August 15, 2018

Pennsylvania Priest Sex Abuse News

::sigh:: I've been reading the news from PA (priest sex abuse scandal) with both interest and sadness. So many of the small towns and parishes in Central PA (Diocese of Harrisburg) were my grade school stomping ground; our school basketball team often went to the regional finals, so towns like Shamokin and Carlisle and Camp Hill and Ephrata - imprinted onto my memory.

Despite a life time of proximity to the Roman Catholic clergy (serving mass, making music) I recall nothing untoward - priests were sadistic to altar servers, demanding, grumpy, alcoholic - but that's been the limit of my experience. At least I hope so. I cannot imagine repressing something like that (especially considering how deep into my childhood and psyche I've journeyed and how much I wanted to find a cause for my case of "the trans") but who knows. Predators seems to know the vulnerable, confused kids and I was certainly that. But I also had attentive parents (Dad was active in the Knights of Columbus, was the Monsignor's bridge partner, and dutifully came to early morning mass every day that I served) so perhaps I was a little too well protected.

But still. There on the list, my childhood best friend, who always seemed destined for the priesthood - distributing Necco wafers as communion, or fastening a towel around his head pretending to be a nun. I still remember his birthday (born 14 days apart), and probably could dredge his childhood phone number out of my subconscious if I tried hard enough.

Looking at dates and times, it does not seem to be the typical long term predator situation. As a deacon in his mid 20's (1986-87), he had a relationship with what I suspect (and hope) was an older but not legal teen. He was expelled within a year of the event (1988), post-ordination, and laicized (defrocked, as it were) many years later. This was not really a surprise to me this week; after watching "Spotlight" a few years back I dug out a website listing priests accused of sex abuse (figuring I'd find some priest from childhood or high school) and was shocked to come across my friend's name.

A gay male of my acquaintance once differentiated for me the difference between pedophilia (young children) and ephebophilia (adolescents) and while both problematic, they are not the same. But in this roiling mess of priest sex scandal, it's all one big ball of evil and dysfunction.

As a proto-queer catholic kid in those days, I got the "have you ever considered that you might have a vocation" speech by pretty much every adult I ran across. They could read the signs (gay, trans, lesbian, all problematic and verboten, a problem in need of a solution) and wanted to steer those little femme boys and butch girls into acceptable roles. I resisted (thank goodness). I've encountered many LGBT friends who were not so fortunate (coming through short or long lived careers as priests, brothers, nuns, etc.). So there's a little "there but for the grace of god (ironic, that) go I" aspect to all this, both as a potential victim as a child, and as a conflicted and confused young adult who could have ended up in a problematic, same gender environment. 

So yeah, a sad and confusing news story. I continue to carry a torch (not quite literally) of anger towards the roman catholic church (did I mention I've been just short of excommunicated in terms of sacraments, having been asked to refrain?). On good days (weddings, baptisms, funerals, etc.), I can suck it up, say the prayers, put the kneeler up and down at the right time in a way both familiar and nostalgic. I sit back when it's time for communion without a lot of attachment, good or bad.

Unlike a lot of my "raised up catholic" peers, I really do not yearn to be brought back into the fold. My spiritual journey has taken me much deeper than a simple monotheistic religion; christianity is just one more filter that lies between this particular life experience and the truth.

Instead, I mourn for all involved. The young people (boys and girls, of all ages) molested, traumatized, damaged. The repressed and damaged men (and women as well) who found no place for their sexuality in their spiritual home, were steered into these positions, and who acted out in ways both evil and inappropriate. And so many of my family members and friends who found community, solace, and a spiritual in this church, and have been so deeply disappointed and estranged. 

June 05, 2018

2018 Falcon Ridge Preview #2 - John Gorka

Another "Long time, No See" Falcon Ridge Folk Festival returnee, John Gorka was perhaps one of my very earliest "new folk" finds.

I've seen him play numerous times - Falcon Ridge, coffeehouses, clubs - and covered many of his early songs at open mics over the years. His song "Where the Bottles Break" (Jack's Crows, 1991) is perhaps the theme music of my garbage picking, although truth be told so many bottles are plastic these days I rarely come across broken glass on my rounds.

But this one, from 1992's "Temporary Road" is more appropriate. It bounced around my head during the various Gulf Wars "I know the whole truth there is horrible
It's better if you take a little at a time" and even into the present administration.

But this line "People love you when they know you're leaving
soon" may be most appropriate to our beloved folk fest.....

June 02, 2018

2018 Falcon Ridge Preview #1 - The Kennedys

I finally took a look at The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival lineup this year - and man, so many "old friends" are coming back this year for the 30th anniversary. I've decided to share a video from these favorites over the next few weeks, with a bit about what they mean to me, and Falcon Ridge memories.

Pete and Maura Kennedy were long time Falcon Ridge regulars. I'm pretty sure they'd win my personal "most albums owned by an artist nobody has heard of award" - I've picked up so many of their over the years: Stand, Get It Right, Positively Live, Songs of the Open Road, Better Dreams. Not even scratching the surface. There's a lot of resonance with yoga, enlightenment, spiritual growth. Maura is as close as you get to a rock star at a folk fest, and Pete is a guitar wizard.

My biggest Kennedy memory is the year they assembled The Strangelings (with Chris & Meredith Thompson, among others) - 2007, which was my first year running performer merch. They were a merchandise juggernaut - Strangelings stuff, Kennedy's stuff, solo stuff (Pete and Maura have pretty solid solo catalogs), Stringbusters stuff (kind of bluegrass / instrumental if memory serves), kids stuff. They've been around forever and have a super deep catalog, and it was a LOT.
They've popped in to the fest sporadically over the past few years - will be wonderful to have their talent and energy in an official capacity this year.

And bonus - The Strangelings from 2007 Falcon Ridge with a "newly plucked from the campgrounds" Eric Lee on fiddle!


May 08, 2018

Swag-a-licious Wedding

Returned yesterday from the wedding of my nephew Joseph and his new bride Asher, down at her family's vacation home at Frio CaƱon in Leakey, TX

We stayed in the stone guest house to the right; two master suites with lofts, and a small kitchenette. Stunning!

A grand time was had by all - we were well housed (in one of the community member's guest houses) and well fed and feted (with an arrival dinner, a ladies luncheon, a rehearsal dinner, the wedding reception itself, and a farewell brunch). Joe is marrying into a wonderful, loving family - parents David and Sherry Dalgleish have five daughters, Asher is the youngest and last to marry. Joe completes the set of five son-in-laws dubbed the "brother-husbands".

Saturday found us on a short canoe / kayak trip up the Frio River
The location itself was spectacular - a valley property framed by hillsides and nestled around the Frio River, with spectacular summer homes set apart in a family friendly community. Many of the buildings have been built by the family business, the Dalgleish Construction Company and the quality and vibe of the places are along the lines of  (but amped up to 11 in terms of size, scope, and quality) Chip & Joanna Gaines' spectacular and popular "Fixer Upper" home remodeling projects. The wedding was held at (and we hung out at) the Frio Family Retreat house featured on the Dalgleigh Project page.

The wedding ceremony was held behind the main house, my sister and family stayed in the guest cottage to the left.

Having not been to a wedding in many years, I was surprised at the amount of wedding swag there was. Not sure if this has become common in recent years, is a Texas thing, or a family thing - but I walked away with bags, snacks, personal care products, a candle, and can coozies.....just a ton of remembrances.

Glad to be back home (laundry in process, catching up on work) but we sure did have a blast. Congratulations and all my love once again, Joe & Asher!

April 10, 2018

End of an Era: Marian High School to Close

Marian High School in Framingham to close (Metrowest Daily News, April 3, 2018)

My initial reaction as I shared this, on Facebook of course:
Kind of a sad day, my alma mater. Like most everything in the first half of my life, I wandered through my four years there kind of disengaged, but I do have fond memories of the place, the teachers, my classmates.
Maybe the recurring dreams of wandering the halls trying to remember my locker number or combination, or trying to figure out that day’s schedule, will end......
Looking a little closer, the writing has clearly been on the wall, for the better part of  decade:
Marian High was founded in 1956 by Cardinal Richard Cushing, archbishop of the Boston Archdiocese, and guided by the Sisters of St. Joseph. It had gradually moved toward becoming a less religious faculty in recent years, and has been independent of the Boston Archdiocese since the 2004-2005 school year.

The school has an enrollment of 221 students. More than 50 percent of them reside in Framingham. Tuition is now $11,100 per pupil, and would have risen again next year.
Seems like a bit of death spiral and contrast - in the late 70s / early 80s when I and two of my siblings attended, tuition was around $800 and total enrollment was around 750. I remember Dad writing tuition checks to "the Archdiocese of Boston" when he realized they were coming back endorsed by the Arch-Diocese, and I suspect taking the payments as a charitable deduction. My first lesson in moral relativism, not exactly legal but since we were paying for the public school system through property taxes but not using that resource, perhaps ethically neutral.

One has to consider the impact of the priest sex abuse scandal (which broke in 2002 in the Boston area) - stepping away from the archdiocese no doubt had some repercussions (perhaps financial, perhaps in terms of attendance) but also was no doubt the fulcrum of a decline in church attendance and catholic enthusiasm.

Marian was not immune from the whole sex abuse thing, although the dynamic (a female teacher / coach and a female student) was atypical of the more typical priest / young man abuse of the greater scandal - Woman sues Catholic Framingham high school, alleging abuse  - the school's response seems to have had a hide your head in the sand aspect to it typical of other forms of abuse.

Although this occurred while I was at Marian, and it seems like the victim might have been a member of my class, I was pretty clueless back in the day. There was a lot of repressed sexuality going down in Catholic land back in the day (not that it has improved much) and so those sexual identities bleeding out in all sorts of inappropriate or sketchy ways was par for the course.

My memories of Marian are some what sketchy - I rolled into 9th grade a recent Massachusetts resident (relocating from York, PA the summer before) so it was all so strange. We said "hoagie", they said "submarine", we said "soda", they said "tonic", we said "water fountain", they said "bubbler". I remember the principal's PA system pronouncements, with her Boston accent and verbiage, it felt like I had moved to a different country. Had we remained in York, PA, I'd have attended York Catholic which felt a lot more mainstream, "catholic prep" vs. "college prep" than Marian.

It was not a bad time to be the new kid - Marian drew from a number of catholic grade schools as well as local public schools, so there were a lot of "new kids", although the core of the class came from local St. Bridget School, and it took a few years to feel less of an outsider.

It was a pretty simple building - three floors plus a basement, U-shape. Classrooms along the long side, plus a single classroom at the base of each "U" leg. The left leg housed a small gym and basement lockers; the right leg an auditorium that seated the entire student body (including a balcony) and a basement cafeteria which we had to use over several lunch periods to get us all served. 

Three stairwells in the main building (center and sides) and smaller stairwells on the inside corners at the gym and auditorium. Ironically, the Kripalu Yoga Center in Lenox MA (a re-purposed Jesuit Seminary of a similar architectural vintage) often reminds me of my high school

I remember hanging out in the stairwells during free periods, you could kind of hide from roaming teachers or staff if you kept moving, there were nooks and corners you could hang out in. There was a smoking area "The Pit" in the parking area which appears to have been thankfully removed. I remember a small chapel on the first floor (facing the inner parking area), and larger library on the second floor (facing Union Avenue). When I was there, a small candy / supply store in the basement, run by Sr. Denisita - who wore the full habit, including a large rosary / cross (which might have doubled as a weapon in other hands), and was a tireless advocate for a Boston homeless shelter as well as finding gainful employment for Marian students. One of my classmates, John Shraven, remembers her here

All in all, I have fond memories of the school, it was a safe enough space for a proto-queer, nerd before it was cool, super smart kid who would have struggled pretty much anywhere, but it sucks to have gone through my four years there donning what feels in retrospect like a protective shell. Like pretty much everything else in the first 20-30 years of my life, there are so many regrets - lost opportunities in terms of music and theater, people I hurt through my armor of acerbic and overly quick wit. Nobody got close enough to figure out what was up with me, and that was probably for the best.

There's a "Save Marian" movement but it seems a little too late, nostalgic and well intended but not so practical. The roots of Marian's demise go back decades, tracking with the struggles of the catholic church, and challenges of private education in a modern, tech savvy world.

So RIP Marian High School. I cannot say I've looked back on my high school days too fondly - bittersweet mostly. So many things in my past are disappearing or transitioning - just kind of piles up in the attic of memories.  

March 20, 2018

Friday Night

I rescued this from my digital archives / basement, a creative writing piece I put together sometime in the 90's. The file is dated September 1997 but I suspect that's when it went up online - authored in 1992 or thereabouts.

I recalled this today because my brother in law posted a photo of Famous Pizza, owned by a neighbor and a regular take-out place in high school (late 70s). I thought about the place referenced in my story (late 60s), Joe's Pizza, and much to my surprise, it's still in business - Joe's Pizza Plaza

We at Joe's Pizza Plaza opened our doors in 1963 to provide local residents with our homemade Italian cuisine in a friendly environment. We are family owned and operated and very proud to maintain pizzeria in homely atmosphere.
Joe's daughter, Joann, now operates the restaurant in her father's name. Joann is regularly on site continuing the family tradition. We treat everyone like family and offer friendly and personalized service to our customers.
Trip Advisor has a couple of photos of the inside of the place, and it has not changed much.  

Next time I'm in York I need to pick up a pie to go. Based on the photos on the website, they are still making 'em New York style with a chewy, bubbly crust.


I am eight, and my excitement bubbles within me as I strategically set up the TV trays. One goes by the lounger for Dad, of course, and another is an island in the center of the room. Two more left, I place one by the couch for Mom and set the last one by the rocking chair. Perfect. Kathy brings down the paper plates and napkins. There is a big stack of napkins, and she folds them carefully into triangles. She doles them out, and gives me the most. I don't care.

We fidget at each other, eyeing the sealed orange soda bottle and the neat row of glasses with ice. She claims the rocking chair, ruining my plan of having my own TV tray. She doesn't even realize her sin, so I pick up the TV Guide and search for Friday Night. Our all-time favorite shows are on, but I tell Kathy that a basketball game is on instead. As she runs complaining upstairs to Mom, I triumphantly claim the rocking chair.

Headlights splash on the wall over the TV; Dad has returned from his quest. He's gone across town, 2 or even 3 miles to "Joe's Pizza". There are closer places, he knows, but Joe makes them just right, with an chewy outer crust full of air bubbles, and an inner crust so thin that you have to fold the pizza to eat it. "New York style", Dad tells me with a nod, as if he were passing on a secret of manhood. "It's the only real pizza in York, Pennsylvania". I go with him at times, and Joe's seems old and scarred, in a part of town that I otherwise never see. It reminds me of Dad's home and youth, somewhere else.

Through the door now, he triumphantly holds the pies aloft above his screeching chicks as we flock around him. His role for once is clear, providing us not with intangible money or security, but with very real food. No hunter-gatherer had a more vocal or joyous welcome than we give to our father. He brings the pizza into the family room, setting the boxes on the island TV tray. We sniff and peak at the steaming cheese while Dad pours our soda, and we all wait for Mom.

Mom emerges from the kitchen, buoyed with freedom from cooking and dishes. She carefully inspects each pie - the Pepperoni is a little overdone - then carefully separates a piece for each of us, and two for Dad. It's her one contribution to this meal, and it seems crucial to me. When she finishes the ritual, we are free to ravage the pies at will.

As we settle into this cheesy orgy, I absently watch the Brady Bunch. Kathy takes advantage of the soda to launch a burp in my direction, I gulp air and top her effort. Dad silences us both with his own belch, aided by his first beer of the weekend.

We explode into giggles as Mom gives him a small, sharp look. He grins at us, and I see him differently from the father in the suit who comes home in the middle of dinner other nights of the week.

The Brady's end happily, and we roll happily into the Partridge Family. I drop a slice, and it lands cheese down. With a wary glance at Mom, who has seen but she says nothing, I wipe up the mess with a wad of napkins. Setting the floor piece aside with my uneaten crusts, I count four crusts. Kathy only has three. I'm ahead.

The meal begins to wind down, and Mom becomes herself again. She fusses at us to pile the plates and napkins into the pizza boxes. Dad picks cheese out of the box, then finds my crusts and continues his feast. Kathy and I are silent now, drugged with soda and calories. The Odd Couple is on, which we aren't allowed to watch, and we sit quietly, hoping to see it tonight. Mom notices our concentration, and turns off the set. She shepherds us upstairs to soap, toothpaste, and pajamas.

Later, we come back down scrubbed and sleepy, and Dad kisses us goodnight. The TV trays have been washed and stacked, and the pizza boxes are exiled to the trash cans outside. Tucked into my bed, I hear the TV set turned back on, loudly for a moment until the volume is lowered. Love, American Style is on; canned laughter and innuendo float upstairs, lulling me asleep. Mom's voice, softly. Then Dad's, low and comforting.

March 15, 2018

Toys R' Us

I'm probably a bit too old to be a "Toys R' Us" kid. Growing up in York, PA, there was no Toys R' Us nearby - we had a local toy store, which a quick internet search IDs as "Roger's Toy Store" (not in my memory banks, although I'm sure we shopped there). We more likely did our toy shopping at department stores - Hills, Woolworth's, McCrory's, Sears, Montgomery Wards. I've written here of the Sear's catalog being a holiday staple - pouring through the toy catalog each year.

Pretty sure the first we knew of Toys R' Us was during visits to Cherry Hill, NJ to visit our friends the Quinn family or family visits to Long Island where the commercials hit the local television stations.Those Toys R' Us commercials, jingles, and iconography are permanently seared in my head.

When we moved to Framingham, MA, there was a Toys R' Us store at Shopper's World; we'd ride our bikes down there to hang around in the summer, but high school me was probably a bit old to be that interested except for video games and such. And even then, there was competition; I remember a Child World in nearby Natick more clearly than Toys R' Us.

It's sad to see any retail store closing, but in some ways it's a combination of retail apocalypse and a hangover from the leveraged buyouts of the 00's (reportedly, a $5B debt left over from 2005 sealed the deal in terms of the company's liquidation)

There's a soon to be closed store near my house; I've been in there perhaps 5 times in the years I've lived here. I much prefer shopping at small local toy shops; or buying online.

February 16, 2018

Yet Another School Shooting

One of those long Facebook posts that I though better of and decided to move over to the blog....

The relationship of mass shooting to gun deaths is kind of like the relationship of airplane crashes to transportation deaths. By every measure (total deaths, per capita, per mile traveled) automobiles are 10s or 100s of times more risky than airplanes - but when a plane goes down, it's all over the media in a way that more mundane automobile accidents are not.

I'm not a gun advocate in any way, but the reality is that nearly 2/3 of gun deaths each year are suicides. And of actual homicides, most are by handguns (not assault weapons or rifles) and most victims are young men of color. The high visibility "gun issues" (mass killings, police killings, police deaths) are a thin slice of the actual number of gun deaths.

Banning assault weapons may make us feel better / safer but will only make a small dent in the "gun problem" this country finds itself in. I think the random nature of mass killings, and the way they extend violence out of more at risk communities, and into presumably safe spaces (schools, churches, performance spaces, whiter, and less economically disadvantaged) creates a more visceral reaction among the middle class and well to do. They shatter our illusion of safety and protection.
This page gets to the heart of the matter, and there's a really interesting statistical tool that let's you peel apart gun violence by race, by age, by gender, and by type. The only thing it really lacks is a "type of firearm" pulldown which would, I think, be useful and informative.

As I mentioned, I am not a gun fan in any way; I'm a proponent of zero gun rights and if not that, highly regulated gun ownership. But I'm also a pragmatist and a numbers geek, and I watch with curiosity as the reaction to a mass killing far outweighs the statistical significance of the event. 

February 02, 2018

Six Feathers

There’s a pottery vase that a friend made sitting on a bureau in my living room. It has contained six feathers since last June when the 2017 teacher training ended. This afternoon, those six feathers moved up to the yoga room, placed into a mason jar on my altar with dozens of others - too many to count. It’s an almost ludicrous collection, keepsakes from many weekends, many journeys, many lives.

The living room vase now contains one red feather. I trust it will be filled up again come June...

Oreck Commercial BB900DGR XL Pro 5 Super Compact Canister Vacuum

This got delivered yesterday and I'm kind of smitten - replacing a Dirt Devil Featherlite that I bought in 2013 (when you blog about your vacuums, such dates are easily researched) which was starting to be a problem (power switch broke, attachments cracking). I mostly used it to vacuum stairs, but with the new vacuums shoulder strap, long cord, and light weight I'm already seeing myself cleaning edges, corners, ceiling cobwebs, etc. a lot more often. It will probably make a nifty car vac in warmer weather. It's also easily converted into a blower and I have no such applications but I'm sure I'll think of something. Maybe science experiments around Bernoulli's Principle or demonstrating airplane wing lift.....

I love the rugged, 30' red cord. I also own an Oreck Professional upright which is amazing. In an alternate universe I'm happily cleaning hotel rooms with my professional grade vacuums.

I've owned exactly three canister vacuums in my life - a Kenmore I bought in '83 that lasted 30 years, the Dirt Devil (5 years) and now this. Probably the last canister vacuum I'll own. It was a bargain ($90) and has the sort of clunky ruggedness and lack of any sort of design sense other than the functional that I appreciate.

December 25, 2017

Christmas Memories

It's a quiet Christmas day for me this year; hit a movie and Indian food with a friend last night, and spent some time cleaning up a Christmas morning snowstorm, and a dinner invite, if I decide to go, is not until much later today. Family Christmas, such as it is, will be Wednesday the 27th. So, prompted by some reminiscing last night with a friend as well as a xmas eve phone call with my brother, I decided to jot down family Christmas memories.

If there is a family mythology around Christmas, it lies with my mother. Coming from a working class family of 10 without a lot of money to spend at the holidays, mom would relate the story of how, her first xmas out of the house and employed as a nurse, she lavishly bought gifts for all of her family, and was so excited about that - until they were stolen from her car. I think she resolved to never let a Christmas be disappointing from there on; and over-gifting was the order of the day throughout out childhood, and for many years after. I recall my first year out of school, working in Bristol CT, driving my Olds Cutlass Ciera, packed to the gunnels, back to MA for the holidays - replaying my mom's history (without the thievery).

I remember as a child being given some money and being turned loose at Hills Department store to find stuff for the family. I'm fairly certain there were some tacky candles, statues, trinkets, etc. that hung around the house for years because we kids had bought them for mom and dad for xmas.  

We'd do some outdoor decorations - there was an outdoor creche (or to us, a "manger scene") - plastic figurines with a folding wooden shelter and cradle. I vaguely remember them with a interior bulb, but I do not remember power distribution, so I'm guessing we just had a spotlight for the scene. Mary, Joseph, Jesus, Wise Men, Shephard, sheep, donkey, and camel. One year the christ child disappeared, traumatizing all of us. We left a little note in the cradle asking whoever took it to return it - it showed up eventually in one of the bushes. There were also large plastic candles by the front door (these I do remember lighting up) and a small plastic santa that lighted up in a front window. There would be some smallish light strings - on a bush or front railing. Dad was never the "get up on a ladder to hang xmas lights" kinda guy.
Our family plan, when we were younger, was that dad would procure the tree a few days before the holiday, and put the lights on. But Santa Claus decorated the tree - we'd go to bed with the lighted but otherwise plain tree, and wake up to a full-on Christmas spectacle. Similarly, Santa brought all the gifts - there would be a smattering of present from relatives and neighbors, but the pile of presents under the tree were similarly timed for full effect Christmas morning. I have no idea how those xmas eve's went with mom and dad working together to make a nice christmas morning; but hope it was a romantic and special time for them.

I remember one year that my Aunt and her boyfriend / husband to be came over to spend Xmas eve with my parents; recall getting a knock-off hotwheels set (yellow track instead of orange, and one long piece that unrolled rather than sections) from them which I happily played with before we were herded into our bedrooms.  

Stockings would be hung, traditional red / white with sparkled applied names; later on mom made us stockings out of holiday craft / quilting fabric. Cookies and milk left for santa along with a carrot for Rudolf.

There are probably some photos around, but my folks were taking slide photos back then; so a lot of them are either gone or stashed somewhere.

Part of the process of "no presents until xmas" was that the house was filled with hidden presents - closets, attic, garage, car trunk, laundry hampers, you name it. It became part of the pre-holiday mischief and fun (much to mom's consternation, no doubt) to poke around looking for presents, and to report on any findings to my sister (my brothers being a bit young for it all). Mom would wrap things as soon as she got them, and we became good at surreptitiously opening the end to see if we could figure it out. I can recall a few instances of finding things I thought were for me that did not end up under the tree - always wondered if mom took them back because they had been found. In hindsight, that seems like way too much effort; more likely, they were for cousins, or perhaps our parents teamed up with neighbors or relatives to keep each others presents safe from prying eyes.

The tree was always real in our youth - with incandescent bulbs (which seem like such a horrific fire risk, looking back) and the silver hanging tinsel which clogged the vacuum and the carpet. We had a stash of what seemed liked ancient "Shiny Brite" ornaments, a real mish-mash without any real theme. I think we looked upon folks with artificial, or more themed / crafted trees suspiciously; similarly, one of our relatives always had a silver tree with multi-colored spotlight which seemed a little tacky (but retro cool these days).

Later, when my sister and I out-grew Santa but my brothers were still young, we were welcomed into the Christmas eve tree decorating cult - we'd bicker over the ornaments (there were often multiples so we'd each get a "golf ball", and "icicle" or other special ornament to hang) and mom would supervise the placement, the drape of the ornaments, the balance of the bulb colors, and finally, the tinsel, which had to be placed individually, strand by strand. Long before "Elf on the Shelf" we had a few xmas elves; some hung on the tree, some found homes in various xmas sleighs or decorations throughout the house.

There was something very special about the ornaments, memories put away each year and brought out again. There was a thick felt (probably asbestos, thinking about it) santa with glued on sparkles and a sticker face that dad was said to have made as a child; was always special but especially after dad died in '79. Occasionally an ornament would fall and break,  and we'd mourn the hell out of it, a little piece of our family history slipping away.

After dad died, things started to slip. Mom started to decorate the tree ahead of the holiday to be able to enjoy it longer. Eventually the multi-colored incandescent bulbs gave way to mini lights, and tinsel gave way to garland, and an artificial tree was procured.  As mom aged and we moved out, coming home to set up the tree for mom was a December ritual. The family christmas tree decorations have stayed with mom's condo, purchased by my brother as mom transitioned into assisted living.
I'm probably the first to leave the family xmas nest; I had moved to CT and partnered up; my spouse and I were involved in church music so we'd have xmas eve, xmas day, midnight services to be part of (often in different churches and cities), along with her local family. So my family visits would be before or after the official day - we spent a lot of time on the road back then. For years our xmas was later in the day, at my sister's place in central MA. They sold that place a few years back, spending this year in their Florida home. Last year we spent the day with mom at her assisted living home. This year we're all at loose ends - brother who bought mom's condo is spending the holiday with his GF, I'm in CT, my other brother in MA. Neither of us really has the space to host or a drive to travel.

Somewhere along the line, I lost xmas. Part of that is religious - I'm not really all that christian anymore, if anything I kind of push back at christianity as the official state religion. I had a culturally jewish partner for many years - so no real xmas clebration there. I'm sort of outside the loop in terms of friends, family, etc. with small kids. I've been self employed for 20+ years, so there's no office parties or work social activities. And as close to a spiritual community as I have these days is a non-sectarian yoga studio with a pretty heavy Jewish component among the teachers, students, management. So not a lot of Merry Xmas going on there.

But still, there are boxes of xmas ornaments and decorations in my basement closet - and though I've not brought them out in years, I have also not thrown them away. There is still hope....

December 15, 2017

RIP: Pete Tupy

Just got word yesterday that a gentleman named Pete Tupy was very sick - and this morning that he has passed.

Pete was the lead guitarist in my first (high school) band - me on rhythm guitar, Jim on bass, Mike on drums. We played mostly in Jim's basement. Pete was 3 years younger (15 to our 18) which seemed like a lifetime when you are that age - we called him "the kid" and I suspect contributed to his delinquency a bit. He was also cut from a different cloth - Keefe Tech to our Marian High School - and I suspect lived a rougher life than any of us.

We were all over the map musically but were strictly garage (or basement) band caliber - but Pete was a bit of a guitar savant - vibing Hendrix and Robin Trower and a bunch of other guitar heroes I'm not cool enough to know about or remember - a real guitar wizard.

I've lost track of him over the years; went searching online just now and found this article: Framingham photographer captures faces of rural Peru

There is also a crowd-funding site from 2015 with a couple of pictures, and Pete is remarkably recognizable despite the years and the miles. From all reports the miles were hard.

See you 'round, kid. Show Jimi a trick or two if you get the chance.

November 11, 2017

Memories of York, PA: Report Cards

While digging out the school photos, I stumbled upon a remarkably complete (all save 1st Grade) set of grade school report cards.
Dad's signatures were remarkably legible (for him),
other years, mom signed my report cards "Mrs. William Russell"

The A+ were sources of pride, the B+ were affronts. Not really sure what happened in social studies that year, I pulled straight A's in 7th grade. I imagine my cockiness and inability to study / bear down (never having had to learn those skills) occasionally rubbed some teacher the wrong way. Pretty sure mom and dad did not buy the "C+ Above Average" argument. Amused by the McDonald's stamps, I think we got a free burger or something.

We had a custom of signing report card covers (kind of quaint, note the local ads) and I've retained just two of these - 5th grade and 8th grade. 5th grade had a lot more signatures (albeit a lot less legible), I think, knowing my family was headed to Massachusetts that summer, and I would not be accompanying my classmates to York Catholic High, I was already checking out a bit. My friends David Luck and Tom Brady signed though, and references to Groucho / Marx Brothers.  
And while I have these out, a canonical list of my grade school homeroom teachers:
  • Kindergarten (East York) - Mrs. Virginia Klein
  • 1st Grade - Miss Lonsdorf
  • 2nd Grade - Mrs. Gerard Roventini / Principal - Sr. Justina Marie 
  • 3rd Grade - Mrs. Donald Kroft / Principal - Sr. Justina Marie 
  • 4th Grade - Sr. Patricia / Principal - Sr. Justina Marie  
  • 5th Grade - Mrs. Danner / Principal - Sr. Lorraine
  • 6th Grade - Mrs. McNeil / Principal - Sr. Lorraine 
  • 7th Grade - Sr. Martha / Principal - Sr. Gordon Marie 
  • 8th Grade - Sr. Alice / Principal - Sr. Gordon Marie  
Apparently I never knew any of my lay teachers' first names, since I only see last names (and in the early years, their husband's name)

Memories of York, PA: St. Joseph's School

Except for a year of kindergarten, in public schools, I was a Catholic School kid. I spent all 8 years of grade school at St. Joseph Catholic School in York, PA

Grades 1 - 3, I went to the downtown York primary school, which I've documented a bit here.
Sidebar: A perfect example of why blogging is a dying art; I remembered posting these photos and memories, but thought I had done it here. Nope. Facebook. 100s of perfectly bloggable posts have been posted on social media instead over the past years. 
Definitely a different world, when a parent would put a first grader on a bus to a downtown (inner city) school miles away.
Image: Google Maps
I have a handful of memories or anecdotes from that school:
  • Serving mass (super early) at the church next door. Dad would have to drive me to services and go to mass himself. We'd also get tapped for occasional weddings (weekends, we'd get tipped) and funerals (weekdays, we learned to suck it up and not cry, and also got out of school for a few hours)
  • My first grade teacher, Miss Lonsdorf, who kind of traumatized me in terms of art. We were coloring some sort of potato based leprechaun for St. Patrick's Day (I'm 60% Irish so the problematic potato famine iconography is OK). I got chewed out for coloring vertically rather than horizontally. I've never given art a chance since. 
  • Serving on the school safety patrol. I remember a white cloth belt / sash (which mom dutifully bleached), a badge, and some sense of responsibility / power, even in 3rd grade. 
  • Getting tasked with putting up / taking down the American flag in front of the building, along with stern directions about folding and not letting the flag touch the ground. 
  • Recess in the parking lot between the school and the church, as well as behind the church
Image: Google Maps
I struggled to post these (violating one of my own sacrosanct policies of no pre-transition photos) but when you hang on to childhood treasures, they must be shared.

St. Joseph's School, York, PA, Grade 3 / Mrs. Kroft's Class (1969-1970)

When we lived in York, St. Joseph had an annex or elementary school (Grades 4 -  8) out in East York, near our home. No bus involved from Grades 4 - 8, instead we walked or (more often) rode a bike.

Image: Google Maps
When we lived in York, it was just the school, a large parking lot, and a lot of grass. There would be one mass a week held in the elementary school gym. Years later the parish moved the church over to the "annex" and sold off the downtown buildings.

Lots of memories from this property:
  • Being the "manager" (i.e. water boy) for the grade school basketball team. The school's one African-American, a kid named Keith, was an all star center - as close to diversity as I got back in the day. Protestants were exotic, Jews unknown, and persons of color were just not in my world. To my parents' credit, Keith came to my birthday parties, I held on to a card from him (which seemed far more 60's hip than anything else in my life) for many years. 
St. Joseph's School, York, PA - Boy's Basketball (1974-1975)
Back Row: Jack Angelo (coach), George Johnson, Chris Boyle, Jan Slobozien, Joe Scerbo, Dan Meehan, John McGowan, Marty, Moynihan, Me (manager), Artie Full (manager), Matt Moynihan (coach)
Front Row: Kevin Ochs, Mike Boldin, Joe Corcoran, Tim Marks, Keith Alleyne, John Moquin, Brian Lau

 I'm not particularly tall when lined up with the mostly 6th and 7th graders in the back row, my 8th  grade peers were the manly dudes in the front row. I was, in hindsite, quite the runt.
  • Playing folk mass (wall of guitars, all strumming in furious unison). In those days before electronic tuners, one person would tune to a pitch pipe or tuning fork, and we'd all tune to that person, and must have been a gloriously atonal mess.  
  • Taking down the seating after mass, before the home basketball games. The chairs would go on long rolling carts, which rolled under the stage. To this day I kind of like putting tables and chairs away. 
  • For some reason, I ended up being one of several kids tapped to open up the school. We'd ride our bikes to arrive early, get in through the kitchen, and open up the metal security gates for the nuns, who would arrive en masse in a station wagon from the downtown convent. I think we could get our fingers in to unscrew the bolts holding the gates to the floor, the gates would open 18" or so for early arriving staff and teachers. Once the nuns arrived with keys we would unlock the gates and stow them for the day. 
  • Sr. Kathleen, a rabid Phillies fan, who would sit us in order of performance on the last math test, and task the person in seat #1 (star pupil, no need to really pay attention) with listening to the game on the radio with an earphone, and report any scores.
  • Sr. Alice, a tall drink of water who was also the gym teacher, and I suspect excelled in basketball and volleyball in her own school days. 
  • Sr. Patricia Anne Doyle, who got that I was one wounded little kid behind my "smartest kid in the school" exterior, and tried to round me out a little.  
  • Sr. ________ (name escapes me) who would show 35 mm filmstrips, with cassette tape soundtrack, and would fall asleep. We'd go (quietly) wild, make sure to rewind the film to the start before she awoke.
  • My nemesis, a kid named Francis W. I'm pretty sure our battle royale was for last place in the school pecking order. I think I got into a real fight with him at some point in my school career which must have been, in hindsight, pretty pathetic.
St. Joseph's School, York PA, 8th Grade Graduating Class (May 1975)
Notable above: Monsignor Topper (dad's bridge partner, front row center) and Sr. Alice to his right (she might have been the principal by then). No idea about the other priests nor the other teachers (one lay, one nun). Me and my two best friends (Tom Brady, David Luck) are second row, left.  My aforementioned nemesis is 2nd row from the top, 2nd from the right (looking kind of like he might be sorted into Slytherin, now that I think about it). The girls are notable for real dresses (not uniforms, what they wore every other day). And all that damned plaid - got to love the 70s.

Aside from Keith, not a lot of diversity, although looking closely at the faces (I don't recall many names)  there were probably a few middle eastern, Mediterranean, and Latino kids. But we all spoke English and we were all Catholic - so not much in the way of cultural diversity evident.

Truth be told, I adored the nuns, probably because they were mostly proto-lesbians with varying levels of butchness, sportiness, curious hobbies and interests, trying to find a place in a world that was not quite ready for who they were.

November 10, 2017

Swirling Winds of Change

I'm reminded this morning of the fragility of spaces, communities, resources, jobs. So many well-intentioned, delightful, and beloved restaurants, shops, arts spaces, music venues and yes, yoga studios, are unable to remain in business.

I'm grateful for the people who keep showing up: turning on the lights and the heat, making that first pot of coffee, and tallying the numbers at the end of the day. I'm grateful for the small business owners who invest time, money, work, and worry into keeping their doors open for themselves, their employees, their clients and customers. So few of us have the passion, the nerve, the discipline to even know where or how to begin.

Part of the yoga practice is developing the tools to deal with change. But it's never easy. Sending a little love out to all my friends and family caught in the swirling winds of change this week....

November 07, 2017

Memories of York, PA: Brighton Drive

November looks to be a slow month, work-wise, so I've decided it would be a good time to put down some memories of my childhood in York, PA. This will hopefully be a bit of a series, until I run out of places and themes from York. Here's a good blog about York's Past.

First stop - my childhood home on Brighton Drive.

My parents bought our brick raised ranch home in the Haines Acres sub-division on Brighton Drive brand new, circa 1965-1966. We lived there until the summer of 1974 when we moved to Framingham, MA. The home is still there and is well kept; the trees are taller, the houses seem shorter and squatter. Perhaps it's the influence of the Three Little Pigs, but I've always remembered the brick exterior of our home on Brighton Drive positively, as compared to wood shingles or siding in later homes. Zillow values it at $182K - not too shabby.

Looking at the house today, I recall that my bedroom (at least in later years, once our family was complete) was downstairs, under the living room bay window. The octogonal window in the garage was up pretty high for us kids but we liked to climb on boxes, shelves, or ladders to look out it (and look in from the front steps). Our parents kept the cars in the garage overnight, so it was mostly empty, but on rainy days mom would pull her car out into the driveway so we could hang out in the garage and play. There was a door into the backyard at the rear of the garage, and two doors into the house - one into the living spaces, a second into a laundry room along the back of the house.

One winter, the backyard froze solid and then thawed suddenly, and the bottom floor flooded through a rear slider in the family room; I remember being in my pajamas and snow boots, using a snow shovel to sweep the water through the house and into the garage, as dad dug a trench in the ice pack to take the water around and away from the house.

Image: Google Maps

A nice write-up about the Haines Acres community here:
"Curvilinear road layouts are typical of developments from this time period and tend to follow the rolling topography of the subdivision. The curves also serve to calm traffic in residential neighborhoods and are often used to market the safety of the development for families." ~ Living Places
 A bird's eye view is the first place to describe the neighborhood.

Image: Google Maps
Our neighborhood was really the block framed by Brighton Drive, Cambridge Road, and Alton Lane. The backyards were wide open back when we lived there, some young hedges, an occasional decorative fence, but nothing to really impede neighborhood wide games of capture the flag or flashlight tag, or winter sledding from up the top where Cambridge and Brighton met. We knew folks on both sides of Brighton but really the neighbors connected through the backyards, and when we went out to play the entire block was within our range.

I still remember the family names - on our side the Glass family, the Russells, the Kellys, the Eastmans. Behind us the Kaplans, the Quinns, the Keffers. Looking at the map, the five larger, newer homes on the far side of Alton Lane were built in the late 70's, after a large barn located on that spot (and used by the builder Epstein & Sons to store equipment and lumber) went up in flames (September 1975, soon after we moved).

Epstein & Sons provided a lot of entertainment for us kids; the neighborhood was in some sort of development throughout our time there, and we kids invariably found ourselves playing in the houses under construction. Kids would swipe wood from the scrap pile for forts, we play in the unfinished houses (surely way too dangerous in these more sanitized times) and we'd keep an eye out for "Epstein" in his El Camino, come to chase us off. 

Back in the day, a small creek (more of a gully or drainage ditch, I imagine) ran between the homes on Brighton Drive and Schoolhouse Lane; we'd spend long hours messing around in it - catching crayfish, following toys floated down the creek, wading in small pools. If I recall correctly, there were drainage pipes that ran into the creek from the street sewers, and adventurous hooligans (not I) would crawl into them and spy on people from the storm drains.

I don't remember much about the neighbors. The Quinn family directly behind us were fast friends (to this day, June Quinn mourns the loss of my mom more than we kids do) and had three kids around our age - Karen, Rob, and Sue. One house up from them was Alan Kaplan (who picked up the regrettable moniker of "Fudd", no idea why). He had pretty good toys and brand name snack food, if I recall correctly. The Eastman family, down two houses on Brighton, also had kids our age, I think there was a Guild and Katherine our age, as well as Linda (older) who babysat us now and then.

I also remember a kid (Craig? maybe) way down Brighton near Sundale in a more traditional single story ranch that I played with occasionally. I remember playing Risk and Stratego and setting up basement spanning wars using soldiers.

Three other memories from that house and period:
  • We had a small metal box on the front porch and would have milk delivered (and leave the empties for collection). I suspect somewhere in the family archives there's a picture of one of us on the front steps (first day of school photo) with the milk box in evidence. It made a nice place to sit, and we kids would hide stuff in there as well. 
  • When it rained, the street had small, curved gutters or gullies to catch and carry the rain water, and that would be a fine place to set a boat or ball and follow it as the water carried it down the street, so long as you caught it before it hit the drain.
  • When it snowed (not all that often) construction road graders would be used to plow the streets. When we moved to Massachusetts, I was quite confused to find rather pedestrian dump trucks with plows affixed in use, and thought perhaps that was because MA could not afford proper snow plows.    
I'll be continuing this series - here's a bit of a placeholder for myself and preview of what is to come:
  • East York Elementary School
  • York Suburban Middle School
  • St. Joseph's Elementary Center
  • Wisehaven Swim Club
  • Hill's Department Store
  • Jay's Supermarket
  • Misericordia