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Friday, August 18, 2017

The Writer's Life 8/18 - Superstition & a Forgotten Legend

Louisa Ermelino grew up near Little Italy, which these days has shrunk dramatically and exists primarily as a NYC tourist lure. In 2002, her first novel, The Black Madonna, was published. I discovered it recently and thoroughly enjoyed it. The action takes place from the mid 1930's until 1968. The story, told in non-linear fashion, is divided into three parts, the middle taking place in a small town in the old country. The focus is on three male friends and their smothering moms. The tale rings with authenticity. My mom was not nearly as superstitious as the three in the book, but I found none of the doings implausible. The prejudices are not surprising. They exist today to a lesser measure. The depiction of how the characters lived, the cramped quarters, is fascinating. The author created human beings that often conform to a stereotype but are thoroughly genuine. The prose and dialogue are smooth. Italian terms are injected frequently, something I've always loved and have done myself, only in the bastardized form many sons and daughters of immigrants use. My lone quibble is that it is a tad repetitious. There is no plot. This is a portrait of lives and bonds that could have gone on until the deaths of the three men but ends after 252 pages while they are in their mid 30's. The title refers to a mysterious figure one of the mom's venerates, and everyone in the neighborhood knows. 16 readers at Amazon have rated The Black Madonna, forging to a consensus of 4.5 on a scale of five, a bit too high in my estimation. Still, it's a fine read. It's still selling modestly, way more than any of my eight books. It's always a treat to read about Italian-Americans who aren't mafiosi. Ermellino is the reviews editor at Publishers' Weekly in NYC. She has three other books in print, two novels and a short story collection. Kudos, madam.

In today's NY Post, Phil Mushnick reveals the neglect of the incredible accomplishments of a rare talent. I'm embarrassed to say I'd never heard of or had forgotten Milt Campbell, "who in 2012 died at 78 to small notice outside of his hometown of Plainfield, N.J.. He was, by international definition, the greatest American athlete of any hue." In high school he excelled at football, bowling, track and swimming. Also while in high school, he finished second to the legendary decathlete Bob Mathias in the United States Olympic trials — in his first-ever participation in a decathlon! Are you kidding me? He was just a kid who only weeks earlier had learned such an event existed and decided to give it a try. He won the silver medal, finishing behind Mathias. At 18 Campbell, "arguably, more likely indisputably, was the world’s second-greatest athlete. Four years later the Olympic decathlon was billed as an epic struggle between Rafer Johnson and Vasily Kuznetsov. Campbell beat both, winning gold, bettering Mathias’ Olympic record by 50 points." Mathias, Johnson and Bruce Jenner are known to most Americans as champions - but not Campbell. WTF? In 1957 Campbell was drafted by the Cleveland Browns. In 1958 he was cut. Why? The team’s coach and co-founder, Paul Brown, was unhappy, according to Campbell, that Campbell had married a white woman. Campbell went on to to play in the Canadian Football League through 1964. In 1972, at 40, he nearly qualified for the U.S. Olympic judo team. Maddeningly, he continues to be overlooked. He did not make ESPN’s Top 100 Athletes of the 20th Century or its Top 50 Black Athletes survey. Kudos to Mushnick for this amazing and infuriating story.

Also in the Post, an article informs that animals are disappearing from zoos in the socialist paradise of Venezuela. It is believed they are being slaughtered to feed the hungry.

The floating book shop had only one customer today - Crazy Joe, the scourge of radio talk show hosts and now of Facebook, where his inflammatory posts are often blocked, especially those that target Mr. Zuckerberg. I've seen many and several go too far, the same as many of my friends on both sides of the political aisle do there. He has been very generous to me, always paying a lot more than I ask, as he did today for How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie, one of the most influential books of all-time, first published in 1936, currently ranked, incredibly, #22 at Amazon; and 101 Ways to Flirt: How to Get More Dates and Meet Your Mate by Susan Rabin and Barbara Lagowski; and The Pocket Book of Quotations by Henry Davidoff, which was first issued in 1942. Thank, you sir.
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Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Writer's Life 8/17 - Shifts

There were two rarities last night in MLB. When a pair of infielders were unable to play due to injury, Mets manager Terry Collins earned his pay, maneuvering constantly in the team's 5-3 loss to the Skanks. Catcher Travis d'Arnaud played third base when a left-handed batter was up, and second for righties, the idea being to decrease the percentages of balls being hit to him. He was shifted 22 times with infielder Asdrubal Cabrera. The strategy worked. d'Arnaud needed only to field a routine pop up at second, while Cabrera handled five chances flawlessly... In San Diego, first baseman Wil Myers became the 51st player in big league history to steal second, third and home in the same inning, although purists might argue it wasn't genuine, as the steal of home occurred after the runner at first was picked off and involved in a rundown. I don't watch baseball anymore, but I'm still enjoy reading about the unusual stuff that occurs during a season in which 30 teams play 162 games each.

I know I'm in a minority, but I liked that President Trump went rogue and refused to back down at the now infamous press conference. Was he pandering to a part of the disgruntled white voters who helped get him elected? Maybe, but what's wrong with denouncing those who show up at demonstrations in helmets, vests, shoulder and knee pads, and carrying billy clubs and engaging in violence? Are we to believe that a Christian who did not prevent any of his three children from marrying a Jew - whose grandkids are Jews - is a racist? What am I missing here? Am I completely blinded by my support for the President's agenda as to not see egregious faults? Recently, a fine young man I had the privilege of coaching at the high school football level called Republicans racist in a Facebook post. I started to type a reply, then stopped, as I didn't want to add to the partisan nuttiness going on in social media. A Republican president ended slavery. Lynchings were carried out almost exclusively by Democrats. A greater percentage of Republicans than Democrats voted for the Voting Rights Act. I'm disgusted with Republicans, but I doubt many are racists. Many are part of the swamp Trump is trying to drain. Bill Clinton's mentor, Senator William Fulbright, was accused of racism. Hillary's, Senator Robert Byrd, was a Grand Wizard Klansman. The selective outrage is so discouraging, more so because it is practiced by both sides. Where will this statue/monument craze end? On his show this morning radio host Mark Simone mentioned that the big apple was named for the Duke of York - who was a slave trader. By the logic of those in favor of tearing things down and renaming them, New York will have to be renamed. How about Schumerville or Cuomoburg? Will the left blame Trump for today's terrorist attack in Barcelona? It wouldn't be surprising. Geez, I hate writing about politics.

My thanks to the kind folks who bought and donated books today. Most of the transactions were of works in Russian.
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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Writer's Life 8/16 - Quirks & Conversion

Most people have strange quirks and habits, usually harmless, at times completely hidden from others. Here's some strange behavior from historical figures, from a list at, edited by yours truly, my comments in parentheses: Pythagoras refused to eat beans and even forbade his followers from ingesting or touching them. While it is unknown whether the aversion stemmed from health or religious reasons, it may have led to his death. According to legend, attackers ambushed him, and he refused to escape by running through a bean field. (And you thought the Pythagorean theorem was full of beans.)... Beethoven’s process was almost as dramatic as his compositions. He would pace around a bit, then pour water all over himself—and his floorboards. (He was all wet - sorry, couldn't resist - rimshot.)... Demosthenes rehearsed speeches in an underground hideout for extended periods of time. He would run through them with stones in his mouth, and would occasionally shave half his head to discourage himself from facing an audience before he was ready... Balzac drank 50 cups of coffee per day. It came with a price: stomach cramps, headaches, and high blood pressure.(Starbucks would have loved him.)... For a man who wrote only three hours a day, Anthony Trollope was quite productive. He churned out 250 words every 15 minutes, 3000 words per sitting. If he finished a book before his daily time allotment was up, he immediately began another. (And I thought I was anal.)... Russian-American composer Igor Stravinsky stood on his head for 15 minutes each morning to “clear his brain.” (Force Congress to do this before each session.)... Edgar Allan Poe often wrote on thin strips of paper, which he glued together and rolled into scrolls for easier storage... Leonardo da Vinci and Nikola Tesla adhered to alternative sleep schedules. da Vinci took multiple short naps every 24 hours (tried by Cosmo Kramer to near disastrous effect). Tesla rested only two hours a day... Speaking of Tesla, the inventor had another strange habit: He’d curl his toes 100 times per foot every evening before going to bed. He thought the practice boosted his brain cells. (Given his track record, maybe we should all be doing it.)... Before he began the day’s work, Benjamin Franklin would spend up to an hour taking naked “air baths” at an open window. (I hope this doesn't become a trend today. Imagine millions of fat guys in their birthday suits letting it all hang out for everyone to see.)... Søren Kierkegaard, Lewis Carroll, and Virginia Woolf all wrote standing up. (I'm sitting on my butt.)

A middle age woman donated a cache of romance novels in Russian and, to my surprise, not one sold. My thanks, madam, and also to the elderly woman who purchased a thriller in Russian; to the young man who bought The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom; to the gentleman who long ago read Rich Man, Poor Man in Russian, which attracted him to Bread Upon the Waters by Irwin Shaw; to the woman who overpaid for five paperbacks by the late and still popular Sidney Sheldon; and to Mike, who bought I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor's Journey on the Road to Peace and Human Dignity by Izzeldin Abuelaish and Marek Glezerman, which sounds like something a lot of Americans should be reading. Mike told me a couple of jokes. Unlike Seinfeld's Tim Whatley, who converted in order to be free to tell Jewish jokes, Mike was born a Jew. He asked: "Why do Jewish women make great parole officers? Because they never let you finish a sentence." And: "Why are Jews terrible prisoners? Because they eat locks." In the interest of equal time, here are two jokes about Italians from "What do you call an Italian suppository? An innuendo." And: "How does an Italian get into an honest business? Through the skylight." If those offend you, too bad. And here's the world's most famous convert at work:

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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Writer's Life 8/15 - Bot Seriously, Folks

Today's NY Post has an article about sexbots, which seem to be becoming more popular. The manufacturers profess the technological convenience will end sexual frustration. TrueCompanion, makers of the female Roxxxy and the male Rocky, promises a “true companion always turned on and ready to talk or play.” Another company, RealDoll, emphasizes "...the term ‘LOVE doll’ because they are so much more than a sex toy … the possibilities are limitless!” According to the Post article, widowers are having them custom made in the image of a deceased spouse. Unsurprisingly, the most popular are recreations of actresses. Here's a pic of Roxxy:

It's a step up from the hideous blow-up doll, but still weird. I have no problem with what consenting adults do sexually in private. I understand why people use toys. The main drawback of sexbots seems the lack of psychological fulfillment that being wanted or desired by another human being incites. True, a robot can eliminate the grief that comes with most relationships, and that is a trade-off many, especially those damaged by relationships gone bad, would make. It will be interesting to see where this goes once the technology improves and the bots become more lifelike. The evolution of society never ceases to fascinate.

RIP Joseph Bologna, 82, a Brooklyn boy who made good on Broadway and in Hollywood. He earned a degree in art history at Brown University, did a stint in the Marines, and directed commercials early in his career. He co-wrote the play Lovers and Other Strangers with his wife, Renee Taylor, a Jewish girl from the Bronx. It was adapted to the screen in 1970 and was a critical and commercial success, one of the first films to capture the rapid societal changes that were occurring. IMDb lists 74 titles under Bologna's name as Actor, 14 as Writer and four as Director. He is most remembered for his turn as a Sid Caesar-like figure in My Favorite Year (1982), for which he was nominated for an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor. Here's dialogue from Lovers and Other Strangers. Frank was played by Richard Castellano, who was nominated for an Oscar in the supporting role. Bea was played by Bea Arthur, TV's Maude, Ritchie by Joseph Hindy:
Frank Vecchio: So, what's the story Ritchie?
Richie Vecchio: We're just not compatible.
Frank Vecchio: You hear that Beatrice, they're not compatible.
Bea: I heard, but I'm not listening, Frank.
Frank Vecchio: They're married for six years, all of a sudden they're looking to be compatible.
Bea: It's a phase they're going through.
Frank Vecchio: You stupid kids today, they don't know what to do with themselves, they get a divorce, for kicks.
Bea: That's what it is, Frank, kicks.
It wasn't just a phase. Here's how Bologna looked in My Favorite Year:

Sign of the times from Yahoo Sports: Louisiana-Lafayette’s Darius Hoggins has been working as the first team running back throughout the preseason. He now may miss the start of the campaign after breaking his jaw. Hoggins, a fifth-year senior, wasn't injured on the field. He fell while reading his cell phone. He’s out three-to-four weeks. I see it just about every day, someone whose eyes are glued to a screen walking into traffic or another person.

My thanks to the gentleman who bought two books in Russian, and to the one who purchased Hell House by Richard Matheson, who wrote 16 episodes of the original The Twilight Zone.
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Monday, August 14, 2017

The Writer's Life 8/14 - All's Well That Ends Well

RIP Frank Broyles, 92, legendary football coach of the University of Arkansas. He was at the helm 19 seasons, from 1958-1976, and was the school’s athletic director from 1974-2007. Including his one season at Missouri, Broyles finished with a 149-62-6 record. The Razorbacks won the Southwest Conference title seven times during his tenure, including 1964 when the team went 11-0 and was named national champs in the days long before the playoffs. As a collegiate QB at Georgia Tech, he led the Yellow Jackets to four bowl appearance and was the SEC Player of the Year in 1944. Broyles was also an enthusiastic presence in the broadcast booth for ABC, working as an analyst from 1977 to 1985. I vividly recall him citing, in his wonderful southern drawl: "One of the most violent collisions I have ever seen." Friends and I tried in vain to imitate that wonderful inflection through our Brooklyn accents. Well done, sir.

With eight holes remaining in the season’s final major, the PGA Championship, five men stood tied atop the leader-board: Italy's Francesco Molinari, Justin Thomas, Japan's Hideki Matsuyama, Chris Stroud and Kevin Kisner. At the end it was Thomas, 24, who prevailed, buoyed by a supernatural putt on the 10th hole, when his ball hung on the lip for ten seconds before dropping. He also had a birdie at the par three 17th during the tough three-hole stretch the players dub The Green Mile at the beautiful Quail Hollow course in Charlotte, NC. It was his third victory of 2017, his first major championship. Not only does his get his name engraved on the coveted Wanamaker Trophy, he pocketed $1,890,000. He weighs all of 145 pounds. Kudos, kid.

Good things come to those who wait. I wanted to take the floating book shop to a different location today. There were no parking spaces available beside the Sheepshead Bay concourse, so I headed for Park Slope. The long stretch in front of John Jay H.S. was occupied by vehicles of crew members paving 4th Street, and there were no spots available in front of the public school two blocks away. That sent me back to Bay Parkway. It looked like it was going to be a disappointing session. The only sale for the first 2:40 was to a young man who bought John Grisham's The Chamber. In the last 20 minutes people suddenly started buying. A young Asian woman purchased Emily Giffin's Love the One You're With, immediately followed by a middle age one who bought a novelization of ET. Then a young man bought yet another Danielle Steel novel, Pegasus, for his mom, Jack of Chase chose four thrillers, and Bad News Billy scooped up the four opera CD's I had on display. And, just as I'd stowed the remaining wares in the old Hyundai, the sweet Russian grandma, who is amassing a library for her grand-daughter Sasha, showed. I pulled out the box that contained the classics, from which she selected a large anthology, John Steinbeck's The Pearl, Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, and Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility. My thanks to all these kind folks. I didn't earn a trophy, but it's still nice to win.
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Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Writer's Life 8/13 - Back to Brooklyn

After a great day in Jersey celebrating my great niece's 19th birthday, it was back to Brooklyn.

I'm not surprised by the rioting in Virginia. We are a deeply divided country. The most predictable aspect is how partisans are using it for political gain by assigning blame to anyone other than the perpetrators.

Today's NY Post contains several interesting tidbits: Jonathon Trugman points out the hypocrisy of a group of congressmen. At least 174 of the 184 co-sponsors (95%) of the Raise the Wage Act of 2017 ($15 minimum) don't pay their interns. The list of cheapskates includes Charles Schumer (Why would anyone be surprised?) and Cory Booker. Bernie Sanders puts his money where his mouth is, paying his workers $12 per hour... Brooklyn born Lawrence Kelter, a prolific crime novelist and super fan of My Cousin Vinny (1992), has written a novel, Back to Brooklyn, that picks up where the movie left off. It looks like the beginning of a series. So far 34 readers have rated it at Amazon, forging to a consensus of 4.7 on a scale of five... There's a new Iphone craze. Creeps are using the AirDrop app to send photos of their privates to women who happen to be near them on the subway. I'm not surprised at this capability, as it is a staple of films and TV shows... The world's oldest man, Israel Kristal, has died a month short of his 114th birthday. Born in Poland, he survived Auschwitz, and passed away, fittingly, in Israel... Chris Rowley, a pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays, made his MLB debut last night. Why is this notable? He is the first West Point grad to ever advance to the big leagues. He surrendered one run in five-and-one-third innings and was credited with the win. Many more, sir.

My thanks to the gentleman who purchased a book in Russian, and to the one who overpaid for an illustrated hardcover copy of Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quixote, and to the lovely young woman who purchased Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. Although sales were sparse, it was gratifying that two of the three were of classics. Puzzling is the fact that passersby seemed uninterested in the wide array of popular novels and non-fiction I had on display. A woman asked how much I wanted for Suze Orman's Women and Money and, when I said two bucks, looked at me as if I had two heads. She obviously could have used the book, as she apparently does not know value when she sees it.
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Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Writer's Life 8/12 - Persistence

Hollywood usually portrays businessmen as unscrupulous ogres. The Founder (2016), the story of Ray Kroc, is an eminently fair account of his making McDonalds the worldwide titan it is today. I caught up to it last night courtesy of Netflix. Michaek Keaton, now light years from the shtick that made him famous, continued his impressive run of serious roles. Kudos to director John Lee Hancock and screenwriter Robert Siegel for making the narrative interesting from start to finish. The business machinations are clear, understandable. I don't know if the story is historically accurate, but none of it is implausible. Kroc was not the originator of McDonalds. It was two brothers, wonderfully played by screen vets John Carroll Lynch and Nick Offerman, who preferred to stay local. Kroc created the empire that feeds, according to a blurb at film's end, 19% of the world. Did he screw his associates? In part, but each walked away with more than a million dollars after taxes. Laura Dern brings her usual excellence to the part of Kroc's first wife, as does Linda Cardellini as the more famous second, Joan. The scene I enjoyed most was the pair playing piano and singing Kroc's favorite song, Pennies from Heaven, in a restaurant. The scenes of the original restaurant's efficiency are outstanding, fascinating. The flick flopped at the box office, which is not surprising, as it is not commercial material. Made on a budget of $25 million, its worldwide box office take fell more than a million short of that, which was probably recouped in DVD sales and rentals and streaming. 52,000+ users at IMDb have rated The Founder, forging to a consensus of 7.2 on a scale of ten. I'd go a little higher. It runs less than two hours and, outside of a few cusses, would offend only anti-capitalists. Here's a quote from the movie: "I know what you're thinking. How's a milkshake salesman build a fast food empire with an annual revenue of $700 million? Persistence." Isn't that the requirement for any endeavor, including writing?

The NFL has suspended Cowboys' star running back Ezekiel Elliot six games for a pattern of boorish behavior toward women. I bet it will be reduced on appeal. Let's hope he learns his lesson. I'm not optimistic.

The floating book shop will not be in operation today, as I'm off to south Jersey for my great niece Danielle's birthday party.
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