysit her generation.

-her knitting/crocheting miniature stockings for Christmas (that was her, right? I was really little so I am uncertain).

-her sitting on the couch at every Christmas eve party.

-that she referred to modern pop music as not music but "just beats".

-that she had a cat...and it was usually in hiding. For a while I didn't believe that there even was a cat.

-that her house and the long drive to it were both extremely creepy. I think the entirety of rural Pennsylvania is haunted. I've never been anywhere in PA outside of Philadelphia that didn't creep me out.

-I remember her being present at family picnics.

I don't remember much, really. Perhaps Keith and Shane were old enough to remember things more in detail. I was too short and too involved with things on the ground (toys, bugs, leaf piles) to really pay much mind to my relatives. As far as I was concerned they were grown-ups and lived several feet above me most of the time. Like upstairs neighbors, I only saw them in passing and for special events. For the most part this is how I perceived anybody taller than me for quite some time. I believe this state is called "childhood" but I'm unsure if that is exactly what was wrong with me for 11 years. I knew each adult as a concept.

Sue - Mommy - Food - Comfort - Nourishment

Robert - Daddy - Protector - Endless supply of information and Tales

Keith - Keithy - Big brother - protector - nerd

Shane - Shaney - little Big brother - guardian - martial artist

Grandma - lady that we visit alot (didn't realize I was related until I was like in 1st grade) - gives me cookies - I like her

Grandpa - really cool old guy with a stash of peanut butter cups - loves this woman we call grandma/takes care of her - seems pretty tired by us running around but we don't care we want more peanut butter cups!!!

Uncle "Mike" - guy who lives with that old couple we visit alot - seems rather unwell - somehow related to Tracy and Mikey

Tracey/Mikey - rug rats who live with those two old people who give us cookies

Gerusha (spelling?)/Melissa - teenagers.

Other cousins - other kids

Other aunts/uncles - grown ups who know mommy and daddy

"Grandma Deamer" - the chief/elder

Seth - this guy we see every once in a while with big hair who lives in Disney World!!!

Rose - the sweetest lady in the world - someone to strive to be like - a saint

"Mr. Ollie" - lives in an oxygen deprivation chamber with a bunch of birds - not somebody to strive to be like - somebody to attempt to understand so that emulation can be avoided

Steve and Ann(e) - plastic Disney action figures come to life

Ms. Sherry - the worst person in the world - a bitch - the devil

Ms. Lisa - pretty lady with two out of control sons

Eric and Anthony - evil twisted kids who couldn't get enough of hurting each other (they say "let boys be boys" but I draw the line at shooting at one another with a nail gun).

Ms. Samantha - trampy lady with pretty lingerie hanging in the bathroom

I think children's perceptions are pretty clear, though they may not always understand connections (such as how Tracy and Mikey were related to "Uncle Mike" didn't dawn on me until I was pretty far into elementary school. And I didn't put it together that "grandma" was my mom's mom until I was in 1st grade). But to a kid, none of that matters. What matters is the example set and how the child is treated. Every little thing an adult says and does in front of a child contributes to the child's opinion of them. In the adult world things are much simpler. Pretty lady = hired. In the kid world there is soooooooooooo much more to it. One wrong move and you've got a bawling kid on your hands.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Keys of the Kingdom by A.J. Cronin

When I first started this blog I was going to compare books and movies. In 3 months I haven't done it once. But if I am going to do it at all, I must begin with one of the greatest and probably least known of all screen adaptations- "The Keys of The Kingdom" by A.J. Cronin.

The book (my first edition is pictured above)is a tightly woven story of the life of a Scottish boy who loses both parents to religous persecution- his Father was Catholic and the Mother a Protestant. The boy (played by Roddy McDowell) grows to be a Priest (played by Gregory Peck) (Gotta stop right here and let you know that this was his first film! Star billing! Above Thomas Mitchell! He had just come off a fourth Broadway flop when he was asked to do this film! The Producer, Joeseph L. Mankiewicz had great faith in Gregory Peck, so in spite of those recent failures, cast him as the lead. Remember this act of Faith- it comes into play later.)

The story opens with the Priest Father Francis being informed by his Bishop that he is to retire to the old Priest home and lose his parish as a reward for his long and faithful service to the Church.

Though this is the last thing that Father Francis wants, as a Priest, he is part fatalist and so the Bishop retires to Father Francis' room for the night while Father Francis is left by the doorway in a chair where he doses off.

The Bishop enters Father Francis' spartanly furnished room and discovers the Priest's journal,staying up all night to read it. The whole story emerges in a flashback of the Bishop reading while Father Francis is sleeping downstairs and dreaming of all the things that made up his life.

The death of his parents, his days at school and entry into the Priesthood,30 years in China as a missionary during the great upheavals of the 1920's and 30's through the 40's Long March of Mao. And the cost to this one man as he keeps on doing what needs to be done to help the poor and the afflicted is astounding! He is ridiculed and injured, almost killed- but time and again- even after losing Faith, he comes back to doing Deeds that alter the course of lives all around him.

And that is the central theme of this book and the film faithfully follows it-the importance of Deed over Doctrine cannot be dismissed. Without Deeds there is only Doctrine. You cannot cure disease, or feed the hungry with Doctrine. It is only by rolling up one's sleeves and putting in the work that the Doctrine can survive or even be fulfilled.

So I am so glad that Joeseph L. Mankiewicz had the Faith to do the Deed that led to the book being filmed. It is a gem.

And rounding out the cast are an incredible array of performers, Edmund Gwenn, Vincent Price in one his last serious dramatic roles and sans moustache, Thomas Mitchell (a particular favorite of mine), Cedric Hardwicke and James Gleason among them. Directed by John Stahl this is a film to be enjoyed over and over as well as a book to be treasured.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

St Patricks Labyrinth in Mooresville

I had been thinking all afternoon about what I was going to put on this blog today. I needed a quiet place to sit in the shade, and that's becoming more and more rare each day around here!

There is one spot that I know of at exit 33 off Interstate 77 at the intersection of Fairview Road and Medical Park Plaza Drive. It's St. Patricks Labyrinth and I first ran into it by chance a couple of years ago. There is a bench there where I sometimes play guitar to myself. The sign says "All Are Welcome."

The Labyrinth is 34 foot in diameter and is a unicursal- that is- there is only one path to the center. The idea is a 3 stage journey- Stage One is a shedding of any negative feelings as you approach the center. Stage Two is Arrival and Illumination- you arrive free of negative energy and therefore your mind/spirit is open. Stage Three is the journey back along the same path, cleansed and ready to deal with the world.

I didn't have any negative energy going in and enjoyed the meandering path to the center. That was Stage One. When I got there I had an Illumination- I could blog about this! Stage Two. The Third Stage was a little more complicated for me- I would have had to retrace the path and go back to the world with renewed energy and purpose. Well, I cut ACROSS the Labyrinth to get out and get to my laptop before I lost the Energy.

And that's when it hit me- I've been doing this all my life- taking the short cut- cutting corners- coming up short. And that is really an Illumination....

Note: St Patricks Labyrinth is free and open during daylight hours. The phone number to arrange group visits or workshops is 704-663-5659

Monday, June 22, 2009

Mooresville Library- The Pyschiatrists Are In

One of the most frequently asked questions I get (twice now!) is “Where do I get my books?” The answer is I don’t- the Libraries listed to the right do the “getting”. I do the reading. It’s a great arrangement and as long as I return things they let me take more.

Of the two libraries that I use, the Mooresville Town Library is the most unique, from an architect's point of view. You see, they took the old library and kept it- building the new one around it. Not a board was changed in the old section. You can still smell the mustiness in the old reading room- now ironically named “The Williams Wing.” But I swear- no relation!

The Library was renovated about 8 years ago utilizing the natural slope to enlarge the basement for a modern meeting room and afterschool area. The upstairs was enlarged in to about 5 times the shelf space and a wide open, naturally lit reading and Internet area.

While both Libraries have up to date computers and Internet as well as DVD’s, the Mooresville Library retains the small town charm. Joyce- pictured here below at work-and the rest of the staff are all knowledgeable and helpful in every way.

The Librarians here have watched some or most of the towns children grow up. Grammar school to High School Grads. They know them all, they greet everyone, and like the old Peanuts cartoon sign “The Pyschiatrist Is In”, they listen with real interest to what people have to say. Not just about books. Of course they give and take patron recommendations, but like the Peanuts sign implies- they are always there with a sympathetic ear to listen to a hard luck story or share a joke. Really-hundreds of people a day come through there with hundreds of different moods, and I have never seen anyone leave without a smile.

Notice: If you think you have no relationship to the Town of Mooresville- think again. Now look amongst the change in your pocket at the dime. Selma Burke- a local Black sculptress submitted that bust of Roosevelt in 1945 for the memorial dime that bears his name - And it has been slipping through your hands for 64 years….

Saturday, June 20, 2009

While You Were Sleeping...

While you were sleeping the other day, or shopping, the Supreme Court pulled the rug out from under the feet of 100's of convicted felons across America, suppressing their right to re-dress as guaranteed them in the Bill of Rights.

The courts disallowance of DNA and other related testing to convicted inmates in an effort to prove their freedom is inexplicable at best, and evil at it's worst.

What logic do they use to address this issue? Chief Justice Roberts,writing for the majority and despite the fact that 46 states already have laws that allow prisoners access to DNA evidence, stated, “To suddenly constitutionalize this would short-circuit what looks to be a prompt and considered legislative response.” Duh? If it were then you wouldn't be asked to intercede in the first place!

This is the case that decides the fate of William Osborne, convicted of kidnap and rape in Alaska in 1994. Not a nice guy, she was a prostitute, yada, yada, yada... If the guy is willing to pay for the additional tests, which by the way have freed several hundred wrongly convicted inmates, as well as identified scores of actual criminals, then why not allow it?

Justice Samuel Alito Jr.,along with Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Kennedy and Thomas, stated in their opinions that allowing the defendant to forgo testing at his trial and then request it from prison,“would allow prisoners to play games with the criminal justice system.”

Onh yeah, that's a great plan, I'll go to jail and THEN ask you let me out. In this case, as in all cases, there were legal nuances stemming from Mr. Osbornes' earlier conviction in a home invasion which played a part in the decision to forgo testing at the time of his trial on a later charge. There may have been an ulterior motive to escape further incrimination on some other charge.

Be that as it may,(and I am no bleeding heart liberal here- I never said this was a nice guy!)the fact remains that evidence may exist which will prove this prisoners innocence.

And quite simply put, No law should be above, or stand in the way of, the Truth.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Bee Bee's Tray

The tray pictured above belonged to my best friend’s Grandma Bee Bee. She lived at 1900 Quentin Road in Brooklyn, N.Y. When I was in Juinor High I thought nothing was classier than this tray- which was always filled with goodies like Bridge Mix and other delights we didn’t have in my home.

I’m not really sure of the year but it was around 1971 or so when Bee Bee passed away. I was offered a “souvenir” to remember her by- and I chose the tray. To me it epitomized an era of genteel living, when people had “company” on Saturday nights, or “guests” during the week for cards or Scrabble. TV came along and changed all that.

The real “meat” of this story involves the loss and later recovery of this tray- possibly with the aid of “cosmic” forces beyond our understanding or control.

The tray had been on top of a black steamer trunk which I used as a dresser in 1972 and 1973 while living at 2132 Ocean Avenue in Brooklyn. Sometime in July of 1973 I packed up and moved to Ohio where I ended up engaged and working in a paint factory.

In December of 1973 I left Ohio by car (a 1964 Ford Galaxy 500) for NY- trunk in tow. But the car didn’t make it and I was forced to abandon it on the side of Route 80 in Ohio within sight of an Arco station. Not being able to hitch with the trunk I carried it over to the service station and asked the owner if I could leave it there for a bit, intending to send for it later. The owner gave his consent and I lugged it up a ladder to the attic/storage area and continued to the airport and a flight to NY.

I mentioned to my friend that I had left the trunk at a service station in Ohio alongside Route 80. And then I don’t think I thought about it again except in a passing- “Gee, I wish I had my trunk back” kind of way.

2 years later at 2:30 in the morning the front door bell rings back at 2132 Ocean Avenue. At the door is my friend Seth with a black steamer trunk on his back going “Ho Ho Ho Merry Christmas!” It was my trunk!

Inside we opened the trunk and I started going through all the things I had missed in the previous 2 years. And the big surprise was that not only was the tray in there- but Seth, who had given me the tray to begin with, had no idea it was in there!

Eventually I got the whole story- he had been driving back to NY from school at Ohio State in Antioch and along Route 80 found himself outside of Cleveland when he remembered that I had lived near there a couple of years back. And then he remembered that I had left a trunk at a service station somewhere alongside Route 80.

Looking up he saw the sign for an Arco station at the next exit and got off. He went in and asked the guy if he had ever stored a trunk for some tall, skinny guy with shoulder length hair. The reply was something like- “Yeah, and if he doesn’t come for it soon we’re throwing it out!” So Seth took it and drove through to Brooklyn and woke me up.

And that’s when he saw the tray!

We have pondered this little oddity between us over these many years. He didn’t know it was an Arco station- he didn’t know exactly where on Route 80 I had left it- and only a brief whim caused him to stop and check it out. Was it Bee Bee calling out to get the tray? Or just one of those odd coincidences that make life the joy it can sometimes be?

I don’t know- but I still have the tray and I still have the friend.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Religious Tolerance - A Bygone Virtue

Why is it that otherwise sensible and intelligent people often check these two admirable qualities at the door, so to speak, whenever it comes to religion? What is so threatening about someone else’s beliefs that they would deliberatlely deface and debase the beliefs of another?

In Charlotte the talk has been about ways to retort to “God Bless You” when someone cares enough to say it after you sneeze. I always thought “Thank You” was appropriate but lately it seems to be in vogue to retort with something like “I don’t believe in that crap.” I figure if you are asking God to bless me it can’t hurt and is probably a way of saying I care or I love you. So what’s the big deal?

Of course the religious crowd has it’s own faults- let’s see- book bannings and burnings, torture, shunning etc are all excesses of a fringe element of the religious crowd- but I reject the premise that to deface or disrespect another’s beliefs will solve the problem.

The left is continually bashing religion in the name of smiting the over zealous and their belief in a Higher Power. The result is not pretty. With all the supposed intelligence and sensitivity they claim to posess, they tear down what they don’t believe in- and for what end? To stifle freedom of thought? Isn’t that what they themselves complain about as the bane of organized religion? I just don’t get it.

Rejecting religion out of hand and ridiculing others for their beliefs is as sane as the Christians who believe that they posess the only “Stairway to Heaven.” And let's not forget Hitler, who debased a particular religion in a vain attempt to commit genocide of a whole race!

In the final analysis both sides are wrong and do nothing to contribute to Global Harmony. After all, if we each shove back against every perceived threat to our own sensibilities then all we have left is a throng of non humanity, left with little consideration for others.

No one forces you to read a Bible- and no one should try to marganilze you for reading one. The key to the whole global condition is mutual respect. Without that, we are lost.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Kudzu- Road Trippin'

I never saw it before I moved to North Carolina 11 years ago- but the instant I saw it- looming Brontosarous style on the side of Route 115 towards Statesville- I knew what it was.

It takes certain shapes (depending on your imagination- like clouds.) See the elephant above on the bottom photo? Nomatter, I do.

From what I understand of the local history, Kudzu first made it's appearance in the late 1920's as an erosion deterrent to help the farmers. That was before it morphed into the 35 mile unbroken chain from Statesville to Charlotte.

It respects only where the cars do not travel daily and will quickly overtake any unused road within one year. I have found myself at times, as an Estimator, hacking my way through it with a machete along an old roadway, long overgrown- it was like being in Burma.

But then again it is so green and lush you have to love it.Coming from Brooklyn, N.Y. where it's cold half the year and nothing blossoms until May, I have come to respect this vine which dies out each year and then returns - every year - greener and thicker than the year before; as if defying anything or anyone to stop it.

Oh sure, the 35 mile line of Kudzu has been broken here and there by the occasional development- but you know what? Come back in about 50 years and see what's still here. My money is on the Kudzu.And that kinda makes you wonder.....

Under Their Thumb by Bill German

Usually I won't review a book on Rock and Roll, but this one is a gem. Being a Stones fan probably has alot to do with it! I do read celebrity autobiographies but consider them a kind of selfish delight. Ok- I'm a literary snob- but this book rocks!

For those who don't know of Bill German, a little background- he ran the Stones "fanzine" Beggars Banquet for 17 years - started it in his bedroom in Brooklyn, NY. (Another reason I like this book) He was a student at South Shore High in Canarsie and began the publication on a school mimeograph machine.

From there he started handing the thing out to whoever would take one- staked out the hotels where the Stones were staying- got a copy in Keith Richards hands and eventually became embedded with the band- making all the tours fron 1978 to 1995. Along the way he became friends with the Stones and this book offers a rare and unusual look at the concert promotion game as well as inside band politics.

Great insights into the Stones family and personal life- the emphasis here is not only on the drugs- this is about the business end of the show- and also the music. If you want the kiss all tell all stuff read Ron Woods' autobiography "Woody." A great read in itself- but this one goes beyond the sensationalism.

I could sample you some of the great stuff in this book- but if you are a Stones fan- you are going to want to read this for yourself. It is a self made sucess story that could only come out of Brooklyn. A delightful read.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

July 4th,1986

Today is July 4th- lots of fireworks and hot dogs and celebrating- especially for me and Sue. We have been married 23 years today. 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

Beaver Dam Park House- Davidson, NC

Sue and I have moved across the line from Mecklenburg to Cabarrus County. This whole area of NC is rich with history- from the colonial days of “The Hornets Nest” and the First Declaration of Independence in 1775 through the Civil War and beyond, the Charlotte region was a hub of industry and agriculture for many years. And the remnants of those years are scattered amongst the new developments and shopping malls. You just have to look.

Up the road from our last home was the Torrence Store and Homestead. Dating back to about 1810 the original home is still occupied and in beautiful condition. The store is open one Sunday per month and is a great glimpse back in time.

But lately I have kept passing by a place called Beaver Dam Park on the outskirts of Davidson- home of Davidson College- Woodrow Wilson went there way back when. The founding President of the College lived about 5 miles away at Beaver Dam.

So Sue and I were driving by Saturday when we decided to investigate the place. It’s always desertred and looks like it gets rented out every now and then for parties, weddings etc. But we just wanted to see it. So we parked- the only ones there- and took a look.

The driveway curves around the house horse and buggy style- it was built around 1826- the date is written on one of the chimneys. The grounds are very sparse- could use some landscaping with an old fashioned herb garden outside the kitchen. But the place is remarkably peaceful and though right off the road has the feeling of seclusion. The two huge Magnolias and the stand of Bamboo surrounding the whole place add to that effect. (See additional photos at myspace.com/robertwilliamsofbrooklyn) or go to http://www.cmhpf.org/surveys&rbeaver.htm

The sundial was a real surprise and a treat- I have been using sundials since I was about 5 years old and my Dad taught me at Riis Park in Queens, NY. And the kicker was that this one was only five minutes off the mark- not counting the hour difference in DST.

Nothing special about the place- other than it has survived the NC tradition of ripping it down if it’s not in use. But a peaceful place to stroll and look at life in a slower pace.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Four Old Poems

Cold October Parks

I’m sitting-in the cold
October park-
Just sitting-writing a poem
About how beautiful
Everything could be.
Isn’t it a joke-
(you) trying to tell me.

I’m sitting- in the cold
December dark-
Just sitting- writing a poem
About how ugly
Everything can be.
Isn’t this a joke-
(me) trying to tell you.

Sheepshead Bay Brooklyn October 1972


Maybe it's a lack of sleep
Or perhaps I've been at sea too long
But something’s missing-
the pieces don't fit right anymore. All this water-
and so many thirsty people.

There's got to be something else!
Things can't go on this way for long-
Something's missing-
The sun's too high for it to be this dark.There's too much
warmth for us all to be left
out in the cold.

Cuba- 1978


My friends and I
Always found it easy
To say I love you
To one another.

My mother, when I was seven,
Taught me solitaire.
I always took after her…
We sat on the bed and dealt,
(the cards)
With one another-
Learning the game.
A touch of the hand
Turning a card
Changes the course
Of the game

Aboard Mississinewa/ Bermuda June 1983


She took me
Quite by surprise
As I was walking
One hand grazing
A sandstone stoop
In passing,
I turned my head
To see her face and
The quizzical, puzzled look-
Not without affection or fondness
For whatever it was
That she could see
At that moment.
A look like she
Wanted to know more.

East Side Manhattan August 1985

The Attack On The Liberty- The Untold Story by James Scott

When I was 12 years old I remember a US Navy ship being bombed by air and torpedoed off the coast of Egypt. The result was 34 dead and 171 wounded, some crippled for life. The events took place in the larger context of the Arab-Israeli "Six Day War" during which Israel took the Golan Heights and the West Bank - in short, all those places that were eventually settled and complicate the Mid East situation to this day.

I also remember that the story just faded away- and after about a week or so- it simply vanished. Years later while serving in the Navy I ran across several people that had been serving in the Eastern Med at the time of this incident. This only fueled my curiosity.

Written painstakingly by the son of the Liberty's engineering Officer, Ensign John Scott, the book accesses many of the recently declassified documents to paint a picture of a deliberate and vicious attack that defies explanation even to this day.

The Liberty was beyond the 12 mile limit and in International waters when repeatedly "buzzed" by Israeli jets. The ship remained on station, clearly marked and flying the large 7 foot by 13 foot "holiday" sized American flag from it's main mast amidships.

Several hours later the jets returned and napalmed the ship without warning. Then to make matters worse Israeli torpedo boats raced to the scene and torpedoed the ship.

It was only the actions of a well trained crew that saved the vessel from sinking- which is exactly what the Israeli government had in mind.

The speculation never ends- was the attack in error as claimed by the Israeli's? If so, then why did they send torpedo boats to sink her after realizing the mistake? And why were the liferafts straffed Nazi style and made unusable? Why did the Israelis' block the radio frequencies that would have alerted other ships to come to the Liberty's aid? And finally, when the ship would not sink, why did the Israeli Navy offer to lend assistance?

The possibilities are many fold. Mistaken identity, although improbable, would have meant that the Israeli's would have sent out boats to assist and not continue the attack. The liferafts being straffed causes one to believe that they wanted no survivors. The jamming of the frequencies was done to keep the ship isolated- possibly to blame the Egyptians and bring the US into the war on the side of Israel.

The lame and belated attempt to assist the crippled vessel may have been an effort to gain control over the sensitive crypto gear that the Liberty was using to "eavesdrop" on the war. These are the scenarios that I have always held forth concerning this attack.

At home in Washington, President Johnson , with his hands full as the Vietnam War rages out of his control, seems more concerned with angering an ally in the Middle East than in pressing for reparations.

President Johnson, by his inaction in holding Israel accountable for the attack, set the stage for the capture by North Korea of the USS Pueblo a mere 8 months later. At one point the Joint Chiefs of Staff actually consider sinking our own ship to hide the evidence of the attack- maybe to even blame the Russians. Added to this is the Presidents concern that taking Israel to task would cost him much needed support from American Jewish organizations in the 1968 elections. Ironically, Johnson would never run in that race.

Some things will never be clear concerning these events- but this is a remarkable read. It is not a condemnation of Israel. It is just another of the many stories from the Cold War- a time when being in the Service was like playing chess with real pieces.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Direct contact

I would love to hear more from anyone reading this blog. I realize what a pain it is to fill out all that junk and join something else with another password- so just hit comment and choose anonymous on the drop down menu- or contact me at my yahoo;

Thanks for stopping by and I look forward to any comments you may care to make.
PS That's an old picture- I am much more mellow now.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Other Half- The Life of Jacob Riis by Tom Buk-Swienty

You cannot grow up in New York City without hearing the name or seeing the photographs of Jacob Riis. Some of my earliest memories involve flying a kite at Riis Park, a beautiful Depression Era beach with boardwalk and concession stands along the coastline of Queens,NY. A fitting tribute to a man who was obsessed with the deplorable conditions of the city's poor.

What most New Yorkers never hear is the story of this remarkable immigrant who gave a face to poverty and then did something about it.

In "The Other Half- The Life of Jacob Riis" author Tom Buk-Swienty (a fellow Dane- like Mr. Riis) has laid before us a complete picture of the life of Jacob Riis.

Beginning with his decision to leave Denmark after his true love Elisabeth, of Royal heritage, turns down his marraige proposal and arriving in the United States with no money and no work, Mr. Riis sets out on a journey that will take him across America 3 times before returning to Denmark. In the intervening years he works as a mill hand, a factory worker, in short at all manner of jobs in an effort to support himself and gain the "American Dream." His goal eludes him over and over again. But he begins anew after each failure- sure of his quest- to gain the staus necessary to return to Denmark and claim, as worthy of him, his dear Elisabeth. It is during this time that he experiences the things which will guide his life's work.

In New York he is forced by necessity to sleep in doorways and trash heaps. He is awakened one night by the Police who give him a clubbing and when his dog becomes threatening, an officer picks him up and smashes him against the sidewalk, killing him. This treatment of the destitute would haunt Riis forever.

Finally saving enough to buy a small, failing Brooklyn newspaper he begins to publish the stories of the underclasses and his experiences as a Police Reporter on the NY Tribune.

Returning to Denmark after learning of the death of Elisabeths' fiancee- he is welcomed warmly. But Elisabeth doesn't love him, yet. Theirs was a unique relationship that began platonically and grew, after their marriage, into a full partnership. They return to America and have 4 children.

With the advent of flash photography Mr. Riis is finally able to document all that he has lived and seen in his travels throughout the tenements. Writing and lecturing on the photos becomes his work and passion.

When his children come down with scarlett fever he brings home a lone dandelion and places it in their room. The result was a complte turn around in the "misery" factor. This leads Mr Riis to conduct a city wide campaign to distribute flowers in the tenements to thousands of chilren whom have never seen one!

At this point Riis puts all his efforts together in a book, complete with his now famous photographs. After the death of his wife Elisabeth he marries again, this time to his assistant, 28 years younger. Interestingly their love is a mirror image of his earlier relationship with Elisabeth- platonic at first but later maturing into a deep love and respect for one another.

Translated from the original by Tom Buk-Swienty's wife, Annette Buk-Swienty, the book is illustrated with some of Mr Riis' lesser known photgraphs of the tenements.

This book will be of interest to anyone that has a stake in Social Welfare or any field dealing with poverty and how we see it and treat it.