Tuesday, December 24, 2019

A Mafia Christmas - 1946

December 10, 1946. J. Edgar Hoover and Walter Winchell meet in NYC for the funeral of mutual friend Damon Runyan, who has just died of cancer. Hoover, who still doesn't believe in the existence of organized crime, outlines plans for the Damon Runyan Cancer Fund.

Meantime, thousands of miles away, a man hands a piece of paper with the words " "December-Hotel Nacional" to Lucky Luciano in Naples. Having recently been forced out of Rome, he is making plans to get back to the Western Hemisphere.

Luciano had been told that if he was able to protect East Coast ports from sabotage, he would be pardoned at the end of the war and deported to Italy as a free man. Luciano agreed to the proposal and helped win the war.

But, after the war ended, New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey would only agree to Luciano's pardon on the condition that he never be allowed back into the U.S. The Fed's agreed and in February 1946 Luciano had been deported.

By November 1946, with 2 false passports, Luciano made his way to South America, and then to Cuba. The Christmas Summit began on December 22nd with the arrival of all of the heads of the various families.

Frank Sinatra arrived on the same plane as the NY families and the conference began that night. By the night of the 24th, Christmas Eve, the topics has become very serious. The future of narcotics distribution worldwide was the vision of Lucky Luciano. Previously the Mob had steered clear of two specific crimes which would involve them with the Feds; drug trafficking and hi-jacking of Interstate trucking.

Prior to the conference, Meyer Lansky suggested that Luciano purchase a $150,000 interest in the Hotel Nacional, the casino owned by Lansky and his silent partner, Cuban President Fulgencio Batista. This was supposed to insulate him from being deported should the US learn he was in Cuba and pressure Batista to deport him, possibly back to Italy, or worse, to the United States.

Another heated topic arose on the night of the 25th. The  Flamingo Hotel opening had been a complete bust. These men at the table had $6 million tied up in what appeared to be a total loss.

This was also the night when it was revealed that Virginia Hill, girlfriend to Bugsy Siegel, mastermind of the Las Vegas venture, had been squirrelling away about $2 million of that money in a Swiss account. Although his fate was not decided that night, plans for Siegel's future were being laid. Shortly after; he would be killed.

But, all was not guns and roses between the two biggest heads; Luciano and Genovese. By the end of the  Conference the tension between the two had reached a breaking point.

Meeting with Luciano in his room at the Nacional, Genovese told him that the U.S. government knew that Luciano was in Cuba and was now pressuring the Cuban Government to expel him. Since Luciano was going to have to return to Italy, Genovese suggested that he should turn over leadership of the Luciano Family to him and retire.

Knowing full well that it was Genovese who had tipped off the US of his being in Cuba, Luciano snapped. He  beat Genovese badly, using a chair leg to break three of his ribs. 

When Genovese felt better, Luciano and Anastasia put him on a plane to the States. Luciano also promised he would kill Genovese if he ever mentioned this incident to anyone.

By February 1947, the New York City papers became aware that Luciano was in Cuba. Bureau of Narcotics agent Harry Anslinger (always referred to as "Asslinger" by Luciano) demanded that Cuba deport him back to Italy. He correctly believed that Luciano was behind the recent surge of heroin into the United States.

When Cuba refused to comply, Anslinger took his case to President Harry S. Truman. The U.S. government then halted all shipments of medical supplies to Cuba while Luciano was still on the island, and the Cubans gave in to the demand.

That is the story of "Peace on Earth" and the Havana Christmas Conference. It would be 12 more years before J. Edgar Hoover conceded that there might be a Mafia, and 17 years until he reluctantly acknowledged it.

Note: Photo from Getty Stock. Luciano back in Sicily 1948.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Christmas with Fruitcake Lady

Forgot all about these precious nuggets of wisdom from the feisty elder stateswoman..... it's a bit of Holiday Cheer for the big day coming.......

Thursday, December 12, 2019

My Friend Edgar.

One of the best things about talking with your grown children is finding outt what they were thinking back when they, and we, were both younger.

This photo is of My daughter, Sarah, at Edgar Allan Poe's grave in Baltimore, around 1997. We used to stop there on the way to Ft McHenry, where we spent alot of time, flying kites, or just horsing around.  This is her view of those visits to Poe's grave. It was written 10 years ago.

"Me at the burial site of Edgar Allan Poe, Westminster Hall, in Baltimore, MD. My dad used to take me there on weekend afternoons. This was my favorite of all the old graveyards we visited. I would run around and look at the cool and interesting graves with him.

I especially enjoyed looking for cracks and holes that... would allow me to peak into the old mausoleums. Before leaving, we would always stop at Poe's grave and say farewell.

I didn't understand the significance of that place until I was much older and had read many of Poe's works. I had always thought that he was just some dude my dad used to be friends with!"

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Ian Fleming and Pearl Harbor

In August of 1941 Cdr. Ian Fleming was attached to the BSC - British Security Commission. In that capacity he brought over to the United States another British agent named Popov, a Yugoslavian by birth, but a Brit by citizenship.

Popov had earlier supplied information after the German disaster at Tarino on Sicily. In that attack, the British used carrier based aircraft to annihilate a good portion of the German fleet. The Japanese quickly sent over a team to assess the damage done, and, more importantly, try and get a better understanding of how the attack was mounted.

A month later Popov had information concerning the Japanese. They were requesting information from their local Hawaiin agents as to the strength and positioning of ships berthed at Pearl  Harbor, the progress of the channel dregding, the depth of all channels and anti aircraft capabilities.

This information, coupled with the earlier intelligence, were pretty good indications that Japan was going to attack Pearl Harbor. It was only a question of when.

This information became the property of J. Edgar Hoover at the FBI. He was not pleased with the Presidents directive that he share information with the British. He was a notorious Anglophobe, which is to say that he, like the Japanese Colonel Sato in "A Bridge Over the River Kwai", hated the British. So, this info was locked away in August of 1941, having been dismissed by the Director as "nonesense."

In reality he was disgusted with Popovs playboy lifestyle and had even told others on more than one occassion that he considered the Yugoslavian to "be a double agent, using German and American money to live like a degenerate playboy."

And thus was born that old story about how FDR knew in advance of Pearl Harbor and did nothing. J. Edgar Hoover told him it didn't matter. That was in August.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

The Great Donut Trial of 1986

The donut delivery guy came every evening at 7PM and the donuts were fresh. They were made at Donut Delite on the site of the present day Camden Yard Stadium in Baltimore. We were horizontal to Babe Ruth's birthplace. Nearby was where the circus train unloaded the elephants each year and I would re-arrange my whole day to go and see them walk to the Arena.

Anyway, back to the donut guy. He was paying $5 an hour for a 6 hour day which beat what I was making in 8 hours. So I got hired on and assigned to a route that took me through 3 counties. It was at this job that I learned all the back roads of the adjacent counties. I had alot of freedom and all the donuts I could eat. It was 7 days a week with no holidays off.

Donnie Laws was the boss. He owned several routes and had vans for each one. They were specially fitted with racks for the donut trays to slide in and out easily. My job was to deliver the fresh donuts and remove the "day olds." Everything was done by Invoice, so we carried no cash.

Each day at 2 PM I would load up at Donut Delite and head out for my deliveries. Donnie was the type of guy who would think nothing of sending you out in a truck with no gas and a broken gas gauge. This was a constant source of irritation. That and the fact that he constantly referred to me as "that New York Jewboy" behind my back.

At the end of each day I would return the "day old" donuts to a trash bin located outside Donut Delite and across Martin Luther King Blvd. from the "projects." The kids who lived there had drug addicted parents and didn't get much in the way of treats. So each evening when I returned there was a crowd of kids waiting to ask for some of the "day olds." I would always give some away and throw the damaged ones in the trash bin. This bin would get picked up every two days and transported to the rail yard where it was shipped out to somewhere as "hog feed." When Donnie would catch me giving donuts away he would climb up on the dumpster and piss all over everything so that the kids would not get any treats. This was yet another sore point between us.

I was paid each Friday with a personal check- I was collecting Unemployment out of New York at the time. One Friday I was forwarned by another driver that Donnie was going to lay me off the following week on Wednesday. His brother in law needed the job. Then he was going to stiff me for the 3 days pay, knowing that I couldn't file a complaint due to the Unemployment issue. He was right about that, but there are other ways to skin a cat.

Taking his check over to his bank I cashed it. Getting back in the van I thought to myself, "How can I hurt this guy?" Inspiration came in a flash as I realized that I had about $1,500 worth of fresh donuts. And I was now also one day AHEAD in pay. Driving around in the city a bit I noticed that there were a lot of people sitting out on porches after the long winter had finally broken. It was now late April.

I pulled the truck up on a street that ran adjacent to North Avenue, in one of the poorer areas of the city. Stepping out into the early spring sun I shouted out, "Donuts, free donuts, fresh and warm!"

It was like a scene out of one of those jungle movies where the natives swamp the plane with arms outstretched for food. The trays were flying out faster than I could count and people were shoving bills in my hand, although I had not asked for any money!

Within minutes the van was stripped bare of donuts and I had to jump back in and race off. The rear doors were swinging wildly to shouts of, "Jack it up- get the wheels!"

I now had about $60 and 2 trays of donuts that I had stashed up front. I took these to Keiths Cub Scout Troop which was meeting nearby at the Harborplace that day. I was a hero to the kids as I handed out the donuts. I then parked the truck outside Donnies as usual, placing the keys in his mailbox and got in my car and drove home.

The next morning the phone rang and it was Donnie. He wanted to know where the donuts were. I feigned ignorance and then he let fly with what a donut stealing Jewboy I was and how he was gonna get me. I told him that I had no idea what he was talking about and not to call me anymore. I hung up, thinking that was the end of it. Sometimes you can be so wrong...

2 weeks later, on Mothers day, I was out front washing the car when a police car passed up and then down the street in front of our house. This was very unusual and should have clued me in, but it didn't.

Stepping out of the patrol car I was approached by an officer who asked me if I was "Bob" Williams. This should also have clued me in as everyone ashore called me Robert. But I answered yes and then was asked to step away from my vehicle. This guy was going to cuff me for something but I had no idea what! He explained that Donnie had filed a complaint and though the warrant was not in the officers possession he had the right to detain me while the warrant was delivered. I was able to talk him out of doing the handcuffs in front of the neighbors and kids and then got in the back of the car and was taken away. Around the corner he stopped and handcuffed me.

We arrived at the local county station house to await the warrant. I was placed in a common holding area which had 6 bunks and 7 inmates- my addition bought the total to 8. There was a phone, which I was not allowed to use, on the wall just outside of the cell. It was very strange being locked up but I knew that things would work out. It was really a question of how long I was going to be here. To make it worse, I was scheduled to start working on a horse farm in Elkridge the next morning at 8 AM. So I was a little worried about making it there on time. It was now 7 PM on Sunday.

I was the only white prisoner and thinking of the movie "Hard Times" with Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor. Particularly the "I'm bad" scene. Just then the biggest black guy in there comes up to me and asks, "What'd you do?" I replied that I had stolen some donuts. This produced some laughter and a scornful "We got us a creampuff motherfucker!" There were now some suggestions being tossed about concerning what could be done with a creampuff when the oldest guy in there, who had been snoozing on heroin, came to life. He explained that "The white boy ain't no fool- them donuts be worth duckies!" Then he went back to sleeep.

The dynamics immediatley changed with everyone wanting to know how the donut thing worked and could they get in on it? I explained that Donnie went to the Royal Farms store on Security Blvd and Forest Park Drive every night at 7 PM. I also added that he carried alot of cash. You can imagine my joy when 3 weeks later Donnie was beaten and robbed at that location by a "big black guy."

Now that we were all friends they showed me how to use the phone. I had been calling out "Guard, Guard" and alternating that with "Officer, Officer" to no avail. The big black guy started to laugh and said, "Man, you new to this- you gotta do this to get the phone." He took his shoe of and started beating it against the wall while shouting "MOTHERFUCKER!!!" loudly over and over. This bought several guards. My new friend told the guard that "Whitebread needs to use the phone." The receiver was passed through the bars to me and the guard dialed O for Operator, instructing me to leave the receiver dangling when I was through. Prison Etiquette 101.

I called Sue, who was very upset, and explained that I would undoubtedly be late that night so don't wait up. I would call her when I knew something.

Shortly after this call the Warrant arrived and I was transported, again in handcuffs, to a Paddy Wagon and driven down to Baltimore City and the Southwest Precint. This was a very old jail on Ostend Street which has since been razed. I was placed in a private cell next door to the only other prisoner that day- a drunk who had been urinating in public- at Harborplace on Mothers Day- in full view of everyone there. He had been arrested by a female officer and was highly intoxicated and pissed off. So it was going to be a lonely night.

Around 1 AM on Monday morning I heard the cell block gate open and someone was at the cell next to mine asking the drunk some questions. He began by introducing himself as the "Pretrial Release Officer." I could tell by his voice that he was black and educated. He began asking the other prisoner questions, like his name and contact info. For every question asked he received a scathing racist reply. For instance, to the question "What is your address?" he replied, "I ain't telling nothing to no nigger so he can go to my house and rob it." The Pretrail Release Officer went from question to question without pause and never reacted to the abuse being heaped upon him.

When he came to my cell I was on my feet at attention and answered everything with a "Yes,sir." This really surprised him and he started to leaf through my charging documents. He looked at me and asked for some contact info. I gave him Sue's number and address and told him he could also call Military Sealift Command in Bayonne, New Jersey to verify my identity. Although I was no longer an employee my security clearance was valid for 2 more years and I figured it couldn't hurt. He was impressed with my bearing as well as my response. He told me that the warrant should never have been issued as it didn't satisfy the who, what, when, where and why required by the law. He could not dismiss the Warrant but could get me out without bail if my responses were all correct and could be verified at this hour. He left promising to return shortly.

About an hour later he came back with a guard and my cell was unlocked. I was taken to the Magistrates Office where I was told that I had been unjustly confined but that I still needed to go to trial. Advising me to seek counsel I was then released at 3 AM.

I got a cab home and woke Sue up so we could pay the driver. I got a few hours sleep before getting up and beginning my new job at Mr. Perry's horse farm. I would be making $7 an hour.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Your'e My Sheina Maidel (for Sarah Ruth)

You're my Sheina Maidel,
moving faster than the dreidel;
sometimes you spin so fast
that I can't see.

My little Sheina Maidel,
I've known it from the cradle;
in your heart there's a part
that's part of me....

November 17, 2019
For Sarah Ruth 

Friday, November 8, 2019

Kristallnacht - The Excuse Behind the Glass

Kristallnacht; like all things; has a beginning. We know the end result; the looting and burning of Jewish synagogues and businesses by ordinary Germans. These are the people who later said they knew nothing; kind of like Sgt. Schultz in the TV sitcom “Hogan’s Heroes”.

But the people doing the looting and burning that night were not in uniforms, and some may not have even really embraced the Nazi ideology. So how then did they wind up with bricks and bats in hand, smashing windows, looting and burning; beating people in the street who they merely suspected of being Jewish?

Many "reasons" have been manufactured over the years as to just what triggered Kristallnacht. Excuses have been invented to explain away the sudden outburst, which grew from something else which had been brewing. The following is the story of the actual incident which served as the spark which ignited Kristallnacht.

As it turns out, the incident; which served as that spark; took place only hours earlier, in Paris. It serves to remind us all that everything we do, no matter our intentions, must be undertaken with a look to the unintended consequences of our actions.

Kristallnacht was an abhorent display of hatred. Make no mistake about it, with or without this incident, the Holocaust which grew from it was going to happen anyway. This night was merely a taste of what was to come.

So, the following is not an excuse, nor an explanation. It's just the story of what happened in Paris which ignited the already noxious gas in the air that night back home in Germany.

Here then, is the story.

In 1938 the Germans began to deport Jews who were not born in Germany. “Germany for Germans!” was the cry. But there was a snag; the Jews being deported by the German government were refused entry back into Poland; which had not yet been conquered by the Nazi’s. That would be the next year. You have to marvel at the fact that the Polish people seemed to agree with Hitler’s stance against Jews, but when he conquered Poland one year later, he became evil incarnate.

Anyway, a Jewish man in Paris; Herschel Grynszpan, born of Polish-Jewish parents who lived in Germany; was outraged at the thought of his parent’s being involved in this game of political football. Moreover he decided to do something about it. His parents names were Riva and Sendel Grynszpan.

Taking himself to the German Embassy he asked to see someone; anyone. Now, that should have been a clue. But when you’re a member of the “master race” you don’t really think anyone is going to hurt you, so he was ushered in to see a low level attaché; a man named Ernst Vom Rath, who had spoken up in defense of the Jews before.  The young Jewish man living in Paris knew nothing about this German official and shot him dead.

Back in Germany the Brown shirts were grinning from ear to ear. Now the Jews weren’t only taking jobs away from the German people; they were killing them! They were killing them in foreign countries! They were killing even the moderate Germans who supported them! No longer could the people afford to wait. They must act now! They must send a clear and decisive message that the world would never forget.

Of course the irony is that; although the world would never forget; after the war was over you couldn't find a single person in that city who remembered where they were on the night of Kristallnacht. Like Sgt. Schultz; they knew nothing.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

"Five-Finger Discount" by Helene Stapinski

The only reason I can offer as to why I have never posted a review of this wonderful book before is that I read it in 2001;  eight years before this blog began! Now, with that explanation out of the way.....

What a charming and masterfully written book this is. So much so that it even made the cut recently when downsizing our home with my wife, Sue, in North Carolina. Both lovers of books, we had massive amounts of them at the old house but clearly, many needed to go. This book was not one of those.

Over the years I have read this book several times, and the characters in Ms. Stapinski's life have become as familiar to me as the ones drawn by Harper Lee or even Betty Smith in their respective accounts of growing up, the iconic "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn."  (Technically those books are fictional though both are actually thinly disguised autobiographies.)

I grew up in Brooklyn, just opposite Bayonne, the city a bit South of Jersey City. Perhaps that's why the book caught my interest. Aside from the story of her own colorful family, Ms. Stapinski has also painted a vivid portrait of the corruption which splashed across the headlines of the newspapers I delivered daily when I was about 12 years old in 1966.

Tracing her roots to find out just how her family got to Jersey City is a story familiar to most immigrant families. This includes the family skeletons left behind, and the characters surrounding you growing up. But her biggest question is why did they stop in Jersey City?

Her father and mother are immediately recognizable as being the same type of people we all grew up with. Hard working and basically honest folk, who bend the rules a bit when necessary to make ends meet, or provide something extra for the family.

Jersey City was a major shipping point for all kinds of  goods. From locally manufactured things like toothpaste to imported hams and clothes, a portion of everything seemed to "fall off the truck" just in time for birthdays, or even Christmas. It was the same in Brooklyn as it was in Jersey City. These were two cities where "bringing your work home with you" clearly meant something different than elsewhere.

Ms. Stapinksi writes ably; and with great style. On page after page the reader is regaled with stories of her colorful family; all their strengths and weaknesses are on display. But the love is there, too. I can feel it every time she goes to meet her Dad at the Majestic, the tavern he stopped into each night, coming home from work at the frozen food warehouse, a frozen portion of the nights dinner under his arm.

The author grew up during a time of great political and social change. Jersey City seemed to be doing it's very best to avoid both. Corruption was the norm. But, through the sepia lens of time, and with the skilled hand of a gifted writer, I actually find myself wishing for the "good old days" when I read this book.

We all have our quirky family members. But though many families try, usually in vain, to hide these black sheep,  Ms. Stapinski's family celebrates them in story, passing them down from one generation to the next.

It's a multi generational tale about the Polish and the Italian sides of her family and how they got together. It's also the story of the next generation, her parents. And, it is also the story of millions of 2nd generation Americans, and the line they walk between the values of their own heritage and the American "dream."

From her Grandfather Beansie, to her long suffering grandmother Babci, and her own parents daily struggle with the world around them, this book will keep you reading. And you'll come back to it again for a second helping. Because in so many ways we all share this story.

Masterly interwoven is the history of Jersey City and it's neighbors, along with the political corruption endemic to most industrial towns of the time. With a reporter's skill, she chronicles the major events of the times which came before here, allowing the reader to understand more fully the attitude of most in her community to legitimize the "swag", the stuff which "fell off the truck".

This book works on so many levels that it is almost impossible to do it justice here. You'll follow Ms.Stapinski's journey as a reporter on the local paper, to her year in Alaska and her eventual return to Jersey City, and ultimately her settlement in Brooklyn, where the trees grow. And when the time comes, when all of the loose threads of this tapestry are tied together, you'll savor the memories.

NOTE: Ms. Stapinski's father passed away on October 22, 1987. I happened to be reading that chapter on October 22nd. So, I found the authors web site and dropped her a note via e-mail. Mistaking me for someone else she replied with a short note which referenced a reading. Looking back at her web site I noticed that she has another book out.

It's about that family skeleton, a crime left behind in Italy.  That book is titled "Murder in Matera". You can be sure I will be reading and reviewing it here. Even if I have to find a copy which has "fallen off the truck."

Also of note is that "Five Finger Discount" was made into a mini series. I'll have to check that out. I wonder if the characters can be portrayed on film as vividly as the way in which the author presented them on paper. It will be a tough match....

Here is a link to the films website. http://fivefingerdiscountfilm.com/

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Eternal Spring

As long as there's a spring
I'll gladly brave the cold
dark days of winter
as the year is getting old.

As long as there are flowers
that come back every year,
I'll gladly take the darkness;
With it's cold and icy spear.

As long as there are people
planting trees they'll never see,
I have faith earth will prevail,
and last eternity.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Ken Burns Reads Rooftop Reviews! ("The Way" with Martin Sheen) 2011

NOTE:  September 22nd, 2019. Have just noticed the many recent negative comments about my review of this long forgotten film. But the best part was the comment from Ken Burns. Who knew he even read this blog? He wanted me to remove the whole thing. This post was originally done October 29, 2011. I have to wonder about the timing of these recent negative comments about an 8 year old review.

It seems I made an error in believing that the film is a true story, when in fact, it is only loosely based upon one. And I'm not the only one who was fooled, as you can see by googling the film on IMdB. Link handily provided below and in comments.

I have been on here for 10 years, apparently reviewing things with no problems of perception. I was surprised at the comments. (Please read them below.)

As previously stated, I am not the only one confused by this film. Read the plot summary on IMdB. It clearly says that he goes to retrieve the body of his son who died on the Pilgramage. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1441912/

So, in essence, this review is an example of what can happen when a film is made too convoluted, or with an assumption that everyone knows the backstory.

Out of my 2,200 posts I may have gotten this one wrong. I think that figure speaks more to the clarity of the film's direction than to my ability to understand a film. It was pretty cool to have any comment at all though, even a negative one, from Ken Burns. I don't kid myself he is a regular reader. Just friends with someone who was annoyed with my review.

I have attempted to research and find out just what my error was, all the comments after the first one in 2012 were less than informative, just that the review was bad. If I ever re-screen this long forgotten film I will attempt to review it again. Meantime, I have modified it to remove any factual errors.

This film, is a story about hiking the Pyrenees between France and Spain. The purpose of the hike is to trod the road taken by so many Catholics over the centuries in tribute to Santiago de Compostela who made the journey centuries ago, arriving at the site of the famed cathedral named after him.


The film was written, and directed, by Mr. Estevez in tribute to his son, named Daniel in the film, and whom he plays in flashbacks. His death necessitated his father, named Tom in the film, played by Martin Sheen, traveling to France in order to collect his son's remains. Mr. Sheen was Daniel's real grandfather. Along the way he remembers the conversations he had with his son about taking this journey, and on a whim he decides to take the trip.

The Camino de Santiago crosses the Pyrenees from France to Spain, ending at the Cathedral. Tom decides to take this journey partly in tribute to his son, as well as a way to come to terms with his death. He is hoping to find the meaning of his son's death, but soon begins looking for the meaning behind his own life.

Tom, a widower, had not been especially close to his son in the last few years of his too short life. The last contact he had with Daniel took the form of a phone call in which Daniel describes the journey he is about to embark upon. The next call Tom receives is from the French authorities. His son is dead and now he must go to France to claim the remains, which in this case are ashes.

When he begins the trip he starts to experience flashbacks of the father-son conflicts they had been through. Daniel has repeatedly asked that his father not "judge" him. In reality, Tom doesn't want to judge him at all; merely understand him. Arriving in France he meets a French policeman, played by Tcheky Karyo, who explains the history, and meaning, of the journey his son was taking. This serves to propel Tom on the path that his son was walking at the time of his death. He also plans to scatter his son's ashes at various places along the way.

There are three major characters whom Tom meets, and befriends, along the way. There is the obese Dutch party guy, played by Yorick van Wageningen; an Irish braggart suffering from writer’s block, played by James Nesbitt; and finally the chain-smoking Canadian woman, played by Deborah Kara Unger, who never learned how to be civil. Tom is stuck with this group as he struggles to keep his reasons for the hike to himself.

But as the group make their way across the mountains defenses break down, as each of the group comes to realize that life is not so much about changing the things you don't like about yourself. Sometimes it's more about accepting who you really are, and then moving on, content with that knowledge.

Some reviewers have likened the movie to both "The Canterbury Tales", as well as "The Wizard of Oz", both of which Estevez has called inspirations for the film.

For more about the making of this extraordinary film, including the parallels to "The Wizard of Oz", read the interview with Mr. Estevez at;


Wednesday, September 11, 2019

For Lois

A peculiar thing happened late in the day,
just at the time sunlight faded away.
It appeared somehow to have lost a ray,
and so I waited for nighttime to fall.

I thought the darkness would leave grief behind,
I'd forgotten the stars; my, how they shined!
As in your eyes, there was so much to find;
it wasn't easy to not heed their call.

But time has its' schedule and cares not a whit,
for the friends you have gathered, or ones who have quit.
As for all others, they don't count a bit,
we were lucky to have you at all.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Faces and Frames

What is it like to paint a face in a frame?
Do you start with the head, or is that the same?
How is it done, how does it work,
to capture an essence, the smallest of quirks?

Can you paint a laugh, a tear or a sigh?
I don't know for sure, though many have tried...
Mona Lisa is one; a painting which irks.
We really don't know - is that a smile, or a smirk?

Great critics argue that point to this day,
I have the answer, I'll put it this way;
Some say, "No difference", but I disagree;
she's smirking at you, but she's smiling with me.....

(Ruminating on my inability to draw....)

Friday, August 30, 2019


They look so benign
standing by the sink.
Temporarily mine,
they always make me think.

Those these candlesticks
Might soon be gone,
Their light, once lit;
shines on and on.

August 30, 2019

The duality of all things.The fleeting vs. the permanent.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Por Mon Fille (For My Daughter)

If I could be your Jesus,
I would take your pain.
I'd stand the cross and the nails
so your tears won't fall like rain.

I'd gladly wear the Crown of Thorns;
take all the jeers and tauntings.
I'd do anything I could
to keep you from your hauntings.

All the sins upon my back
would be mine to suffer.
I'd gladly be your Jesus.
I'd gladly be that buffer......

I did not know the artist name and asked my friends on Facebook. Maryann Held nailed it in less than a minute after I posted it. Here is her reply to my plea for help...... Thanks, Maryann!

"Peter Paul Rubens, Hercules’ Dog Discovers Purple Dye, c.1636 Musée Bonnat-Helleu

Hercules’ dog largely contributed to art history as it had discovered purple dye. According to the legend, while running on the beach the dog bit a sea snail and dyed his mouth purple. Clever boy.  Hope this helps."

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Nana and My Dream

I used to have nightmares of my dad screaming at me, close up drill sergeant style, which he used to do, veins in his neck bulging out. Haven't had them in years.

The other week he was in one, about to go off on me, and Nana; who rarely is in my dreams at all; was hovering there, right next to him, and told him; just by her presence,  to leave me alone! 😁 What a great dream!

She was there several times in real life when he did that, though never directly interfered. This was around 1964 and 65. I was 10-11years old at the time.

I had gone grocery shopping, one of my many chores because Mom was always sick or in hospital etc. This particular day Nana and Aunts Gloria and Gladys took me to the bungalow at Breezy Point and when Nana took me upstairs at about 10 PM my dad was waiting, fuming!

In my haste to leave that day I had left out a package of bologna so it was no good anymore. He hit the roof and wouldn't stop yelling, screaming.....

Nana wouldn't leave and he finally calmed down. Gloria was waiting downstairs for her and kept ringing the intercom, wondering what was taking so long.

Nana; what a saint she was and still is. You know at one point I was forbidden to go see her! Now, imagine not being allowed to see your own grandmother! She was only 15 streets away at 2807 Kings Hwy. We were at 1310 Ave R. So, it was only about 1 mile.

I used to take my bike and visit her and had to lie about where I'd been. I didn't want to put this on the wall at first and wrote it as an IM to cousin Patsy, but decided to share it anyway.

They say when you speak lovingly of the departed they live forever. Kind of like the Saints. Nana doesn't need to be Canonized by anyone or thing. I did that long ago in my heart.

Photo is cropped from my wedding album. Aunt Gloria made sure she was there for my wedding....

Monday, August 5, 2019

Earth from Space

Saturn has its' many rings
We both share the same sun.
And Jupiter has its' many moons
While poor old Earth has only one.

Now, Mars might look good in red,
And Venus has its' clouds.
But when I see the Earth from space,
It makes me very proud.

We've got greens and blues and reds.
It's colorful, what we are.
So, why at night when I go to bed,
Do I wish upon a Star?

Thursday, July 25, 2019

The Torch

 Every day they say they've got him,
but next day he's slipped their grasp.
And you wonder how it happened,
how on earth did he get past?

His hair is like the helmet
some super heroes wore,
and the words escaping from his lips
are thoughts ne'er thought before.

But each night they get together
in their dark and smoky rooms,
and as the night gives way to dawn,
once again they plot his doom.

First there were the Russians-
which somehow didn't pan out-
then they got a stripper
and claimed they'd caught the lout!

Then there was the Playmate-
and there also was a whore-
why, they heaped on so much scandal
that the public soon got bored.

Then they turned upon themselves,
so they'd be squeaky clean.
And even cleaned up Hollywood-
In a rare, accidental scene!

They waited for the Big Blue Wave,
the one which never came.
And then went after his wife and kid-
deeming them to be fair game.

Round and round in circles
the people all were lead.
And slowly, but very surely,
they grew sick of heart and head.

So, the moral of the story,
and this won't take long at all -
The more you try to topple him
the less likely he will fall.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Original Sin and the US Constitution?

Nothing rankles me more than the Original Sin argument about the United States and the Constitution. That we were founded upon Slavery. Quite the opposite is true. We were founded as a nation based on the stated notion that protection for slavery would only last until 1807, and further, that there could be no Amendment to change that date or goal. Read it. Article 1 Section 9.

So, in the very first Article of the US Constitution there is not only an acknowledgment of the evils of slavery, which was part of the system handed down to us by Britain, there is also a stated date for the cessation of importation of more slaves. This was the only way to get the 13 colonies to agree on the Constitution. And, yes, after 1807 we did have the misguided Missouri Compromise and the Kansas-Nebraska Act. I say misguided because attempting to compromise with something like slavery is just that; at the very least.

But by 1861 it all came to a head, as it was bound to, and 685,000 Americans, North and South, died to finally end slavery. Was it instantaneously successful? Of course not. But, the point is that we kept hammering it until it took proper shape and today we live in a world which has more slaves than we, as a nation, ever held in bondage.

Is there still work to do? "In order to form a more perfect Union" there always will be. But Original Sin? Sorry, you'll have to peddle that line elsewhere.....

Saturday, July 6, 2019

The Birds at River Oaks Drive

The birds here at my new house at first might look the same,
rats with wings, fleeting things, although not quite so tame.
They may fly, sing, soar and squawk and even sound the same,
But the birds back at the old place, put these new ones to shame.

Yes, they may be more colorful, plentiful and varied.
But I'd trade these yellow finches for the way the robin carried
her dignity, her poise, her noise, the way she never tarried;
building a nest on my back porch for the lover she had married.    

These new birds live in the woods and come soaring down for seed.
They play and fuss and sometimes fight, all to feed their greed.
The blue birds chase the cardinals who have gathered here to feed,
They chase them off but can't eat now, with the finches filling their needs.

They remind me of corporate raiders, and the plots they often hatch,
But instead of penthouse suites they make their plans from a nest of thatch. 
So I really miss the old birds, the ones I used to watch. 
Though the new ones might be colorful, they're simply not a match....

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Every Day with Sue

Every evening when day is done
your eyes are as the setting sun;
soothing, cooling; but still afire,
with a blazing flame I still admire.

Happy Anniversary, Sue.
33 years and counting....

Sunday, June 23, 2019

The Sun, the Moon and the Stars.

The moon and stars were talking one day,
The Sun was shining too bright.
He made them look dull some folks would say
So they banished him into the night.

The Sun didn't agree and hated his plight
So, he came up with a plan.
He'd rule the day and then sent them away,
To see what they could see without light.

And that is the reason why right to this day,
You never see them together.
While one is setting, the other one's rising,
and all agree it's been the for better......

Revised Version

The moon and stars were talking one day,
the Sun was shining too bright.
He made them look dull some folks would say,
so, they banished him into the night.

The Sun didn't agree and hated his plight
and so he refused to stay
Let them see what they could without light,
he thought as he turned them away.

And that is the reason why up to this writing,
you seldom see them together.
While one is setting, the other one's rising,
and all agree it's been for the better......

(For Sarah Ruth)

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Settled Law and a Living Constitution

We are often told that we have a "living" constitution. I am a moderate and agree with this assessment. After all, if it were not so, we would still be living with a permanent decision in the Dred Scott case. Nobody is in favor of that.

A "living" constitution has given us most of the freedoms we enjoy today. Many of them are bundled within the 14th Amendment, which is somewhat akin to placing all your eggs in one basket. But that's another story......

This year there has been a sea change in our society surrounding the Roe v Wade decision, which was made under the auspices of the 14th Amendment. Several states, almost half at this point, have passed new restrictions on abortion, leading the Pro Choice crowd to talk of "settled law."

While I am pro choice, I am also a Constitutionlist and a believer in a "living" Constitution. After all, it was this belief in a "living" Constitution upon which Roe v Wade was predicated and upheld.

Settled Law implies that once the Supreme Court decides an issue, then it's settled. Court nominees have had to convince Congress that they believe Roe v Wade to be settled law. I do not believe in "settled" law.

So, how do I merge both beliefs, which may seem to be in opposition to one another? Let's explore this.....

A Living Constitution implies that changes made by Amendment will apply as the people change and society grows.

Some people will be saying that the changes to abortion law are all part of a "living Constitution", and there is merit in that argument.

Others will opine that "Settled" Law means there can be no changes made to law after a Supreme Court decision has been rendered. There is also some merit to that view.

To really decide this issue you have to look at which changes by Amendment have been successful and which have not. You don't have to look very far for the example. It was the Volstead Act, the 18th Amendment in 1920. It was a failure and repealed by the 21st Amendment in 1933.

Here then, is the dilemma we face.

If we believe in settled law then we should still have slavery under Dred Scott, or Separate but Equal. Since "settled" law is not possible with an amendable Constitution, we don't have those things anymore.

So, we would have to say we don't believe in settled law. We believe in a "living" Constitution which changes with the needs of the people. (Notice I say "needs" and not "wants.")

People wanted Prohibition, just as they once approved of slavery. We are not populists. So, the "living" Constitution is capable of changing its mind, just as it did with the Volstead Act.

This may seem as being in agreement with a reversal of Roe v Wade under the 14th Amendment, but it wouldn't be true.

The big difference in all of this argument, and the point which most often goes unsaid, is that "settled" law has only always applied to our being granted more rights under the law.

The one time they tried to use the Bill of Rights, which is comprised of all 27 Amendments, to tell us what we could not do, was a failure and needed to be reversed.

Abortion is a right granted, not removed. As such, "settled" law is not contradictory to our "living" Constitution. It is compatible with it.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Pi Day

We all take Pi for granted. It’s loaded into our computers and calculators for us, and we use it in equations all the time without ever thinking of it beyond it's formulaic utility. Some years ago, while working as an estimator of utilities, I found it necessary; or maybe desirable; to understand the exact meaning of Pi and how it worked in relation to the circle.

Having failed at the subject all through high school, and even before that, I had this “fear” of math brought on by my parent’s assertions that I was not able to understand the subject. I was, like my mother; and remember, it was my mother who said it; used to tell me, “You take after me and I could never understand math. But you can read well, and your brother can’t.” What a stupid statement to make to any child, even your own! Water under the bridge. Having navigated around the world, by sextant, in the days before Nav Sats etc., I can truly say that I am perfectly capable of working out any mathematical problem thrown my way. The failure was in the teaching method.

Had they wanted to really engage my passion all they would have had to do was make the problems relevant to real life. Like, you are on a ship and headed in this direction for 8 days at so many mils per hour. How far have you gone? That would have got me interested. And by high school, rather than the mundane tasks of geometry and trigonometry, nautical astronomy would have proven more effective at teaching not only both of those subjects, but given the student a true perspective of just where we were on the terrestrial plane, and also how insignificant we actually are; individually, or collectively, in the grand scheme of things.

What is Pi? 3. 14159 is the most common answer. Then browse Wikipedia for what that means. Ask the “math” student in your family. The answers you get will all be concerned with the number rather than what it really means, or stands for. That was the purpose of charting it, as I did above, almost 40 years ago while estimating the volume of pipe necessary to hold a specific amount of water. I used a 6” pipe for the example, mostly because it was easily equated to decimal form, and I had a boatload of 6” pipe on hand.

But I kept running into Pi while figuring it out, and then rechecking my figures. So, I did what Captain Ellison used to tell us at the Baltimore School of Navigation; “Draw it out!” And, I did. And while putting some of my papers in order a few years ago; I actually did that; I ran across this and decided to post it for posterity.

In short, while Pi represents the factor used to determine the area within a circle, by careful calculation; and drawing the problem out; it becomes apparent that Pi actually represents .785% of the area of any circle. Will this change the world as we know it? I hardly think so. But it is an example of the beauty and perfection of numbers.

While I have rounded off the number to obtain this new factor, it should not pose any real problems for any calculations confined to construction, travel etc. Would I use it to build a spaceship and plan a trip to Mars? Hardly. But for the average needs of an estimator; or carpenter; this factor works out just fine.

I hope someone finds this useful and lets me know! Pi for now!

Note: Though I was able to find something about the factor .785 referenced on line; and one fellow even describes drawing a square with a circle inside the perimeters; I still find this explanation and diagram easier to follow.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019


See the pretty daffodils,
they grow in gardens;
grow on hills.

Unless the wind blows
they stand still;
like Guardians of the spring.


Photo by Sarah Ruth Williams - Chapel Hill, NC

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

"The Man Who Watched Trains Go By" with Claude Rains (1951)

Claude Raines plays a man who has been the head clerk/bookkeeper for 18 years at a firm in Holland. He lives by the sound of the train whistling to and from Paris his whole life, while he remains where he is.

A scandal at a rival firm leaves that firm bankrupt. But, though it has been proven the bookkeeper was innocent of any wrongdoing or knowledge of the crime by his boss, his life and career are ruined anyway. Even Claude cannot help him find a job.

Through a set of circumstances a police detective arrives from Paris tracing some Dutch currency which has been circulating in Paris on the black market. He comes to Claude's firm. The boss is most cooperative. Too cooperative.

Out walking one night, Claude finds his boss burning the books and running away with the firm's money. They struggle and the boss falls in the canal and drowns. The firm's money is strewn on the ground where it fell, along with a train ticket to Paris. What should he do about that? There are no more books, but keeping the money will make him guilty of embezzlement.  And leaving his family behind is not an option he really cares for. But this is an extraordinary situation.

What should he do? Tell the authorities the truth and risk disbelief and ruin? Or is there another way? And does that train whistle to Paris have an influence? Who can say?

Will he go to Paris so that it looks like his boss stole the money? Is it morally okay? After all, the boss was going to leave him holding the bag.....

Wonderfully adapted from the novel, and filmed in beautiful, almost muted color. This 1952 film stands the test. Also released as "The Paris Express".