Memoirs -- fact and fiction, San Miguel de Allende, Writings

Soon to be on Netflix, ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ brings back some violent memories

Chadwick Boseman is Levee in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” It was his last performance as an actor before passing away in August.

Netflix begins streaming  “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” on December 18. The August Wilson play has enjoyed an excellent life on Broadway and beyond. And for good reason. It is a powerful creation. 

I think that in the Denzel Washington-produced movie we will see what a treasure and tragic loss was the death of Chadwick Boseman in August. This was his last performance.

This most recent news from Netflix sends me back nearly to the creation of the play, in 1982.

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Memoirs -- fact and fiction, San Miguel de Allende, Writings

The cabbie’s life: One night in Toronto

Back in the day — before Uber & Lyft, before Google street maps, before the Internet — there was a thing known as The Thomas Guide. It was a spiral-bound book of maps and street indexes for many of the major West Coast cities in the U.S.

It was a godsend for journalists and taxicab drivers alike.

Toronto had a similar book, as I discovered one night when I arrived to cover the Toronto Film Festival for my California newspaper.

“Where to, eh?

“Sutton Place,please.”

“Good, good. Is that cab in front of us going there, too?”

“No, they’re going to another hotel.”

“Good, good. OK. Sutton Place. That’s not far. Do you know where it is?”

“No. Don’t you?”

“Yeah. Well, no. Well, sort of. I usually work the West End. Don’t get up here that much.”

“Um … Bay Street. I think it is on Bay Street.”

“Bay Street? Good. Good. Bay Street. Bay Street. Right you are.”

“I think it is a main thoroughfare here. North and south.Turn here on University. You’re bound to cross it.”

“OK. Yeah. Right you are. Here, look in this book, page four. Got to be on page four or near it. Look on four.”

“There’s no map on four.”

“What do you mean? No! Index. Look at the index. You read; I’ll drive.”

“I can’t find a map. Look here, there’s Bay Street! If you turn here, we ought to find Sutton Place.”

“I can’t turn. See the sign? It says ‘No left turn.’ You really ought to learn how to read that book. You can get anywhere with in this city with that book, you can. Ah, I’ll turn anyway.”

“Why do I need to read this book? I’ll be leaving Toronto in two days. You live here. You learn it.”

“Sure, but what if you come back? You really ought to learn.”

You ought to learn. You live here, you drive the cab!”

“Right you are!”

“Look, there’s the Sutton. Just drop me off behind that car.”

“Right! The old Sutton! There you are! I got you here, didn’t I? You really ought to get one of these books. Invaluable! Fare’s $4.25. Told you I’d get you here. Well, have a good evening then.”

“Right. Keep the change.”

True story.

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Memoirs -- fact and fiction, San Miguel de Allende, Writings

Schultzie’s transistor radio started a revolt

Pocket-sized transistor radios were probably one of the first great subversive technologies. And smuggling one into a culturally hermetic community could spark a revolution.

That’s what happened when rock ‘n’ roll invaded the cloistered walls of my seminary.

Thank God.

As an eighth-grader I felt God was calling me to the priesthood. Two years later I realized that he had dialed a wrong number and I had, regrettably, answered.

I went all in: a missionary order whose Latin name translated to Society of the Divine Word (SVD).  The order had a very gothic looking building about 20 miles south of Erie, Pa., where they educated their high school recruits.

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Memoirs -- fact and fiction, San Miguel de Allende, Writings

Happy anniversary, ‘Jaws.’ But let me tell you the tale of my legendary duel with Moby Jaws

The summer that “Jaws” came out, I was sailing very poorly on a tiny wooden platform called a Sailfish off the coast of South Chatham on Cape Cod.  

Mind you, I had never sailed before.

We were rigged with a larger than normal sail, which under normal circumstances would have made for easy gliding on a sultry summer day.

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Memoirs -- fact and fiction, San Miguel de Allende, Writings

‘We arrived at the Dam in tattered cut-off jeans — covered in sweat, sawdust, and dirt’

matson1

The modern Matson Lumber Co. looks a lot more streamlined, automated, and efficient than in my day. But stacking lumber is still the name of the game. (Photo: Matson Lumber)

“What did you do on your summer vacation?” I bet the answers in 2020 are going to be a lot different from those in 1966. 

A newsletter for ex-newspaper folks (specifically those bred in the incubator known as The San Diego Union-Tribune) recently spooled out a thread on summer jobs. The question was neutral but the recollections quickly veered toward the worst, hardest, most humiliating.

Well, those are usually the most memorable, aren’t they? Continue reading

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Memoirs -- fact and fiction, Uncategorized

A hint of immortality comes in the mail

20190824_142504Immortality is mine!

Bwahahahaha!

Well, that’s the way the old newspaper joke went. Something about “as long as I am in print, I’ll live on forever ….”

Then you’d get a picture of fish wrapped in old newsprint. Or newspapers lining the bottom of a canary cage. There’s some immortality for you, chump.

Ok, wait a minute. Continue reading

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Memoirs -- fact and fiction, Uncategorized

For the record, I did not attend Woodstock …am I the only one?

woodstock-50th

See those people clustered around the blue Volkswagon microbus? None of them is me. The reason being that, given the choice of going to Woodstock or spending the weekend in a remote Pennsylvania forest, I chose the latter.

I was 19 the summer of the Woodstock music festival and lived less than 275 miles from the Bethel, N.Y. site of the concert that shaped my generation.

So, it is important to note, as the 50th anniversary begins today, that I did not attend Woodstock.

No freaking way. Continue reading

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Memoirs -- fact and fiction, Uncategorized

A 2020 election? Time for Love 22 to run for president, again

love22Back in 1975 while trying to write a short story in the noisy University of Rhode Island student union, a peculiar string bean with long, long black hair under an Uncle Sam hat leaped atop a table and began to preach.

He was an “abecedarian,” a practitioner of the magical art of distilling everything in the world to the number 22. He proceeded to assign numerical values to the letters of the alphabet: A=1, B=2, C=3. Pretty simple stuff. But then he would take a word or sentence and slice and dice it by the numbers and with enough leaps of logic and poetic manipulations all that was left, in the end, was the number 22.

My short story was about a rogue CIA operative who lost a daughter named Julia to drugs at a rock concert and avenged her death by killing Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Brian Jones, Janis Joplin … all with first or last names starting with a “J.”

Anyhow, I put the story aside and focused on the deranged individual who by now had the rapt and largely stoned attention of the whole student body.

His name was Love 22. Yes, legally.

He made his fortune by inventing a little thing he called two-for-one coupons. Remember those? You’d buy a book filled with “twofers” for restaurants, movies, ice cream, tons of great date-night things. It was a massive hit.

And he eventually crashed and burned and when the Phoenix arose from the ashes, he was Love 22.

He was running for governor because the RI gov’s office is No. 222 in the capital building and because the capital in Providence is the No. 22 point of interest on the official Rhode Island tourism map. These things were true. I checked them out.

In fact, a lot of things that add up to 22, well, added up.

love22billsOne bogus but cherished item was the 22 dollar bills he handed out with his face on them. Those were keepers.

Once you start looking at life this way, it is very hard to turn away. Even to this day, I find myself pausing to look around when a clock hits 2:22 p.m., just to see if there is magic, whimsey or practical nonsense about.

I wrote about Love 22 for the local weekly paper, where I was working part-time.

A year and a few months later, I would find myself graduated from URI and the editor of that newspaper, The Narragansett Times.

Love 22 would drop by occasionally to announce wonderfully preposterous stunts like, he was going to set the world record for tossing a frisbee out to sea and catching it upon its return.

My favorite Love 22 stunt came around every Easter. In our neck of the woods, there were two fishing villages, Jerusalem and Galilee, divided by a wide channel. On Easter Sunday, Love 22 said, he was going to walk on top of the water from Jerusalem to Galilee.

I loved that but lacked the maturity and wit to appreciate the humor and write it up for our stodgy New England newspaper.

Did he do it? I don’t know. I had kids and Easter Sunday meant finding eggs, and refereeing chocolate-driven sibling spats, and reading the Sunday New York Times.

Not everything you love lasts forever. I moved on to a daily newspaper and Love 22 moved on to, well, god knows.

So what a shock to see that he is still alive and now running for president in 2020. Mark Patinkin, a PJB columnist I admired back in those days, recently wrote a column on Love 22.

He’s 82 and residing in a third-floor flat in an assisted living center. But he is still Love 22. And he’s gearing up a run for president in 2020 because … it is 2020. If zeros = nothing, then 2020 = 2 nothing 2 nothing = 22. It will be the Year of Love 22. Don’t you see? 

As for that short story, I never finished it. Or maybe it was supposed to be a novel. Either way, Love 22 was a better story. Still is, apparently.

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