Archive for the ‘Death’ Category

Al Goldstein dies with a whimper

December 28th, 2013

So, Big Al is dead. I was not a close friend of Al Goldstein, but I knew him for several years.

I liked  him.

[Somewhere around here, I have a pad of Screw/Milky Way Productions note paper. When I run across it, I’ll scan a page and add it here. The border has a daisy chain of cartoon folk doing various sex acts with and to each other. That is a parody of the Mad Magazine borders, which in turn is a parody of the classic Greek art of satyrs and such.]

I feel I am plainspoken enough that my three sons know or have at least been exposed to my life. My mother didn’t talk about herself, in contrast, and I recall after her memorial service, in which I held forth for 90 minutes or so that her many friends and even my sister and niece approached me to say, “I never knew all that about her.” Yet, even with my perceived openness, when Al’s obit appeared recently (do read the NYT version linked above), middle son was surprised when I said I knew Al and that I had worked for him.

It was slightly more sordid and deeper than having met the pron maestro. I did some free-lance writing and photography for the likes of his not-too-subtly named tabloids, Screw, Smut, Gay and Bitch. I was a bit player there on payroll. I covered some nudie plays, some gay nightclub strip shows, and some Continental Baths shows like with Bette Midler.

Instead, deepening the relationship, a woman I lived with, Maggie to Al, worked as his assistant. So I would stop by to chat with her or him or both. I’d see porn stars and hear about Linda Lovelace in-depth (pun intended) interviews and such. I’d see his multitudinous file cabinets, filled with porn pix, labeled by the players (3-men/1-woman and so forth), which he said they bought from poor photogs by the pound to illustrate plotless stories and articles. I chatted up absurdly named managing editor Heidi Handman, who became a successful pediatrician and author, dying four years ago. In light of her contextually risible name, Al said several times he’d like me to join the staff so he could have someone with the last name of Ball on the masthead.

In the late 60s, when Al started his tabs, his version of porn was shocking and innovative. It’s so-so today.

I remember Al more as a charming lunch and dinner companion. Sure he loved food and drink (sometimes ballooning in weight to prove that, but that was bolstered by ex-wives suing him and other stresses. He knew a lot and had highly developed social skills. He was not like Larry Flynt, whom I got to know casually when I edited a grocery mag that covered dirty mags, a big seller in convenience stores. Flynt was and likely still is scatological and vulgar, ever speaking of twin crappers in his house, crap itself and the delights of tasting women’s urine. Al, in contrast was fun and funny, as long as you accepted that over the course of an evening he’d rant a bit about a bad parent or wife or lawsuit.

A bond between us was mechanical and electronic gear, as well as the food we both enjoyed eating and preparing. More than vulvae, gadgets fascinate him. For a few years, he wrote and published his true love, the Gadget newsletter. He adored geek gear and had many examples in his office and home. I thought of him many times when I edited the Smart Machines newsletter, with publisher Ted Blank. That was a real link.

Al was out there. To the public, that meant showing public hair when it was a scandal, penises and labia when they were shocking, and being several decades ahead of even the boring mainstream men’s books like Playboy and Penthouse. Likewise, he was out there personally. He never shied from admitting he was often fat, that he had fucked up one marriage after another, that he squandered fortunes through arrogance and inattention.

In other words, he was deliciously human.

I liked the man. I am sure he made positive contributions to free speech and personal liberties, but that’s not what he was really about.

 

 

Young, youngish, still too young corpses

September 5th, 2013

Noticing the box with half my mother’s ashes, I thought again of three good folk I knew who died unnaturally young — or maybe naturally if you consider invidious, insidious disease to be our shared fate. Certainly going before 60 doesn’t seem right to me.

Today would have been my mother’s 89th birthday. She was outside the too-young range. She died 9 years ago.

nycchumsAt 33, Paula Delancey went first. We went to high school together, dated, and in our early 20s ended up becoming really close friends. She went to the CIA (as in chef’s school up the Hudson) and spent weekends in my West Village apartment. Hyde Park NY was not theater central nor where her friends lived and played.

“Her ambition is to be happy,” was beside her HS-yearbook pic.She was terrifically bright and well read. I couldn’t believe what a vapid, inane thing to write. Now of course, the older I get, the wiser that aim is.

She was a lot of fun, constantly laughing and joking, even ridiculing her own blunders and shortcomings.She looked forward to being a fabulous old lady.

The pic is, right to left, Paula, Isabel Wolfe (now Frischman) and I in Isabel’s NYC apartment.

She never got there. After being the first woman ever to graduate at the head of her class at the CIA, she worked in several NYC restaurants and then was head chef at a couple of others. She ended up making great money, taking her mother on an extended luxury trip to Paris and heading toward those two goals of being a grande dame and staying happy. Then she got cancer of the spine.

Apparently there’s little to do. She gave NYU Medical its best shot at chemo, radiation and surgery. She faded, continuing to sicken, go bald and suffer. She died in 1981. That was my first eulogy, delivered to a chapel in Brick Township NJ filled with a few of her friends and many of her aged parents’.

neil

At 40 , Neil Passariello was also far too young and far too vital to have died. This month he will have been dead 23 years.

He was the long-term partner of my friend from college, Jasper Lawson. He died of effects related to AIDS. He was finishing his doctorate in clinical psychology (Jasper already that one).  There is a regular colloquium in his honor.

I like to think I gave him a last bit of earthly pleasure. When he was in the bed where he died, I bought a bouquet of coriander I picked from my garden. He loved the herb and would say every meal needed a dish with cilantro and of course a pasta course. He no longer opened his eyes when we visited that last time, but he definitely smiled as I held the coriander close to him.

Surely all of his family and friends remember him as funny, dramatic, loud and passionate. An Italian-American, he referred to his heritage as he spoke intensely of food, of sex, of music. He could and did literally break out into song, generally an aria from an Italian opera.

His death did not seem right or timely or fair. He made others’ lives better and more fun, both personally and professionally.

Jasper and I have laughed more than once about how Neil made Jasper seem so WASPy, mannered and tame in contrast.

Jasper’s husband, Jay Landers, is remarkably patient when friends accidentally refer to him as Neil. On occasion, I make that faux pas. Supposedly that is expected with first “spouses,” although Neil died before same-sex marriage was legal. His intensity brings him to mind, quite understandably.

rehfieldAt 57.  John Rehfield still fits in the too-young category. He was remarkable in many ways. I can say for certain he was one of my two favorite managers (I married the other one).

John was a trade-magazine anomaly in being a civil engineer who was a good, no, a superb writer. He won every possible award in construction and trade journalism. He hired me to write for Construction Equipment knowing my only building experience was on carpentry crews during college summers. The day he hired me he said he could teach me anything I needed to know about construction but he couldn’t teach his engineers how to write.

He was very tall and light bulb shaped (his head at the screw end) and even laughed at his odd physique. He was an incessant punster. He came to work at dawn and completed his own before the rest of us arrived. He spent his day dealing with company matters and forever being there to help his writers, editors and art director. Oh, and he always wore a Mickey Mouse watch; he explained that he bought his children Disney stock when they were born, largely for the cartoon characters around the border of the certificates. They became surprisingly wealthy as the stock split repeatedly. He figured the watch was the least loyalty he could show.

He did wonderful motivational deeds too. Every so often and not related to the scheduled reviews, he’d come around to mention he was giving me a raise, just because I was doing a good job and writing good articles. I overheard him yelling at the publisher, telling him to keep his sales reps away from me; I ran the national directory of equipment and they all wanted favors for their customers.

Alas, Conover-Mast, across from the Daily News building in the literally heart of Manhattan, fell prey to Boston-based Cahners. The new parent sent the kids to Boston or Chicago. Moving to lower-tier towns was too much for those of us young and single. Most of us didn’t go.

Within 7 years, John died of cancer. Even though my sister and her kids were in Chicago, I would have felt stranded had I followed him there. I prefer to recall him as healthy and funny.

In fact, I remember each of these three for their virtue and joy they took in life.

Bike Seconds, Car Minutes

May 21st, 2013

The widespread, irrational hostility toward bicycles continues. Despite the slowly growing number and percentage of Americans cycling — for fun, exercise, commuting, shopping — an astonishing clot of us have visceral, anecdotal reactions to two-wheelers.

happybikesIn fact, as a long-time marriage-equality blogger, I see clear parallels in attitudes. As surely as bicycling and same-sex marriage are the future in the world as well as this country, reactionaries hate those realities. They seem not to care whom they hurt in their process of protesting and impeding progress.

While not the time and place for marriage talk, yet another death of a Boston cyclist and in particular, a crackpot column in today’s Herald are apropos.  In our winger tabloid, Margery Egan builds from the false premise of her first sentence, “Boston’s streets aren’t wide enough for bikes and cars. It’s as simple as that.”

Of course that’s crap. Traffic studies by city, state, academicians and other repeatedly prove a little planning makes room for all, pedestrians included. The more than clever head of bike programs, Nicole Freeman, has judiciously added bike lanes, paths, racks and such where they don’t disrupt, as has her Cambridge counterpart, Cara Seiderman. Their successes are invisible to or ignored by bike haters.

The comments to Egan’s column are almost exclusively what one expects in the Herald. Some even literally wish death on cyclists, a.k.a. those who are reducing congestion by removing their cars from the road while they spin.

What’s most telling is how Egan and many comments use anecdotes and unprovable generalities to justify reckless driving and operating to endanger. You see, wrecks and even deaths are the cyclists fault because if a driver has to slow down, well, that’s what makes them go fast, buzz cyclists, and hit them.

In the real world though, those us who are multi-modal perceive differently. In particular, drivers are clearly irritated at having to wait behind a cyclist or even slow a little to pass safely. The same driver on the same roads at the same time invariably waits much, much longer behind other motor vehicles. They seem to accept waiting through one to four lights as a cost of driving, so long as it is a car or truck and not a bike ahead of them. What’s up with that?

For whatever good it does in no-blood-no-ticket Boston, such driver behavior is governed by state law, not local traffic regulation. That is on the side of the cyclists.

There is no legal justification for j-hooking or claiming, “I just didn’t see her.” Instead, read MA General Laws Chapter 90 and particularly Section 14. That includes plain command, “In approaching or passing a person on a bicycle the operator of a motor vehicle shall slow down and pass at a safe distance and at a reasonable and proper speed.”

There are no built-in excuses, like unless you’d have to slow down or except where the road gets narrow. The onus is entirely on the driver to pass safely. That’s that.

There again, what kind of denial or emotional pull makes drivers accept waiting behind cars but not slowing for a cyclist? Are they so identified with motor vehicles that they lose all reason and judgement?

There will be more cyclists on our roads. At a slower pace, there will be more enforcement, and not just at the Egans would it on what they see as crazed scofflaw bike types. It’s likely that as more drivers lose their licenses and pay big fines for hitting cyclists that they’ll catch a whiff of their responsibility.

It shouldn’t be so hard. If you were brought up right, you’d know not to put other people’s bodies and even lives in danger because you’re impatient or choose to be unobservant.

Self-appointed Nemesis

May 10th, 2013

A few good guys have somewhat offset the inhumanity and sociopathic deeds of the Tsarnaev butchers. Major good guy was funeral director Peter Stefan and more recently do-gooder Martha Mullin in Richmond, VA, who made federal. commonwealth, and MA city officials out to be the bozos they so often are. The two of them got Tamerlan Tsarnaev in the ground, simultaneously satisfying legal, moral, religious, and political needs.

Now that wasn’t all that hard was it?Newelskull

Honestly, for the People of the Book — Jews, Christians and Muslims — the proscriptions and prescriptions were quite plain. Regardless of the alleged or proven sins of the previous possessor of the corpse in question, the body needed to be buried. In particular, as he was a Muslim, his remains should have gone in the ground as soon as possible and not be cremated.

Now that wasn’t all that hard was it?

Oddly enough though, the flogging by the crazed avengers has not and will not end. For a hint of only the latest vitriolic irrationality, check the comments by Boston Herald fans on the burial article.

For People of the Book, they forget that it is God who judges and not we mortals. Yet let us keep in perspective that these are likely the same hateful sorts who want to see perpetual punishment on those convicted of crimes. The concept of having served your debt to society is meaningless to them. In fact, being imprisoned for a crime is not punishment by itself, rather it is prelude to punishment; the facility must be as inhumane and dreadful as possible; prison itself is for punishment; pile it on.

Then once the sentence is complete, the ex-convict should not be allowed to earn a living or reenter society or be cleared and forgiven. Allow no forgiveness or fresh start, damn it!

I  don’t know where these people were during sermons, homilies, Bible readings or home teaching. The idea of perpetual punishment is not in our religious teaching. It came from elsewhere that they should have the authority, the right, to rain a life of anguish on sinners.

Instead, let us keep our perspective. Tamerlan Tsarnaev is nearly two months gone. His corpse remained, though he is gone. The hate and bile and faux retribution over what happened to his corpse is inane and cruel beyond belief.

Let us pause to pity those who proclaimed themselves judges of the corpses of fellow sinners. They understand neither our common commandments, nor our golden rule, nor societal decency that binds most of us. I forgive them.

 

No Need to Keep Tamerlan Alive

May 8th, 2013

stonebonesWhile it might amuse those who know me to read it, I sometimes feel I lack self-control…st least in stifling myself in commenting.

I’ve been pretty good staying away from the brothers Tsarnaev matters, despite my many thoughts and feelings. Ryan and I did riff a bit on it at the very beginning of our most recent Left Ahead show, which actually introduced the Boston mayoral contest.

I can quickly get my fill of spite and bile from protesters interviewed on the news in Worcester or Boston, or if I can stomach it, reading the comments in any related Boston Herald article. More surprising have been the preemptive moves by the nearby government officials. The Worcester cops are piling (can we say pig piling?) it on Peter Stefan, the noble funeral director who has had the guts to take the body and work for its burial by saying he owes them $30,000 for doing their jobs. That is, they directed traffic and such around the protests by his establishment. This has whiffs of when the Boston police encouraged attacking the Sacco/Vanzetti corpse transfers from the North End to Forest Hills for cremation. Self-righteousness has no place behind badges and guns.

Stefan has a long career of such as burying AIDS-related corpses and those of gang-violence victims when no one else would help their loved ones in fatal crisis. He deserves respect, not reviling. He’s one of the good guys.

Then in Cambridge, City Manager Robert Healy and in Boston, Mayor Thomas Menino each preemptively said publicly not to consider asking those cities to find a burial spot. Eh? I don’t know Healy, but I do know and like Menino. Such a position is beneath him.

At least some at the Globe have a more historically and humanitarian and reality based view. Consider Adrian Walker’s column today that in effect says bury the elder Tsarnaev brother, let the story fade from the news and give some peace and a little closure to those affected. A fitting companion piece by Peter Schworm cites how other hated mass murderers, child molesters and such were quickly and quietly planted without endless public drama and ceaseless coverage.

The classic message for no rest to the wicked is holding around here. Think the multiple places in Isiah, such as 57:20, But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt.

If MA history holds, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will be convicted of the Marathon bombings, he will get life without possibility of parole instead of execution, and he will die in prison not too long away — either by his own hand or that of another inmate. That’s what we do here with the infamous and despised.

Given my classics background, my first thoughts when so many began making so much of the disposition of the corpse was to reflect on Plato’s Phaedo, describing the last hours of Socrates’ life. The philosopher had the long view and made sport with follower Crito over what he viewed as petty concerns about his corpse.

With death pending for Socrates, Crito tried to be helpful and respectful, going for the mundane details. He even asked, “How shall we bury you.” The old wag started with a joke — “Just as you please. if only you can catch me, and I do not escape from you.”

Then he got more to the point. He said not to refer to the body as Socrates. It will be just a body and not the person. Thus usual or customary disposal is fine. “You must have a good courage, then, and say that you bury my body, and bury it in such a manner as is pleasing to you, and as you think is most agreeable to our laws.”

So it is here. Tamerlan Tsarnaev died three and one half weeks ago. Only those who involve themselves in keeping him alive to the public through their arrogant and self-centered proclamations cannot let him die.

Boston Timeout

April 19th, 2013

Cops, the Gov., our mayor and such are using terms like “self-shelter” or “shelter in place.” They’ve locked down this city and others in area, notably Cambridge where the Boston Marathon bombers lived and Watertown where one died in a shootout with police and the other may still be hiding (or dead).

Closed are all mass transit, stores, public schools, private and public colleges, government offices…virtually everything except Dunkin’ Donuts (not kidding). I first became aware of the reach of this security reaction at a few minutes after 8 this morning. The lifeguard whistled me out of the pool, not for roughhousing, rather because the whole Y was shut down per the mayor’s orders.

fencewebbyOn one hand, this is sensible. A single fugitive mass murder is somewhere out here, likely still in the Boston area. He may have and may even be wearing explosive devices, may have hand guns, may be wanting to take out more police or civilians at his own end.

Our advice that is couched as order includes not to open our locked doors to anyone who is not a uniformed, identified law-enforcement agent. We are to stay indoors. That edict covers the 600,00-plus Bostonians and a total of maybe 2 million in the area.

I’ve read and heard much bluster since Monday’s bombings. There’s a pol writing on FB that he’d strangle this guy with his bare hands. In North Station, a Guardsman with military weapons called to a train cop that he hopes they haven’t caught him yet, that he wants to get him personally. In the men’s locker room this morning, a massive early middle-aged guy said locking down Boston was silly and unnecessary, that if the bad guy saw him, he’d be shaking and give up. Yadda yadda.

On another hand, in my decades, I’ve been through various crises here and in other communities. This likely short-lived one differs from all others in that there is no chance for real community.

After 9/11, we here knew too certainly that the ambient hum of commercial planes high overhead was replaced with the unmistakable guttural grumble of fighter jets. Instead of the frequent distant humming, we knew every half hour or so that a death machine was patrolling the Boston clouds, the very skies where two of the hijacker sets flew from Logan through on their hellish missions. Then we were in the streets, yards, offices, bars and elsewhere together. We wept together, were hopeful together, shared our fears and depression…together.

In less stressful times, in big blizzards here, we’d commiserate being without power for days. We’d pile into our streets together. We’d help each other shovel aside four or six feet of snow. We’d make snowmen, no whole snow families. We’d heap snow and ice into tall piles for our kids to slide down. Those whose stoves worked without electricity would cook. We’d share food and milk and wine. We were together.

Here today though, we are isolated. We watch TV and click the net with multiple tabs open. We look at locked front and back doors. We cancel plans. We, as that phrase would have it, self-shelter.

Monday, one of the few blessings following the horror was a combined defiance and sense of community. We weren’t going to be beaten down or cowed by terrorists.

Today, we find ourselves being safe and sensible…and very alone.

Two-Wheel Manifesto, Boston Version

December 6th, 2012

Time to get serious, boys and girls, rather far past time.

Today’s catalyst was the latest death of a cyclist on Boston streets. This one was Chris Weigl, a 23-year-old photographer (website up at least for now). The wreck (never call these “accidents” as though they were unavoidable fatalities) had familiar basics, as limned by the Globe report.

A tractor-trailer took a four-lane right turn on a major avenue, aiming for a tiny side street by a local university. The cyclist in a bike lane was instantly mushed to death.

As long as they are up, the comments at the Boston Herald let cycle haters drink their fill. The this-but-that versions will stay up at Universal Hub. This is no place to broach the craziness of all-cyclists-always-break-all-traffic-laws or cyclists-don’t-have-licenses-or-pay-taxes or ban-all-bikes folk. They are beyond reason as well as compassion.

Instead, Boston has started its bicycling evolution. What must be do next for safety and civility?


Simple legal stuff


Stop signs and traffic lights. We have to stop being puerile here and look to what has been successful in Idaho since the 1980s — rolling stops for bicycles.

Stops as yields. Somewhat different but a corollary is treating red lights and stop signs as yield signs.

Both of these do many of the same things. Most important is increasing safety for all concerned by taking into account the huge differences between bikes and motor vehicles.

Two emotional responses to overcome are ingrained but not immutable. Most drivers here love the dumb cliché promulgated by the likes of Mass Bike, the barely logical same-road/same-rules chant. The anti-biking types like it as a weapon to pull out and slug cyclists with for any real or perceived infraction of a traffic law or regulation.

There are two underlying pretenses here. First, all cyclists are total scofflaws and all drivers are absolutely law obedient. For the latter, I have yet to follow a driver for more than 10 miles without observing violations, such as changing lanes without signaling, failure to yield to pedestrian in crosswalks, not coming to a complete stop for a light for stop sign and before the marked line, stopping on a crosswalk, exceeding speed limits, passing through an intersection after the light changed red and on and on. If all traffic laws were evenly enforced, a tiny percentage of drivers would retain their licenses. Yet that does not prevent most of living in a fantasy world of reckless cyclists and virtuous car drivers.

The second is more childish and visceral. The sense that even if a change in law is for the safety of all, anything that gives a right to a two-wheeler that a four-wheeler does not have is morally wrong, damn it! It’s the three-year-old’s wail of “She got an ice cream and I didn’t!”

To the same-rules bozos, I have little but disdain. We can easily observe and surmise myriad differences. Cars can drive on interstates and other limited access highways. Bikes can travel bike paths and lanes. Drivers must signal before every turn or lane change, cyclists when it is safe to do so taking a hand off the bars. Cyclists can dismount and use a crosswalk. It goes on and on.

More significant are physical differences. A cyclist is hard pressed to hurt or kill anyone, but doing so is built into the one to three ton motorized vehicle. A bike can stop at speed in only a few to 25 feet, long before a driver can move a foot from gas to brake. Even then, a car  or truck total stopping distance is in hundreds of feet. Likewise, a bike has the same tiny inertia leaving a red light, so it can be into or across the intersection before a driver can give it gas.

These and many other differences beg for reasoned nuance in laws and regulations.

Yet both driver gut responses of these are so real, and both so enabled by the lunacy of same-road/same-rules that any improvement has to deal with them. Unfortunately for humankind, about half of us seem very literal minded, like rules-are-rules bureaucrats. They need extra care and attention on any topic.

I can remember when I first introduced the stop-as-yield law and testified before the MA Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security hearing and sensing that is-this-fair attitude from the senators and reps. My proposed law, dutifully introduced by my then Rep. Willie May Allen, would indeed have granted cyclists an option motor-vehicle operators would not have. I explained how as a multimode guy — car, T, ped, bike — I was aware how nervous and thus dangerous drivers were when they were beside a cyclist at a light or red octagon, when it was time to proceed. On the other hand, when the cyclist leaves first, the driver overtakes the two-wheeler and feels in control. The driver doesn’t worry about the car’s width or where the bike is.

I could feel the progress but also those present would need to hear this more than once. I didn’t think there was a cyclist there other than I. This must be what folk used to this process have told me, that you need to introduce a bill three to five times and make your arguments each time to get it through.


Hard legal stuff


Meanwhile, the pros here, bike czars in major cities here and in Europe, concur that presence equals awareness. As we get more cyclists on the roads, drivers gradually accept that they are sharing the road not only with pedestrians, trucks, buses and trolley, but also with cyclists. Wish as they might that all the others would disappear, they come to accept that they’re all there forever, like mosquitoes. They learn to deal. When they do that, they are less likely to do thoughtless maneuvers that can bring death and dismemberment.

This process has one great accelerator, enforcement.

If you read the Herald anti-bike comments, you’ll see one-sided calls for that, as of course, drivers are always blameless in any wreck. Cyclists need bike licenses, need to pay cycling insurance, and most of all need a cop on every block to ticket them for their incessant law breaking.

Those multimodal types among us, including me, snort in their general direction. If virtually any driver were ticketed for every infraction large or small, none would take a trip to the grocery or flick without multiple tickets and perhaps a trip to jail.

Instead, I have to agree with  the rules-are-rules types here, but for everyone. Ticket and even tow the bad guys!

Pause here for the self-pitying and self-righteous keens of cops. Oh, Lawdy, no. “If we have to enforce traffic laws for drivers, that’s all we’ll do. Murderers, thieves, and dealers will rule the streets!”

That’s the most flammable of strawmen, of course.

In the real world, when cops or umpires or any enforcer does the job, it’s short term. If local police enforce the laws, words gets around quickly and drivers even cyclists would show some restraint and sense. Then cops can go back to pretending they are serious crime fighters.

Boston is infamous as a city where the police live by the no-blood/no-ticket model. They hate paperwork and are insulted by the $1 jaywalking tickets, the $20 cycling ones, and other pissant enforcement. They can go decades or whole careers without a felony arrest, foot chase or detective-level investigation, but they love to live the fantasy. Any moment, their duties will call them to major crime busts.

That melodrama can’t continue to interfere here. The local commissioners, supers and unions have to know that public safety is more than a bromide. Enforce the damn laws for a couple of months. The citizens will get the idea and straighten up.

Let both drivers and cyclists (hell, peds too) be afraid they’ll get hauled away and maybe financially ruined if they cause injury or death. Make it certain. Let them sweat for a few months. They’ll adapt and we’ll all be safer and saner.

 By the bye: I’m overdue for reintroducing my cycling bills and testifying.

Even Bugs Die

August 31st, 2012

I’m at nature a gentle sort, so much so that in the frenzy of the Vietnam-war draft, my beloved grandfather unbidden handed me a conscientious-objector reference letter. While he had sneaked away from the farm to enlist in the WWI American Expeditionary Forces to fight the Hun, he knew that I would never be one to kill another person.

Yet at a much lower level, he and I had teamed for years to slay insect pests. He had long farmed “patches” as he called them. These one-acre farms, one or two every summer were wide, deep expanses of vegetables and fruits, 150 running feet each. He’d plant, and from my elementary school time, I’d weed, water, train to trellis, cull, harvest, and more. Inherent in this was the elimination of bugs.

Many years later in my master-gardener course, I learned nifty terms such as integrated pest management. I already knew that part of the curriculum.

Early on, he used nasty chemicals, like DDT. He’d strap big spraying drums to his shoulder and squirt the toxins. Yet, also early on he somehow ran across the Rodale pub, Organic Gardening and quickly converted. We were out there with the pyrethrum (fundamentally a natural, harmless-to-humans insecticide made from marigolds) and with our eyes and hands. Destructive bugs did not like and died in innocuous baths of soapy water, beer, or water that had soaked the juice from a nickel cigar. I’d knock the hornworms, Japanese beetles, potato beetles and their ilk into my coffee cans of to-them toxins. While time-consuming, it killed them, did not hurt me, and did not poison the veggies and fruits.

With that background, I was a bit amused when my wife called to look at this thing on the back deck plants. Asked, she agreed it might be a bug but she was not sure.

What we had, and what had been ruining my wee, grown-from-seed tomato fruits was a tomato hornworm. What it had was parasites. The white thingummies festooned on its back were the growing offspring of a parasitic moth. It was infested and near death with wasp babies eating it from the inside.

There’s a conflict for the gentle guy.

This dreadful caterpillar has been destroying my tomatoes, fruit and plant. These wasps were gnawing at it en masse. Shortly the hornworm will die, the wasps will grow and fly off to create more parasites.

Who should feel sorry for whom?

Truth be told, as a gardener from childhood and by avocation and certification, I have little use for insects that live to eat my crops. Yet a small part of me empathizes with the reality of being eaten alive from the inside by nasties.

I think we could well do without the hornworm. Some versions of it munch on tobacco, which distresses me far less. I don’t have tobacco salads and sandwiches. I also think we could do well without mosquitoes, even though many bats and birds consume them as main parts of their diets.

My wife is very unhappy at the sight and thought of of the besieged caterpillar. I had no problem clipping the leaf and tossing the mess aside. I know that the wasps will finish their business and thrive. I might even hum The Circle of Life.

 

On Ripping Off Relics

March 4th, 2012

I confess, but only as a figure of speech, that relics and reliquaries seem ghoulish to me, a non-Roman Catholic. As matter of faith, I likely shouldn’t find them so. I was a devote little Christian, one who believed in transubstantiation during communion, which I took many times.

Along with hormonal floods, puberty brought dousing of knowledge and analytic thought. I got better.

Today the news from Dublin includes the discovery that somebody made off with the heart of Saint Lorcan Ua Tuathail, later known as Laurence (or Lawrence) O’Toole. That’s a big deal, as he is the patron saint of Dublin.

The relic had been in a wooden box in a square iron cage in the cathedral. It was no impulse pilfer either, the thief/thieves sawed through the bars and  forced the cage free to get the treasure. The church dean said, “It has no economic value but it is a priceless treasure that links our present foundation with its founding father.”

Yet we also have to wonder, as parts of saints have been bought/sold/swapped/stolen for centuries. Some allegedly are duplicated in multiple locations. Other religious artifacts, such as pieces of “the True Cross” whereon Jesus died, appear in so many churches that wags have said there are enough around to build Noah’s ark.

To  believers, even beyond Ireland, such tangible links to holy folk are sacred in their own right. Many supposedly have innate powers — healing the sick if prayed to and beside, and other such miracles. Nearly six years ago, many gathered in Boston to peek at the visiting heart of a saint lent by a French church and briefly displayed here. I joined them.

To us less faithful, we are wont to insult folk by speaking of worshiping a finger bone in a filigree tube (available at the Cloisters in NYC, for one) and such. Catholics are quick to point out that there’s a huge difference between praying through a saint to God and worshiping a body part.

For the best treatment to the relic world concentrated on the whole bodies, I recommend Magnificent Corpses: Searching Through Europe for St. Peter’s Head, St. Claire’s Heart, St. Stephen’s Hand, and Other Saintly Relics by Anneli Rufus. She was fascinated by relics, particularly whole bodies of the incorruptibles — corpses on display allegedly never decomposing, thus proving their holiness. She visited numerous shrines to observe both the saints’ remains and the visitors.

St. Lorcan lived in the 12th Century. There are trails and tales of his body parts too, including buried, disinterred and stolen bones. Even before his relics were shared and disappeared, he was on a fast track to sainthood. Many claimed miracles by praying to him in the months and years following his death (natural causes and not martyrdom) both at his tomb and through his intercession.

He apparently led a saintly life of humility and abstinence, replete with hair shirt, prolonged fasting, forgoing meat and stimulants and such that other prelates enjoyed. Now whether a figurative pure heart translated into a literal holy one, I suppose, is that matter of faith. Regardless, ripping off a religion’s palpable symbol is a terrible act.

Tyranny of Impulse

February 23rd, 2012

Like full-grown house cats or kindergarten-aged kids running across the street, impulses are OK…until suddenly they aren’t. Mammals of all types trust their whims, often ducking their heads and looking to the odds and to their previous experience.  Then, blam!

Think of the streets. In many places, certainly the Boston area, we feign obliviousness as we walk between crosswalks, against lights, after sunset wearing dark clothes, pushing our wee ones in strollers from between parked cars, and such. This is beyond depending on the kindness (and alertness) of strangers.

For vehicles, the wheezing cliché is that cyclists are the danger to the rest of us. Maiming and death stats say otherwise. The 3,000 and 4,000-pound motorized weapons of metal and plastic have other humans aiming them. Many of those are distracted any given moment by punching characters into or talking with cell phones in hand. They can neither pay attention nor are inclined to do so. Less than a second of the fantasy of multitasking can be the end of one for more other humans.

Our primitive impulses are often more fraught than ditzy inattention. Consider blowing through stop signs. You add a little intellectual context, as in it’s an uncrowded area, then let the impulse rule. It’s giving control to that lizard brain or the pubescent who still lives inside us.

Nearly always, it works. There’s no one with the right of way coming and no cop with a ticket book looking.

Of course, we’re either real sorry or accusatory when it’s maiming, death or fines. You were swatting a bee in the car, you just didn’t see the sign, you certainly did stop and look both ways, the other driver was speeding and came out of nowhere…

We really do not have the internal wiring to admit how lame and ill-advising our impulses often are. That likely would be denying our obvious brilliance and morality, eh? No matter how many times we’ve goofed up, we keep trusting the feelings.

The solution is the obvious. Throttle the impulse. Save it for performance art. Won’t you think of the children (and everyone else in your world)?

Probably not.

Harrumph.