Ithaca Blog

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Teachout Draws Out Progressive Heart And Muscle In NY

New York City did not come through for Teachout over Cuomo, but 20 or so upstate counties did. Tompkins County was her biggest win, with over 70% of the vote. But even less liberal neighbors like Cortland, Schuyler and Seneca counties went for the upstart progressive over the big-cash incumbent.

It is a strong statement against big money corrupting our government. It is also a major statement against fracking. It is an historical outcome and represents new forces in politics. It's not a de facto victory but it is a de jure one. It's a good day.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

In My Book (Thank You, John Lennon)

I have written a book about the Brooklyn of old - about my childhood - a self-published, unconventional book.

It is not a very straightforward narrative and its chapters are almost like poems, or spoken pieces. Well, they are short, anyway.

I can't blame anyone but myself for the oddness except maybe John Lennon. He wrote a book in 1964 called "In His Own Write" which made me think of writing.

He wrote wonderfully, but strangely. He wrote very short items you couldn't really call stories. It was just writing.

It was the first book I ever bought. I loved the music of the Beatles, especially appreciating Lennon's part in it. I knew he was wordy, funny, tough, a little crazy, and all of that resonated with me. I didn't know about the book until a few years after it was written. I bought it right away. I was just a kid. (It's funny to me now to think of a ten-year old buying a book for himself.)

The book amazed me with its humor and style. I read it over and over, loving the word-play and rule-breaking.

What I couldn't know as a kid was Lennon's debt to Lewis Carroll. And, a bit, James Joyce. I realize it now.

And mine to him. Despite his celebrity, and occasional outlandishness, he was modest of aspect. He used to speak of his lack of education, which he regretted. He taught people, despite it.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

"How Old Would You Be, If You Didn't Know How Old You Was?"

My best friend from high school just sent me a last e-mail from work. Ever. We are 56 (each), and he is retiring. From a job with the government, where he has worked since his twenties.

Apparently, you can do that (retire), working for the government. A lot of my life I worked for myself, and retirement seems like a far-off thing, if not a complete fantasy.

Financially, to be sure, but also physically and mentally. I told my friend Chris, good for you, but ain't you too young to be laying down?

I think maybe, as people are living longer these days, the word "retirement" itself should in some cases, like his, be retired. Chris, I said, maybe it's more like "graduation" for you.

In my case, the word "retirement" will equal the word "funeral." But that's okay with me. I don't have anything more to graduate from. I want to work till I drop, like John Henry, Pete Seeger, or Satchel Paige.

Let's talk about Satchel Paige, who once said (and always showed) something great about age.

Satchel Paige was the greatest baseball pitcher of all time. He was a star in the professional Negro Leagues, from the 1920's into the 40's. He was kept from the major leagues until the color line was broken, in 1947. He was signed soon after, despite his advanced age. He was at least a decade older than most players. He was great yet. But the age difference was obvious, a guy in his mid- or late forties in a game where 35 was old. Despite entreaties, he would never discuss nor disclose his age.

The story goes that, one night in a bar, a reporter friend asked Paige to please, please do what he had never done: specify his age. Tell it. Can it be true, in a game where you're done well before 40, you're still in here, maybe 45? 46? 47? How old are you? Really?

Paige looked at the guy (goes the tale). He said he would answer as a friend. But he would answer the question with a question.

"How old would you be," said Satchel Paige, "if you didn't know how old you was?" That's how old Satchel Paige was. Me, too. You, too, I hope.

A Lot Of Our Stuff Is Now In The Ithaca Times, Bi-Weekly

Check it, beloved Ithaca Blog fans: our local weekly newspaper, the Ithaca Times, now prints our Ithaca Blog-type stuff twice a month, a couple of items at a time. So we are writing a lot less here now.

Please give a look at the paper for it. If you are out of town, the paper has a wonderfully nice website name, Unfortunately, right now, the format of the online edition is not as tight as the name. Our stuff, particularly, is not easy to find. "I type in your name and get nothing," we are told often, and it is true. You have to hit the menu for "Opinion" and then for "Columnists" to find us.

We're grateful if you look us up. We're glad that you read us, and we hope we please you as much as you do us.

Friday, August 15, 2014

B-Mets Make the Post-season

Here's our column from this week's Ithaca Times, about the Binghamton Mets. The B-Mets qualify for post-season play this year for the Eastern League championship.

Take Me Out to the B-Mets - Ithaca Times : Opinion

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Message To A Friend Who Once Worked With Robin Williams

This is a message I sent last night to my friend Lori Balton, a macher in the movies, who got a big break early, in 1988 or so, scouting locations on the east coast for a pretty big Hollywood picture called Dead Poets Society.

Lori, I remember the DPS wrap party, in Wilmington DE, which you so kindly invited me to, when I was living in near-by Maryland, and you & I were not too long out of Cornell, you starting your career in the movies. It was a great, fun night. I remember you telling me, "These kids will be stars some day," and how great this one star, Robin Williams, was to work with, generous and fun, a mensch and pro. You had the idea the film might be a hit.

Tonight must be very sad for you. Of course, it is sad for the whole world. I was working tonight when the word spread. People cried. It is, at least, a reminder - or a lesson - about mental illness. That is the cause of his death. Mental illness is not a choice, any more than physical illness. Our misunderstanding of it actually makes it the more painful of the two. - Rest in peace, funnyman, great artist, giver, beautiful guy, Robin Williams.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Consumer Tips From An Outsider

I am aptly suited to give consumer advice because I am a real good non-consumer. Like, you don't want diet tips from a big heavy guy, do you?

Here's my credentials. I've never been in Wal-Mart in my life. Not to get off track with politics, here, but let's say that Wal-Mart is not a good civic nor global neighbor. Their meager payroll is supplemented by government infusions to the workers they underpay. That's where their corporate billions come from. That, and the slave labor in China they foster. So I don't visit them.

Anyway. I want to talk on a lesser scale here. I simply don't shop much. How much does a guy in his fifties who lives alone need? I already got, as the blues song says, everything I need, almost. Tables, chairs, lighting, bedding, shelving, window treatments, an ottoman. So I shop for food, and the occasional wardrobe update (to stay in the game, so to speak), and that's about it. Beyond Wal-Mart, I am hardly ever in a place like Target, either.

I mean, for consumer needs, you have to replace your shower curtain, every nine years or so, but you can do that at Wegman's. (Strictly speaking, what does a guy who lives alone, and rents, actually need with shower curtains? What do I care if the floor gets wet ? There's no one coming up behind me here to ask who did this. After my shower, the bathroom is closed for the day. The floor will be dry by the time I'm home from work. And, as I say, I rent, so what do I care about floor maintenance?)

(I do, however, care about landlord relationship, so let me point out to mine, hey, M. & C., I'm a JOKER! I have, and use, a rain-room curtain!)

(Hey, readers, too: just kidding. A guy needs fresh shower curtains and bath towels at all times: for that game, if nothing else.)

As a non-consumer, I never look at those big flyers that come in the mail and with the weekend Journal. They look junky and I need no junk. But this weekend I succumbed, because my microwave oven died on me, and I thought, if enticed, I would replace it.

So: here is where my experience comes in. I flipped through a Target insert, and wow, saw a microwave advertised for $39. I forget what brand, but I recognized it. And it was marked down $20.95. Beautiful.

So I figure I am going to Target. No big deal, I go to Planet Fitness up there in mall-land, I'll make a quick side-trip. Let me see if there's anything else in this flyer I can use.

There is. Target advertises a mirror that hangs over a door for $4.95. The only mirror I have, outside the bathroom, sits on an antique (i.e., old) dresser I have, and makes me look worse than I do, I think. So, a new one, for $4.95? To help me show up my old one? Great.

I go to Target tonight after the gym. There is a shelf in the housewares department for microwave ovens. There are a lot of them. But not the big-sale one. Its shelf-talker is there. But it is out of stock. There are, however, a lot of other m.o.'s, for a lot more money.

Forget that, of course. I go on to the mirror section. The one I saw in the ad is in stock. However, it does not include apparatus to hang it over a door. It was advertised as a mirror that hangs over a door. And, apparently, it is, if you have things to make it do that. What they are actually selling is a mirror that stands on the floor. But I guess this is not a strong selling point.

"Caveat emptor" is probably the oldest consumer tip there is. It remains pertinent. I would add, don't bother looking at newspaper flyers. They will rob you of time, at very least.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Saving Grace For Rold Gold (A Bit More About Pretzels)

A few weeks ago, we wrote about 300 words here on Paul Newman brand pretzels. This is probably too few, but go back and judge for yourself.

There is probably less to say about Rold Gold pretzels, although if anyone can push it, it is us.

I got a bag of Rold Gold pretzels at Wegman's. They probably have Paul Newman brand, but segregate it over in the natural foods section, which somehow doesn't seem kosher to me, plus it can be a little wearying in Wegman's after a while (we love Wegman's, but sometimes in the way we love the gym, that we are happiest leaving).

Rold Gold makes a fine pretzel, but talk about wearying, check their on-bag salesmanship. They try too hard.

Their pretzels are "utterly chompable." They take you "straight from the big crunch to great taste," which I hadn't really noticed, and still don't. I would prefer not to have to. They "are made to satisfy even the most discriminating pretzel lover," which actually puts me off, if Rold Gold thinks I go around thinking of myself as a discriminating pretzel lover as part of my psychic identity. I don't.

A big knock against Rold Gold, in our booklet, is that they are part of Frito-Lay, Inc. We didn't know that. We always think of pretzel companies as small, independent enterprises from places a lot of Germans used to live. Somehow it makes us feel fat eating anything by Frito-Lay, even though you can eat an entire bag of pretzels and get only 1,300 calories. Something about that red-and-yellow Frito-Lay logo on the bag makes you feel you eat from convenience stores.

But here is a saving grace for Rold Gold. We have been aware of their product a long time. But it never occurred to us before: there is no such word as "rold."

We like it when someone can toss a linguistic curve like that past us. Of course, maybe they simply can't spell. But they've been around since 1917. You think someone would have noticed by now.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

A Thought Too Short For The Ithaca Times

As noted here in our last post, the Ithaca Times has started publishing our Ithaca Blog-type writings in a column. Some of our thoughts are too short for them; or maybe even for here. Such as this one we had recently: there are two industries we're glad we never invested in: address books, and ashtrays.

Too-Early Birds/GrassRoots Fest News

Along with the occasional feature and review, we have started writing a column for The Ithaca Times. Called, for now, "Ithaca Notes," it will appear every few weeks. This first installment appeared this week:

rIthaca Notes: Early Bird, Grass Roots - Ithaca Times : Opinion

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Book Reading at Buffalo Street Books, Tuesday 24 June, 6 PM

I will be acting as a sort of fancy check-it-out guy at Buffalo Street Books, one week from tonight

Boy of Summer: Ithaca's Burke Reflects on Brooklyn Upbringing - Ithaca Times : Arts & Entertainment

Why Hillary Won't Win: Iraq

In 2002, as senator from New York, Hillary Clinton voted to authorize George Bush's war on Iraq. So did New York's other senator, Charles Schumer. I wrote to both of them at the time and said, you represent millions of New Yorkers who know this war is phony and illegal. You know it is, too. But you're not willing to say it. It might complicate your career. You voted for it as the politically expedient thing to do.

But (I wrote), maybe it's not. I know that personally I will never vote for either of you for anything again, no matter the circumstances. I'll write somebody in, as a protest vote. I hope and trust there are millions of people like me, and you have earned the ends of your political careers with this acquiescence to lies and slaughter.

In 2008, Clinton lost her campaign for the presidency to Barack Obama, who had opposed the war on Iraq. With the new upheaval in Iraq, the war remains an issue, as it should. And Clinton's complicity haunts her, as it should. It should haunt more than just her campaign.

As it did in 2008, it opens the door for less conservative challengers. Elizabeth Warren says she doesn't want to run, but we hope she's thinking about it now.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Yes, Pittsburgh

Ithaca is paradise in the summer, but if you want someplace to go on a quick summer vacation, with some urban excitement? There is always NYC, a place we dearly love, and will visit at hat's drop. But if you want something a little less known, a bit farther afield, and to make a discovery, go in the opposite direction, west instead of east, and visit Pittsburgh.

Yes, Pittsburgh. We visited Pittsburgh for the first time 6 years ago. We were going to a conference, and staying with friends. We had good, particular reasons to go: the conference (paying us), and those friends. But we found that Pittsburgh has attributes, as a city, of its own.

Its image is of a smokey, smolten steel town. Of course, this is no longer true. The city, to its enormous credit, did not die with the death of its first industry. Instead it recreated itself, as a center of education, and a home to health care and insurance businesses. It stayed economically strong.

Emerging from the transition was the physical beauty of the place. It got clean, and its three rivers, in their mighty confluence ("confluence" is a commonly-heard word in Pittsburgh) became prominent in their loveliness, recreational capacities, and interesting, cool-to-think-about, geographic and historical importance.

Also physically lovely about Pittsburgh are its hills. The hills are above those rivers. (That's where the water runs from.) Pittsburgh's hills reminded us of San Francisco, a place we have visited many times, and love. But San Fran's hills don't run with water, like Pittsburgh's. And they don't have trams running up them for thrilling views, as Pittsburgh's do.

Pittsburgh has also become a culinary center. There are great food people working there, running the range from farmer's markets and inventive food trucks, to fancy, splashy joints. When we were there, we talked to our restaurant host/chef, after a fantastic meal (at an expensive place, let's be clear - we like to spend money on such evenings pretty nicely, once in a while - though we can tell you, it was maybe only 60% NYC expensive), who told us he chose Pittsburgh over Brooklyn, as a place to ply his trade in comfort and calm, at a reasonable rent, to appreciative clientele. We can tell you he was doing it to great results.

The other thing, for summer, is that Pittsburgh has a major league baseball team. They play in a park that is regarded as perhaps the loveliest in the nation. (San Francisco's is its rival - there's that comparison, again - but tickets in Pittsburgh are about half the price of S.F.'s.)

As restaurateurs do, at least one bookstore has chosen to be in Pittsburgh rather than New York. It's called Amazing Books. It is a great shop and is run by a guy from the Bronx who married a woman from Pittsburgh and settled there. He has invited us to do a reading of our book, "Brooklyn 3, New York," at his place, and we are sure doing it. It is scheduled for Sunday 29 June, at 11 a.m. The New York Mets are in town that day to play the Bucs. Our plan is to do our reading first and then go as a group to the game. If any of this interests you to the point of involement? Let us know, and we'll see what's doing.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Or A Marriage Counselor

I am a not-very-good guitar player, and I have a not-very-good guitar. We suit one another that way. The guitar had a previous owner, but a long time ago: 33 years. I bought it from the first owner in 1981. I forget what I paid for it. Maybe $100 bucks (1981 money, about a month's rent). It has sort of a bastard pedigree. Technically by Guild, a reputable maker, it is a "Madeira" model, which I think is sort of an ersatz knock-off. It doesn't matter to me. It's my guitar. It knows all the songs I know. I have never had another.

I take care of it okay. Periodic cleanings, adjustments. I recently took it to a friend who does repairs and such. He looks at it and scowls. At it, then me. It's okay, we're friends, he can scowl at me. He says to me, though:

- You ever think about getting a new guitar?

Now it's my turn. I scowl at him. I'm actually mad, though. At least a little. "It's a good thing you're not a veterinarian," I say.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Peter De Mott Trot, For Great Legs, and Great Work For Peace

Once and only once in my life did I ever dress in drag, or anything approximating it. It was for a costume party that I didn't want to go to because I don't like costumes anyway, at least not on me, plus the theme to this party was "The Brady Bunch," a show I never watched in my life, because I was never a prisoner of war, and only torture would make me do such a thing.

But, I was letting down a friend by not attending, so I went, and dressed up, not as some TV character, but as my friend Teresa Grady. My idea was to say I thought the theme was "The Grady Bunch."

I wore a knit dress and tights, as Teresa did in those days, plus a crucifix. I was a hit, for the most part, doing this thing my own way, as I love to do, except that after about an hour one of the women at the party came up to me, on behalf of herself and the other women, she said.

"We want you to go put on pants," she said. "You have nicer legs than any of us and you're showing us up."

I think of this because I am thinking of my late, great friend, Peter De Mott, Teresa Grady's brother-in-law, husband of Teresa's sister Ellen. If you want to see the greatest pair of legs on a man you ever saw in your life, look at the photo of Peter on the publicity for the De Mott Peace Trot, the annual 5K run/walk held every Father's Day in Peter's honor. The 5th annual event takes place on Sunday 15 June, at the Cornell Plantations.

Peter had the body of the ex-Marine he was, maintained by exercise that Peter took as he did everything in life, scrupulously but with joy. "A day without sweat is a day to regret," he said, and is the slogan of the Trot.

You don't have to run. The course is a beautiful place for a stroll, and the gathering is fun and heart-warming, one of the best community events of the year.

Proceeds from registrations and other donations go towards Peter's work for peace, which is carried on most directly by Ellen, their four daughters, others of the Grady Bunch, and the Catholic Worker group. Please contribute. More information at

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Taste of the Nation, June 17: A Nice Party For You, Steady Food For Kids

Chances are if someone asked you to find twenty five cents a day for the next year to give to a proven great program to help feed kids, you would do it.

But what if they threw in the following: you can donate it at a party where scores of great local restaurants, vintners, and breweries will have unbelievably great food and drink for you, to thank you? Plus, they'll throw in a band at the end, to dance the night away?

That's the deal at the annual Taste of the Nation event, on Tuesday 17 June. The event is nation-wide, with hundreds of cities raising funds the same night for hungry kids.

Ithaca is one of the smallest cities to hold one of these events. Generally, only bigger cities have enough culinary talent to make them feasible. Here in Ithaca, we fease: here we come, with spatulas flailing. There is a persistent canard that Ithaca has more restaurants per capita than any other city in the U.S. Maybe, maybe not, but we have a lot, and that means a lot of talent, and the best of the best are at this event, representing. Don't forget, of course, about the wineries, that incredible, rare resource we are blessed with, and have cultivated so well, better and better all the time.

Here's another selling point. You can come as you want and will, but a lot of people take this event as an excuse to dress up. At least a little. This is a fairly rare thing in Ithaca. So it is a night of a certain panache, not to mention sexiness, if we may be so bold. It is a lot of fun. Like a wedding or so, you know, that level of good food, good drink, good-looking, smiling people.

Of course, let's remember the raison d'etre: to fund programs for hungry children. What's not to love about that. The work of scores of volunteers, and the largesse of the business co-sponsors for the event (SYSCO Foods; and, entirely locally, the wonderful Strebel Planning Group, financial caretakers and advisors for businesses and individuals) means that 100% of your $100 ticket price goes directly to these programs.

It's a great night. Treat yourself while helping children. $100 is a high tariff, in Ithaca, but remember, it's about a quarter a day between this event and the one next year. Not a lot to ask. Especially as much as it helps. And, tell you what, special for readers of Ithaca Blog: order tickets online, using Ambassador Code DOWD (for our friend, ticket-seller Jyl Dowd), and get 20% off your ticket price. for details

Monday, May 26, 2014

Ithaca Festival This Weekend: How To Forestall Rain

With the tumult of graduations gone, it's time for Ithaca to celebrate itself, with the downtown festival, which occurs every year the first weekend past Memorial Day.

The festival gets bigger and better each year. This year there is an emphasis on poetry and film, along with all the music events.

Our favorite festival feature is the parade which kicks it off on Thursday. It's not that kind of parade, is a safe thing to say. It is very inclusive of all the community and you might say it is zany. It is certainly fun.

The parade starts Thursday at 6:30. This means the annual thunderstorm will start about 7:15. The only chance for no monsoon, we have found, is to bring an umbrella. Do that, if you are superstitious (or even just stitious); and if you are civic-minded as you should be, buy a festival button, "your ticket" to the doings, as they say.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Top Ten Reasons You Should Be Eating Paul Newman Brand Pretzels Right Now

(1.) Pretzels are delicious. You like pretzels, don't you? Did you ever know anyone who doesn't? No. A uniting factor of humanity is everyone likes pretzels.

(2.) Pretzels go excellent with beer, and if you are not allergic to alcohol, beer is nice as pretzels, and even nicer with them. We are writing this about 90 minutes after our late-night work shift, enjoying both (with some Havarti cheese, also nice).

(3.) The words "pretzel" and "beer" are each euphonious, and redolent of cheer. Life is hard, and both these qualities should be taken gleefully as they occur.

(4.) Paul Newman brand pretzels are the finest on earf. They taste perfect. They are crunchy as get-out. We personally think "crunchy" should be, by the USDA, an endorsed food group.

(5.) Paul Newman brand pretzels are organic.

(6.) Paul Newman brand products donate their profits to charity. Paul Newman once said his food line has made much more money than his movies, which surprised us. It must be a lot of money.

(7.) The bag itself has the color(s) of pretzels, a nice touch. And has interesting, funny reading, which reminds us of cereal boxes from childhood. Nothing wrong with good packaging. An old boss of ours in retail once said, "Nothing happens until someone sells something."

(8.) Paul Newman brand products are available at GreenStar, so your money goes both to charity, and to your own community. GreenStar circulates much more of its income locally than anyone else. It is one of the 30 top employers in Tompkins County, and supports scores (hundreds?) of local entrepreneurs.

(9.) Paul Newman pretzels are on sale at GreenStar right now. So is this Peak Organic Fresh Cut beer I am enjoying with them. If you are intolerant of alcohol, also on sale at GreenStar are Santa Cruz organic lemonades, $1.66/quart, which I love to take with pretzels in the daytime.

(10.) Also on earf, if there was ever anyone cooler than Paul Newman, can you name them? I will tell you a personal story of Paul Newman's coolness, an encounter in Sag Harbor, New York, next time. Right now, it's one more crunch, and swallow, then bed.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Keep Biking

National Bike To Work Day just passed, but the day is meant to be a reminder of the benefits of biking, and encouragement to do it more.

Biking is healthy for the environment, of course, and physically, but also mentally, we think.

Biking makes you part of your natural environment, while driving makes you part of an artificial and dangerous one. Cars are tons of metal, noise, and fumes and, while convenient, kill people. No wonder we are hostile while driving. That moron is trying to kill me. What's the matter with this douchebag? I'll show him. These are the kind of thoughts provoked by driving. Meanwhile, you will never see a biking commuter cut another one off, or deny someone a lane change.

If you don't have a bike, try craigslist. If your old bike needs a tune-up, try the Cyclery on W. State Street. $75 or so will set you up for pleasant paths.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Yay For Michael Hurley At The Dock

Michael Hurley has been writing and performing sweetly odd, lyrically delightful, tunefully simple songs, and quietly making a legacy of it, for about 50 years or so. Way back when with the crazy likes of the Holy Modal Rounders and the Fugs, true originals and joyful, artistic anarchists. Michael played at the Dock - the old Castaways - in Ithaca tonight.

He is originally from the east - Bucks County, Pennsylvania - and made his mark first in NYC in the fecund folk days of the 1960's. Later he became more rural - played a lot of dates in Vermont, for one. About 15 years ago he went west, to the Portland, Oregon area, and apparently is very happy there.

He sure toiled in obscurity for years, though seemed not to mind it, but lately has had a surge of fervid popularity among people half his age. I'm not sure, but I think it had to do with a tune or two of his being featured on cable TV and in the movies. Discovered, around age 70.

The crowd at the Dock tonight was a nice mix of fans old and new. The Dock was a nice environment. The place looks great, repainted and reappointed. The staff were professional and gracious.

The onliest negative was with about 10% of the crowd, primarily interested , it seemed, in drinking and loud talking, rather than the doings.

This seems to us a poor, too-common thing in Ithaca. Or is it common everywhere?

WRFI, our community radio station, was on the scene, broadcasting it live, I believe. I hope they archived it, too. I will listen and hear, I hope, some of what I missed to bibulous loquaciousness around me at the site.

Anyway, thank you to the Dock, to Angry Mom Records (a sponsor), and to Michael Hurley, a beautiful guy. And to the other 90% of a good-sized crowd!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Our Other Mother

(For Mother's Day, here is an excerpt from our book, "Brooklyn 3, New York.")

There was no such thing as divorce in Brooklyn 3. No kid ever lost a parent, nor got an extra one, that way.

Some kids got an extra parent through family, if a real parent got sick.

This happened with us.

Early in her marriage, our mother was hospitalized with polio. She had little kids. So her mother, Maryann Keane, stepped in.

Maryann lived a mile from us, with her husband, Patrick, in a fifth-floor walk-up, on the corner of Church and Brooklyn Avenues.

Maryann Lynch and Patrick Keane were from Ireland. Both came to America as children, fleeing poverty.

Maryann came alone, at age 16.

She'd had the misfortune to be born a girl, first child in a dirt-farming family.

"That's one for America," her father said when she was born, not male. He shipped her to New York as soon as it was legal.

There were boarding houses for such as Maryann. She went to work scrubbing floors in Manhattan.

On weekends, she went to dances for the Irish. She met a man - from Tuam, back home. He was good.

They married. Maryann was 24. Things were good enough that she stopped working.

She bore three children. She was thrilled with it and so was her husband.

Like herself, her husband was denied education as a child, thus choices later. Patrick worked digging ditches and pouring asphalt in the streets.

Their three girls slept in one bed. Maryann washed clothes by hand, in a tub with a washboard and wringer. By no means was there money.

But her husband was faithful, kind, and pious. Also, good-looking and fun. He played the accordion at parties on Saturday nights. Sunday mornings, he cooked breakfast for the family, before ushering at church.

Their girls were all spirited, smart and beautiful.

How much did she love Brooklyn? She loved the place entirely, she told me many times, in a brogue she never lost - jute-strong, song-sweet.

She'd built a life, against all odds, more solid, by a million, than the stone house she was cast from in Longford.

Presumably, to help a sick daughter raise children was no great burden, in her mind.

Maryann came to our house by bus each morning before our father left for work, and took the bus home once he returned. No need to bother him with driving, tired as he was. Some nights she stayed, if needed. On weekends she drove with her husband.

We children were small, and of course had all bonded normally with our mother, but there arose some confusion about the role of these two women in our lives.

Other kids saw their mothers a lot, and their grandmothers a little. With us, it was the opposite.

We referred to our grandmother as "Ma." Of course, our mother was Mom. But whatever a grandmother was, or was supposed to be, ours was more. Hence the splitting of the title.

I don't know if anyone tried to clarify the issue for us, or correct us. If they did, it didn't stick. We never referred to nor addressed Maryann as anything but Ma, our whole lives.

Isn't It Great?

(For Mother's Day, here is an excerpt from our book, "Brooklyn 3, New York.")

One thing we were all good at, in Brooklyn 3, was talking.

It didn't cost anything and there were lots of opportunities, as there were lots of people, and not much else to do. It did not take much expertise or brain power, although more than television, its biggest rival for free entertainment, so it was considered a skill; if you were really good at it, you were a community asset.

It was part survival technique. In a place crowded with people of different experiences, it helped define both commonalities and boundaries. That was good diplomacy. If, on the other hand, you were not that diplomatic, talking loud and fast meant you didn't have to listen to other guy, to bother figuring him out. Instead you could tire him out and he would go away.

Brooklyn had a reputation for craziness, but a lot of it was this kind of an act, where if you acted slightly crazy no one expected too much of you; if you were loud or rough, people left you alone.

Still, there were many who genuinely enjoyed it as a pastime. My mother and Mrs. Dolan next door would talk for hours over the fence on nice days. I don't know what they leaned on, as it was a cyclone fence with barbs at the top. They could spend time out there, though; I remember Mr. Dolan making an issue of how many cigarette butts he would see out there sometimes.

Two of my father's brothers, Robbie and Jimmy, had mobile jobs - for the police and Con Ed, respectively. Every once in a while they would be in the neighborhood and drop in for coffee, cake and conversation on the clock.

One time Jimmy visited and we were without milk for coffee so my mother sent me to the store.

I didn't get to do errands like this very much, a trip to the supermarket by myself, with paper money and all, so I was glad to help out.

I liked the Met Food store. It was run by Jewish men who wore fedoras all the time, and Jewish women who wore scarves on their heads. They all spoke in heavy accents, but the main thing was they were very friendly all the time, and always nice to a good boy, helping his Mama, and so smart to count change, like a magna cum laude, and look at the eyelashes on him, he'll make all the girls swoon some day. I liked listening to how they spoke, and what they said. Different from us.

I don't remember what happened this particular trip this day, but I came home with the milk and recounted to my mother and Uncle Jimmy whatever excitement or incongruity I had found. I remember my mother's smile and wide-open eyes, gifts she always gave you when talking.

Jimmy was a little less enthralled, with the gift he personally generally gave, which was kind of a smirk with arched eyebrow, but I didn't take it personally, nor let it slow me down.

I told the amazing tale and took my leave, like a good kid respectful of adults. From the kitchen, after some quiet, I heard them talking.

"What is it with that kid?," Jimmy said. "You send him out to the store and he's gone five minutes. When he comes back, he's got a ten-minute story."

"Yeah," said my mother. She let it sink in. "Isn't it great?"

Wisdom From Above

(For Mother's Day, here is an excerpt from our book, "Brooklyn 3, New York.")

Kenny Davis As Perry Mason was pretty convincing in making the case of neither of us as team captain, and of course he was right - all down the line, too, as Tommy Konwinski was, indeed, named captain by our coach.

So, Kenny was world-wise, at age 7 (or 8?). And I was world-weary, with this dispiriting development.

The words I couldn't quite find with Kenny, or anyone else, about the situation, I found with my mother. I had briefed her earlier. Now I was coming home with the dread conclusion.

"He's captain. Tommy Konwinski, big guy, conceited jerk. What good does that do anybody?

"He's the strongest player. But he doesn't lead anybody. He doesn't talk to half the kids. They're not good enough. He only talks to other kids who don't need any help and don't like anybody, like him."

That was the gist of it, although the un-gist was (rest assured) protracted.

At one point, my mother got up from the dining room table. "I'm still listening," she said, as she went into the kitchen.

She came back with a plate with four Oreos and a glass of milk for me. Uh-oh. That meant this was serious in her mind, for me. I had a raw vice for Oreos, which I tried to fight, so this was like opening a bottle for a bad drinker, This One Time.

I was done talking. Now was my mother's turn.

"This all reminds me of something," she said. "Some things," she decided. "That I've been thinking about since you first discussed this with me.

"Do you remember," she asked, "when they had you reading the Bible by yourself in school? Because you were too far ahead for Reading class?"

"Uh-huh," I said. That was in first grade.

"And how some of the stories disturbed you? In some it was the language. In some it was the thought."

"Mm-hmm," I said. I knew not where she was heading.

"One was the story of the lepers and the tax collectors. And how Jesus welcomed them and stayed with them, even though they were shunned by society. And you said," and she was laughing - editing herself - "well, you said you couldn't live up to that example.

"I told you not to worry, that Jesus only expects - well, I told you not to worry and we would talk about it someday when I thought it would be easier for you to understand. Today is that day.

"Jesus wants us to take care of each other, and think of others before yourself - or along with yourself, at least. He uses the example of lepers just to shock us into thinking. We can't do what he did. But we can follow his example.

"On your team, you don't try to aggrandize yourself by staying with the better players. You spend time with the boys who are not so good, and try to help them get better."

"I spend the most time with my friend Kenny Davis. He's my best friend and he's one of the best players."

"But you are friends. You don't hang around with him because he's good? He's talented but he also helps the other boys - you told me. He's modest. Like you. I bet you would like him if he was modest but not good, and you wouldn't like him if he was good but not modest."

I turned an Oreo on the plate.

"You always knew all this, in your heart, and I knew you knew. But it wasn't until you had enough experience in life, that I could talk to you about it clearly.

"My next thought, the story that really disturbed you - that was 'disgusting' - was Jesus saying if your hand leads you to trouble, cut it off, or if your eye, pluck it out. Remember?"

I did, like a story from a horror comic.

"Well," my mother said, "again, Jesus was making a point. Dramatically. And again the point was to people like Tommy Konwinski.

"It's a message with a lot of levels. But one simple level is to boys like Tommy. That if God gives you a gift - like a good hand, or eye, or you're good at sports - and you don't use your gifts generously, then it's better that you never had them. Because God expects things of us based on our blessings."

"To whom much is given, much is expected," I said.

"Exactly. So I don't want you to worry about the injustice of Tommy being named captain. That isn't as important as the work you do.

"And that's my final point. The story - this is not one that bothered you - that Jesus tells of the Pharisees who pray out on the street, or loudly in the temple, so everyone will hear, and think good of them.

"Jesus said, those men already have their reward.

"He told us to pray in private. And then we would get our reward, the important one we're praying for, not the cheap one in men's eyes."

I nodded - solemnly, perhaps, but vigorously enough, I hoped.

"You see, don't you?," my mother asked.

"I do," I said.

"Good," she said, smiling. "Now, I've talked a lot. Do you want to talk more? Or ask anything?"

I thought. "No," I said simply.

"You get it, right?"

"Right," I said, and I knew she knew I meant it. "I'm just going to go upstairs a while."

"You haven't eaten those Oreos," she said.

"It's alright?," I said. I didn't want to seem ungrateful. "I'll have them tonight."

"Okay," my mother said.

I went upstairs to the bedroom I shared with my two brothers.

The sun streamed in and our bedsheets were bright. Eddie's was orange, Paddy's was yellow, mine was NFL, with logos. I guess the different sheets helped us stay personally distinct, in a small space.

I looked out the window at our yard and the alley and the street. I turned around and knelt down at my bed. I put my forehead to the bed, on my folded arms, and said Thank You. I didn't want anything but to say that.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

The Developing Ithaca Times Website

The website for the Ithaca Times is already a good spot to read the weekly when you left your print copy at work. Lately it is also developing into a local news source to rival the Ithaca Journal.

Today on WRFI radio we heard the news of the mobile meth lab discovered in a parked car downtown. It interested us particularly because the car was on our street. RFI credited the Ithaca Times with the story. We went to the website to read the article. That's where we also found out that Mayer's Smoke Shop (and newsstand) is closing, after more than a century. Bill Chaisson wrote the piece.

The website also has features not in the print version. Our column, for one (click Art & Entertainment, click Opinion, click Blogs, click Ithaca Blog).

There is a certain amount of navigation to do, admittedly. But not to get to the site. Somehow the paper got registration rights for "," a pretty nice domain name. Someone at the paper was thinking ahead.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

A Plug For, And A Tip To, The Jewelbox

We think the Jewelbox is the best jewelry store in town. It is fancy, as a jewelry store should be, but friendly, and not intimidating, as jewelry stores sometimes are. The staff are helpful and knowledgeable, and refrain from pushiness - a great and rare combination in this business, in our experience.

The place even veers towards funkiness, or at least funniness, in a sign they have outside. It's a low-slung, marquee-type deal on their corner, at W. Buffalo St. and Taughannock Blvd. The sign itself is a great idea: there are always a lot of cars waiting for the light to change at that intersection, with nothing much else to look at.

Last year, at this time, we commended them for the slide-in words on the marquee. They were trying to boost the valuable Mother's Day trade. The sign said, simply, this:

Mom, you were right.

We are surprised, this coming Mother's Day week, not to see a reprise, we mean an exact repeat, of that sign. Jewelbox, are you disinclined to repeat yourselves? Don't be. A great idea is a great idea (and is a great idea, next year, too).

If we owned a piece of the Jewelbox, we would have that great message back in a shot, and use it every year. Meanwhile, we have one other far-flung tip. The sign currently reads, "Superb Repairs Done On Site." If it was us, we would add the letters "ad" to the end of the word "Superb." Because maybe there are others like us, attracted by the funky and funny.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

WRFI In Ithaca: Eating So Many Hot Dogs On The Radio

Is WRFI the only place on the radio you will hear Joe Tex at all, never mind followed by "I Ate So Many Hot Dogs" by Cousin Joe (birth name, Pleasant Joseph) of Louisiana? Probably. That was part of the playlist tonight on WRFI's "Felix Show," host Felix Teitelbaum (Thursdays, 9 - 11 p.m.).

WRFI is a new station: 88.1 FM in Ithaca. It is owned and run by the community.

It is a long time coming, a decade of effort finally bringing it. It is a bastion of creativity and a model of autonomy. It presents great local programming, and other important voices, such as Amy Goodman's. It broadcasts 24 hours a day.

WRFI needs, and deserves, our support. It's a great community asset, and an inspiration to other towns trying to do what we've done in creating it. So it deserves our support double.

Listen to RFI, check them out on the dial and the web, and see how you can help. And do it: by volunteering; by donating. Send a check. A big one, if you can. But even a modest one helps, and encourages. Ten bucks? Like buying them a drink or sending in a lunch or lattes? Do it! Do it today. Become part of the effort, the enterprise, and the team.

Peter Falk, For Laughter

Yesterday, I wrote a piece here on the funniness of pets. You might, especially if you write, appreciate the oddness that it started with thinking about something else: in this case, Peter Falk.

It didn't have anything to do with p-e-t, pet, and p-e-t-er, peter. That is coincidental. It's just that I came home from work and went online to fool around and relax, and thought about finding something funny, so thought about Peter Falk.

I ended up thinking about, and writing about, the source of humor for most people, animals, their pets. But I kept on thinking about Peter Falk, daffy and unstylish as that may seem.

People know him as Columbo, from TV. I never saw an episode of that show. I know him from movie roles, like "Robin And The Seven Hoods," "Pocketful Of Miracles," and "The In-Laws."

All these movies are a little dated. But, if you listen, also timeless. (Humor is really timeless, you know. People, too, if they stay funny.)

In my life, I met Pete Seeger, by appointment, and Miles Davis, by chance, when they were old; they were also beautiful, and younger-seeming, and livelier than 99% of people. They were, in person, funny; though not, necessarily, in persona. So, I think, and wonder, what would Peter Falk have been like, live? Funny as he was in his work?

Did you ever play that parlor game, of whom you would have at a dinner party, if you could? I have, multiple times, and I stay away from obvious choices like Jesus Christ. I would want Miles Davis again, a wildly funny guy; and Christopher Walken; and Peter Falk. When Peter Falk died, I thought, oh, no, I'll never get to meet him. I'll never get to ask him about that line in "The In-Laws," that my whole family shushes to hear, when he says to Alan Arkin (his co-star, another comic genius): "It was smart of you to get the split pea soup, Shel. It looks delicious." I can do a perfect imitation of those lines.

I bet he would have loved how hard that scene makes a whole family laugh. I write this on no occasion, like an anniversary of death or something. Just that I like and admire this guy. Don't you value someone who makes you laugh? Isn't that a great gift?

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Value of Pets (Via Laughter)

I never had a pet in my life, except for a very little while as a very young child, when our parents decided to try out a dog. He didn't last long. His name was "Frisky" and my understanding is that this understated it, that it should have been "Felon," or at least "Vandal." He did a lot of tearing up of a pretty small house, a 13-foot wide Brooklyn row house. With those dimensions, damage was hard to overlook. Our mother also claimed she had nowhere to put Frisky's food where we kids wouldn't eat it. So the dog went, and our mother developed a life-long allergy to dogs - also cats, and even the idea of them.

It seems to me most people I know in Ithaca have pets. Animal companions, I mean, in the modern vernacular. And I know how much they mean to them. It's nice. It's nothing for me, but it's nice. I also know that research shows how animals can improve psychological and emotional health in their homo sapiens friends. So it's deep, too.

The reason I think of it is because of Facebook, where there are probably more postings of animals than anything, even pictures of food ("asparagus and ramps no-egg frittata, yum") and political rants. It occurs to me that animals are beloved by us for many reasons, but an important one is that they make us laugh.

Laughter is a rare enough thing. Animals, I reckon, make people who live with them laugh every day, if not every hour. That is a pretty solid attribute.

Once I consented to take in a friend's cat when the friend left town for a week. I was pretty ambivalent, and it took a while for that to change. It seemed the same for the poor kitten, who seemed unhappy at first, although not enough to vomit on my bed or anything.

But one day I came home, not cognizant of my temporary roommate, until she reminded me of her stature and presence by leaping up at me from a hidden spot in the stairwell, twisting her body and flailing at me, scaring (for a second) the human being out of me - followed by a large, human laugh, and some swearing: "Hey, you little son of a bitch!" I regained my composure quickly enough, and when I did, had time really to appreciate this dramatic, and comic, welcome home.

My point is that I really appreciate the value of laughs, and the way animals can provide them. (My point is decidedly not that I want to house-sit your cat, despite all this - sorry, but.) I know there are a lot of deeper things involved in these relationships, but if you have someone or something in your life to make you laugh every day, that is pretty good.

Lucky for me, I find a lot to laugh about in life at all times, in many ways. I try, too, to be a source of laughter. (Not by jumping out at people on stairwells, but in ways I can do without twisting my back.) Anyway, this is only partly about pets. It's mostly about laughter. I wish you a life of the latter, whatever nice ways you get (and give) it.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

No Hamburgers On Good Friday

I came home from work tonight and started cooking dinner and looked at the calendar at the same time. I remembered that Friday is Good Friday and realized I should stick the ground beef and pulled pork in the fridge into the freezer as I won't eat meat on Good Friday.

It's not because I am a good Catholic; I am a bad Catholic. Not eating meat on Good Friday is about the only regular gesture I make each year to my old faith.

Call it superstition, if you want. (I prefer, at the most, "stition," not a "super" one - the best joke I remember (in fact, the only one) from that old TV show, "The Office", which I probably saw about a dozen times, or about eleven times more than I have seen any TV show in the past decade, except for "Treme" on HBO, which I saw all of. But I digress.)

My old friend Bill called it such, a few years ago. He was hanging with me at my old store, Small World Music, and I was having lunch: a piece of Dover sole. "Dover sole?," Bill inquired.

"Yeah," I said. "It's Good Friday. I can't eat no meat." I had some rice with it.

Bill was, I guess, a secular humanist or so. Nothing wrong with that. Technically, maybe, I am too. But he was also, generally, a weisenheimer, and maybe thought I was acting the same, putting him on. Certainly I wasn't, and told him so. I didn't need any comments from him about my ersatz faith, but I got some, so responded.

"It ain't no thing, Bill," I said. "Just a remnant of my upbringing. But an important one, symbolically. No matter what you know, or think you know, or believe, or don't believe, isn't it nice, once a year, to refrain from the taking of flesh? Like today, when a big guy got stripped of his?"

Oh, come on, Bill said, basically. Such a superstitious impulse from a rational, smart guy?

You can call it what you want, I said. It isn't rational. After all, this fish is flesh, too, or was. But my tradition asks you to refrain from one specific thing, one day a year, to commemorate a sacrifice of flesh and a commencement of spirit and the start of a tradition and belief. That is a pretty small gesture.

And a pretty lame, insignificant one, Bill said.

Call it what you want!, I said with a laugh. It's significant to me. I couldn't eat meat, wouldn't eat meat, on Good Friday for anything.

"Couldn't?", Bill asked.

"Couldn't," I said. "Physically and psychologically, I don't even know which is which, I couldn't eat meat on Good Friday. I wouldn't. I wouldn't even if I could."

Let me cut a long story short. Bill is a guy, argumentative and challenging. Me, too. He says to me, what if you didn't have that Dover sole? And I walked in here with a hamburger. For you to have. And told you I would give you $1,000 to eat it.

The parallels here to a certain story in the Bible might be obvious. But, obvious or not, I said to him, "I wouldn't do it."

"What if I said $10,000?" (Bill was from a wealthy family in Scarsdale and used to big numbers of money.)

I paused, for dramatic effect.

"I wouldn't eat it for a million dollars," I said quietly.

He howled. "A MILLION dollars? We're talking about a million dollars? YOU'RE a RELIGIOUS person? What about the amount of good you could do in the world with a million dollars? For eating a stupid HAMburger?" (He did not actually use the word "stupid", but a present participle that I generally do not write, and certainly won't recount in a religious discussion such as this, jocular though this discourse may be.) "Helping the poor? All that shit?" (Pardon that, but it is a tamer word than the other.)

"I wouldn't do it for all the money in the world," I said.

"Of course," I said, "a million dollars would be good to have, to help the poor, plus personally. But it would be the wrong way to get it."

By this time, I was making him mad. I didn't want to do that. But I couldn't help it, despite what I said next.

Really, I was just looking for out of the conversation. But, also, to make a capping point.

"Bill, get thee behind me," I said.

Really, truly, I am not so good. Well, not usually. But one day a year, at least, a little.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Pat And Brian Burke, And B.B. King, And Joy At The State Theater

We just return from the State Theater, where we see our brother Paddy and his son Brian play acoustic blues as opening act for B.B. King. Let me repeat that: B.B. King. Heard of him? Would it make you nervous? (Not watching, I mean playing. It did make me nervous, though, waiting for the start.)

If it did Paddy, you couldn't tell. He took the stage smiling and seemed completely relaxed. I don't know how relaxed I would be sauntering onto a stage in front of a sold-out (1500 persons) crowd who paid a lot of money to see Mr. King, a blues legend.

B.B. King has his reputation and qualifications, going back decades, the best of the best, the most famous bluesman alive. He also has eight musicians behind him who are the best in the world. You (I mean Pat) have an acoustic guitar; plus your son, very talented and so close with you, coming out halfway through the set with his fiddle; and then what? Your skills and your desire to connect.

Tonight was a lesson in how far those things can go. The performance was nothing but joyful and engaging. Joy and engagement, and a respect for music in general and the blues in particular, are the reasons Pat and Brian started playing in the first place. Tonight, it all showed.

After two numbers, Paddy mentioned to the crowd that he spoke to our father on the phone yesterday about the gig. Dad is a Tony Bennett kind of guy, but loves music, so at least knows who B.B. King is. He congratulated Pat and, as Pat told the crowd, mentioned that yesterday was the tenth anniversary of our mother's death. Dad said, she will be there with you. "So - hi, Mom," Paddy said. "I'm going to play her favorite song now" - "Come Back, Baby," by Snooks Eaglin.

As promoter Dan Smalls said tonight in welcoming the crowd, "The State Theater is our communal living room for great events like this." Little did he know, or maybe he did. Nah, how could he. But maybe he does now. We hope he is smoking a big promoter-style cigar right now, reflecting on the triumph of the night.(Thanks, Dan, for the evening, and all you bring to downtown.)

And, of course, thank you B.B. King. Our honor, all around.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

216 "Likes" On Facebook For Pat Burke, With B.B. King

Did you ever get 216 "Likes" on Facebook for any personal news you posted?

Me, neither. But Pat Burke (yes, we are slightly related) did, this week (so far), for his casual announcement that he and his son Brian will play acoustic blues at the State Theater on Friday in support of (i.e., to open for) blues legend B.B. King.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a story for the Ithaca Times about Bob Proehl, of Buffalo Street Books, who announced on Facebook that he was leaving his job there to become a full-time writer. Bob's announcement got 43 Facebook comments and 167 "Likes." I considered those numbers indicative of newsworthiness. My editor agreed, thus the story.

So, today, I consider: 216. That is more than 167. (A funny thing is that the FB "comment" tallies for Pat and Bob stand exactly the same, at 43. Weird, huh? Of course, Pat still has a few days to go. (I suppose I could write one myself to push Pat into the forefront. Of course, that would be nepotistic. Of course, as if all this isn't already.))

I guess what this means is that I should pitch a story to my editor now about Pat. If you know Paddy and me, look out. It will take some savage editing to keep it from requiring at least a triple-issue. Anyway, break a leg, my brother; and nephew Brian.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Pat & Brian Burke Open For B.B. King at the State Theater

The peripatetic blues team of Pat Burke (pere, guitar) and Brian Burke (fils, fiddle) apparently had nothing better to do this Friday. It was announced today that they will open that night for B.B. King at the State Theater.

Pat and Brian play an acoustic, rural style of blues such as Mr. King played growing up in the south in the 1930s. King eventually adopted electric guitar, under the tutelage of T-Bone Walker, and became one of its most innovative practitioners. His signature single-note solo style influenced all of blues and rhythm and blues, and created a blueprint for rock guitar.

The show is at 8 p.m. By Ithaca standards, tickets are expensive. They are also almost sold out. Today's announcement of these local stalwarts opening for this visiting legend will probably seal the deal. If you want to be there, you should act fast.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Super-Skunk Hoses Down City Block

A super-skunk, I report in awe, laid down a chemical/biological spray last night that a United Nations crew should investigate.

The stench woke me from sound sleep at 4 a.m. I live in a second-floor apartment. The windows were closed.

Once I figured out what had happened (well, it was obvious what had happened, just hard to believe), I crawled out of my room (stay low, more oxygen) to the inner-most sector of the apartment. But it is not that big an apartment. I still feared for my safety.

I don't think skunk spray usually kills, but whatever got hit directly with this would be lucky to die. Its social life is essentially through. It probably committed suicide.

A few years ago, the Fire Department came to our block at 5 a.m. when Six Mile Creek was rising to tell us we might have to evacuate. I wondered last night if they would come to tell us the opposite, that we were quarantined. Maybe no one would do it, haz-mat suit or not. I wouldn't, for a kick-off.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

This Is Not The First (Nor Last) Post Of Ours About Pizza

On Facebook tonight, we saw a posting from some friends about pizza in Ithaca. Whoa, baby. Getting such a posting past us without comment is like throwing a pork chop past a wolf: tough to do. All the other comments were like 30 words. Not ours. Since we spent so much time with it (actually, not all that much, we write fast about everything, but especially pizza), we figured we'd get double-duty off it by posting it here, too. (There are references to the line of chat you won't get; but the gist, you will.)

Pizza Aroma is indeed Ithaca's best. Also, owner Mauricio and his family are lovely, hard-working people, providing a great product and service in the heart of downtown. I don't know about the Dryden place - I will check it out, on the authoritative word of Mssrs. Dayhart and Hernandez, next time I am so far east - but let me tell you this, do yourself a favor, visit NY Pizza on Main Street in T-burg.

As the name imparts, this is the bona fide city-style joint. Super-thin crust, crack a slice into a V and it stays there, and you eat it one-handed as you drive home. This pizza - the texture, flavor, composition and melt - beats Bensonhurst and Cross Bay Boulevard.

Also, the place has the proper attitude for providing this essentially street comestible. They do not provide mimeographed menus, though this might be good for business: you know, their offerings, prices, hours of operation, phone number, to have in your home? F that. Memorize them. Neither do they open on Sunday, though this is a prime pizza day. Sunday is the day of rest, and family day.

I have accepted many invitations to do things I don't want to do in Trumansburg, in order to visit NYP, have a slice (remarkably gigantic and cheap) in the shop (comfortable, clean, business-like, NYC/Italia painted mural on the wall, soccer on TV) while they bake me a pie to take home. Word to the wiseguy.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Welcome, Internet, Connecting Me To Limbo

The guy setting it up for me said that it "is very weird" that I do not have Internet connection in my house until now.

I never felt the need for it. I have Internet connection at work, to do things like check bank balances and Facebook. I also have it in a small office I have downtown. But now I'm giving up the office space, so I need the connection for protracted projects. (I write, for the local weekly, and other things.)

I always thought it was good, that if I want to go online, I have to go to work - one place or the other - and not have the temptation of sitting around in lounge pants doing it. I have to put on real pants. I have to walk or bike (or, occasionally, drive) half a mile. Good exercise (under those first two options).

So now I have the service here at home. It's good, in that I can write and post this, at my kitchen table, pretty late.

But it's bad, in this. Last night I was writing, and looked up something important. But now I don't remember what. All I remember is that, somehow, I saw something on Google that said, "Sly Stone on piano, Richard Pryor on drums Mike Douglas Show 1972."

Dear reader, you are on the Internet, so you know where this is going, don't you? From that slight submerge, I emerged two hours later, having subsequently perused the Rolling Stones on the Mike Douglas Show; the Wikipedia biography of Mike Douglas (he is from Chicago); an interview with a glassy-eyed Keith Richards from about 1972; Keith Richards trying to work out the lead-in to "Carol" with Chuck Berry in a movie, where they fight; a visit to the website of the session's bass player, Joey Spampinato; an excited look at a Youtube posting of NRBQ, Spampinato's old band, at the GrassRoots Festival in 1993, where I myself, a worker at the festival, am seen sitting on stage enjoying the performance behind the piano player, with pigmentation in my hair, which no longer exists, beneath a "Brooklyn Gum" bike-racing hat from Italy, that I'd forgotten I ever had; then, somehow - I guess it was just in my head - a version of "I Don't Know" by Sonny Boy Williamson, from 1960's French TV, in black-and-white video.

Then I shook my head, as if to clear it of cobwebs. What was I first looking for?

I couldn't remember. So I closed my notebook and went to bed. Sorry, whatever I wanted to write about.

Tonight, this is it - writing to you before bed. No monkey business, no Youtube, no footage of John Lennon playing ping-pong with Miles Davis, no that nice song by Magnetic Fields, no Senor Wences, no nothing. Just this, to you, then bed.

Well, maybe Senor Wences. One second. Or Fyvush Finkel. Fyvush Finkel!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Time For A New Doctor

I started thinking about my health care with all this talk about Obamacare, even though the act doesn't affect me, and I decided to look for a new doctor. My old one was okay, because at my check-ups he never asked if there was anything wrong with me, but on the couple of occasions that there was, and I told him and said I did some research online, he'd say, "What did you find out?," and start taking notes.

He has a diploma on the wall but it does not say where he graduated, class level, thus me looking around.

I had a recommendation from a friend about a different office, so I went over there last week. But the exchange was disconcerting.

When I explained my situation (without so much detail), the office manager smiled sweetly. "I'm sorry," she said. "We're not taking any new patients at the moment. Try back in a month or so."

Which basically made me wonder what was happening this month. Are they expecting some patients to die?

I imagined myself as their patient, and a new one coming around. "Well, we've got a guy named Steve Burke who might die. Check back with us in a month. It might be sooner if he forgets to call us back on this report."

Forget that, you know? I want a place that will either take me right now, or tell me come back in a year. That they've got some people who might die, but they're scheming on saving them.

Monday, February 10, 2014

"Luckily, The Olympics Are Boring"

Possibly the only thing more "impenetrably boring" (quoting ourselves) than the summer Olympics is the winter Olympics. Here's a reprint of a posting on the summer, '08 gamut.

Luckily, the Olympics Are Boring

As a big baseball fan, including televised baseball, I don't need any more reasons to waste my time, so it is lucky I find the Olympics impenetrably boring.

As far as I can tell, the Olympic games take place every day, all day, for an arbitrary period of time, once every four years. An untold number of athletes, more than you can imagine exist, participate in a cavalcade of games, races, and other events that are not that easy to categorize. The best three people in a competition stand on a box at the end of it, and get a medal on a string to put around their necks.

The Olympics reward excellence, which is part of the problem. Excellence is not as engaging as failure.

Baseball is based on failure. Even the greatest hitters fail two times out of three. A championship team can be one that only wins 4 times out of 7, which is just one better than coin-flipping.

There's a lot more to talk about with failure. And of course, more to anticipate. Maybe next time the ballplayer will get lucky. Luck doesn't play much part in the Olympics.

As a result, there's not much to say about an Olympic champ. How did Michael Phelps do? He swam very fast. Really? Did anyone swim faster? No. Okay. Anything else? Well, he did it 8 times. No kidding. Could he have done it 9? Yeah, maybe.

Horse racing is good because you can bet on it. Also, it is very difficult to predict who will win. Nobody wins 8 races in a row, ever. And of course, you don't know if the horse really knows what's going on, so there's an air of mystery.

Baseball is less like the Olympics than it is like soap operas. It's on every day. Nothing much happens. The interesting thing is the foibles of the players. Listen to baseball fans talk sometime. It's like they're talking about Melrose Place. "What the hell is wrong with Billy?" "Do you think Willie is going back to the Yanks?" "These guys got no chemistry."

What baseball and the Olympics have in common, of course, is the aspect of much ado about nothing. But baseball is a lot lighter on the ado. Not so much flags and fervor. Certainly, no surveillance and military. In the 7th inning, you all get up and stretch together, and sing - not an anthem this time, but a sort of lullaby. Soon you go home, and hope tomorrow will be about the same, if you had a good day, or maybe a little better, if you didn't. And that maybe Billy will work out his problems, soon.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Next Year: A Flu Shot

It is sort of a macho joke with me, or maybe an anti-macho-mindset joke, that guys never get colds, we only get the flu. Macho or not, you will never hear of me calling in sick to work or complaining about a mere cold.

But the flu is different. I'm just getting over a big bout.

The trouble is, at first you can't tell which you've got. You just feel poorly. By the time aching muscles set in, you have an idea, but you use optimism to thwart it. This works as wonderfully well as denial, which is the same thing.

Bed and the onset of hallucinations are the peaknockle and the epitoam. Now you know it is the flu, because you don't know anything else besides the profusion of heat in your body and brain. Time is buried in sand as it takes you 15 minutes of thinking of how possibly to move from bed to the bathroom. Your body doesn't work anymore, too bad, and the reality occurs to you that you are actually the outlaw Jesse James and have been shot and left to die here. This is as plausible a reason for your demise as anything else, and if you weren't so hot, you could think. Think, Jesse, think.

By day two your identity (Stephen Burke) has re-established itself, and you recognize your surroundings, by the grace of God, whose name you've been intoning since you resumed brain function, and realized you might run out of Poland Spring pretty soon, and need divine intervention.

By day 3, you start to contemplate the day you will be able to shower without physical collapse, and you swear you will never complain about shaving again, anymore than you would about moving or breathing.

By day 4, you are recovering, and you have to check the news online to see if all those stories you heard, or think you heard, on the constantly-playing radio (tethering you to reality) were real. (They were. I'm glad about the Super Bowl; sorry for Philip Seymour Hoffman and his family.)

I just checked my records from work. I hadn't had a sick day since this exact time last year. I see I wrote a message to my boss in the middle of it that I would need to stay home from work because I had turned into a poisonous reptile. Jesse James is a step up, I guess, but guess what: next year, a flu shot.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Pete Seeger, Forever

Pete Seeger to the House Un-American Activities Committee, in 1955:

"I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this."

The congressmen indicted him on 10 counts of contempt. He was sentenced to a year in prison.

The conviction was overturned. The congressmen are long-forgotten. Pete Seeger is remembered forever.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Fab Four And Publicity, Then And Now

There was a big, two-page ad in the NY Times recently with archival photos and newspaper clippings of the Beatles' arrival in America 50 years ago. It was to promote a new re-release of some kind. The Beatles were always good at publicity.

Here's our attempt to be the same: an excerpt about them from our new book, "Brooklyn 3, New York", about the life and times in the borough back then . Available at Buffalo Street Books or from me directly.


Our dad ran the print shop at Pan Am - a pretty big job. They generated a lot of paper at the biggest airline in the world.

Along with all the other copying, they created a memo packet each morning that amounted to a daily newspaper. Trucks ran it out to LaGuardia and Idlewild every weekday. The Pan Am building itself was a town, going up instead of out.

Our dad started working there at age 16. He knew - and cared - a lot about the place.

One winter day, he came home with a record album in a Pan Am bag. "Ever heard of these guys?," he asked.

It was four guys called The Beatles. They looked strange.

Never, we said.

"You will soon," our father said.

They were from England, which we associated with wars, not music. But apparently they were popular there, and coming to America. They would be flying on Pan Am.

They would be on the Ed Sullivan Show, our father said, and if they became as popular in America as in England, it would be good publicity for Pan Am, having carried them.

That seemed strange to us, that Pan Am would care about publicity from flying four guys in weird suits and haircuts, but our father said so.

"Listen to it and see what you think," he said.

They didn't look like musicians. Musicians had straight teeth and hair piled up high. Like the Everly Brothers. That's who we liked.

Apparently, though, the Beatles liked them, too. That's what we found out when we listened.

They sang like the Everly Brothers. Those kind of harmonies. Except louder.

It was all loud, but we liked it. Every song on the record was good.

Soon, you started hearing the Beatles on the radio. The two songs they played the most were the ones we liked the least. But they were as good as anything else on the radio, or better.

Before you ever heard them on the radio, you would see bumper stickers on walls, saying "The Beatles Are Coming." Who?, kids asked. We knew, but failed to generate much interest when we explained they were a music group from England who were flying on Pan Am.

When they arrived in New York, two days before the Ed Sullivan show, they were met and interviewed at Idlewild by a mob of reporters and photographers. The Pan Am logo was behind them, on the wall above their heads. Job well done, somebody.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Wise Pizza

Pizza Aroma is still number one in our booklet, but we also like Casablanca's pizza on the Commons. It is only about a 6.5 (a 7 when we are really hungry), but it is right downstairs from the Ithaca Blog office, and that counts pretty nicely for them with us.

We also like that they are weisenheimers down there, in true New York fashion. The guys (they are all guys) do not seem New York-born, and maybe not U.S.-born, but wherever they are from, they have that NYC thing of joking with you, if they feel like it. Recently I asked for the only thing I ever get, "Two plain slices to go, please," and the guy said to me, "Plain slices, or cheese slices?," and did not smile, but did not have to, because I know a wise remark when I hear one, so I said, "Give me one plain and one cheese." Then he cracked.

Currently, the place is closed for renovations and has a handmade sign on the door. "Closed for renovations. Sorry for any convenience," it says, and because these guys are so wise, I can't tell if they made a mistake or not.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Smoking In Brooklyn 3, New York

I heard on the radio this morning that it's the 50th anniversary of the Surgeon General's report on smoking. I remember it. I wrote about it in my new book about growing up in East Flatbush, "Brooklyn 3, New York".

Here is that story. "Brooklyn 3, New York" is printed and will be available at Buffalo Street Books in Ithaca soon.

In Brooklyn 3 New York, cigarettes weren't bad for you.

Everybody smoked. All adults, and lots of kids.

People smoked indoors and out. In cars with the windows closed. In supermarkets. While pregnant.

The only adults who didn't smoke were sick, frail, or fussy. People smoked on TV. TV had a million cigarette ads, with sayings and songs.

It was the ads that disinterested me in cigarettes. The songs were lousy and the sayings made no sense.

The things I knew were good, like bagels, didn't have ads on TV. So I had the vague idea somebody was kidding with these cigarettes.

Suddenly, they decided cigarettes were bad for you. Just like that. Not just bad like to stunt your growth - which had always been a rumor, but clearly untrue, as many tall people smoked plenty - but like to kill you.

Now on TV, new commercials said that the Surgeon General, who was like the sheriff of health, said that cigarettes could give you lung cancer.

Lungs. I knew what they were. They were disgusting. You didn't want anything to happen to them. You didn't even want to know you had them.

These health commercials didn't have songs. They had pictures of hearts beating slow, slow, slow, then stopping. Announcers talked low and scary.

But they still had the ads telling you to buy cigarettes. So which was it?

I asked my mother and she said cigarettes are rotten and you should never smoke.

So why do you?, I asked.

Because I started young, she said, and it is a very hard habit to break. Maybe I will someday but it is better never to start.

Why did you start?, I asked.

Because my friends smoked, she said. Isn't that stupid?

I could never think of my mother and stupid in the same sentence, so I didn't say anything.

She smoked a lot. She would send me to Mickey and Sarah's luncheonette sometimes to buy her a pack when her carton ran out. It was hard for her to leave the house, with my little brother Paddy and baby sister Maryann.

I would tell Sarah they were for my mother, not me. She would make me hide them and tell me, run home. Don't get caught. She must have laughed as I scrambled. I never liked this errand.

I don't remember the first time I tried one. I must have fairly young, as they were all around. But I don't remember it. My older brother, Eddie, started early - at age 11, about a year after the surgeon general's report. It was a secret I didn't know. He told us when he was 16. He wanted to be able to smoke at home. There was a big argument, maybe the worst ever in our house. He got his way. Sadly.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Bob Proehl Moves From Books To THE Book

Bob Proehl is the Director of Operations at Buffalo Street Books, but not for long. On 31 December, Bob announced (on Facebook) that he is leaving the job to take on the full-time work of writing a novel.

Bob is the kind of guy who gets 41 comments and 167 "Likes" for news such as this on Facebook. Lots of people know him from the bookstore - he was instrumental in keeping it alive, in the face of demise a few years ago - and lots more know him from events he hosts outside the store: dance parties, trivia contests, and competitive story-telling.

I'll be meeting with Bob this week for an interview for the Ithaca Times. The paper wants to get the story of this public and private guy who means a lot to Ithaca and, with hard work and some luck, might mean a lot to the larger literary world soon.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Whence Or Wherefore, Recurring Nightmares?

We had a splendid New Year's Eve, except we drank nothing to interfere with a good night's sleep, which turned into a bad one, as it often does for us, with recurring nightmares.

We don't know if Jung endeavors to explain them. We have one that we can, and one we can't.

The easy one is the dream where you are in school, but forgot you were carrying a particular class, until the day of the exam. We know a lot of people have this dream, and it is obviously related to (old) academic anxiety: not much mystery. Not much anxiety, either: technically, it's probably not even a nightmare.

But we have another one which is a mystery, and troubling. It has variations, but basically features our immediate family, and sometimes friends, and we have been relocated from our homes to stay together in a domicile that, generally in the dream, is large, but always is forbidding, with holes in the floors, water leaking and sometimes running through the house, and not much furniture, and everyone lying on mattresses on the floor.

Creepy enough, but the troubling part is that, in the dream, I'm the only one who realizes the situation is bad. The dream's action usually involves me saying we don't belong here, and everyone saying yes, you don't, and I realize everyone has a space staked out, as if satisfied to stay, and there is no ordained space for me in the house, and I am being encouraged to leave, sometimes with shouts and threats. I wake up before being attacked.

Bad enough having these once in a while, but last night I had it twice. I have the feeling understanding the dream might help me shed it. Is that worth reading Jung for?

WNYY's Recurring Nightmares: Its Public Service Announcements (All 3)

WNYY is a left-of-center talk radio station in Ithaca. It's good to have one here, as most talk radio in the U.S. is dominated by conservatives, and dim-witted or dishonest ones, at that.

"The Stephanie Miller Show" is the show we like best, as it has a minimum of lunk-headed callers-in, and features pretty pointed political satire and generally good comedy. Sometimes it is barely PC or PG. If you listen to it, you know this.

And you also know this: WNYY has a problem with recurring public service announcements.

The station runs a lot of them, we guess for a lack of paid advertising. The problem is, they run the same three. A lot. And they are poorly-crafted: abhorrently written and acted. They would be annoying heard even twice in your life. Sometimes, the station will play the same ad twice in the same station break. This is when we take a day-long station break.

We can't figure out the reason for this torturous lack of imagination or effort, unless the station actually pays for each different ad it plays. This seems unlikely, but there must be some good reason it risks driving off viewers who can't take "Stop the texts, stop the wrecks" again.