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Friday, August 30, 2013

David Griggs-Janower: In Memoriam

Soft Stillness and the Night Dept.: After repeatedly running into David Janower at P.D.Q. Bach concerts in Manhattan, it only seemed right to collaborate when he presented his own concert of Peter Schickele’s delightful discoveries around 1985. It was my only time singing among the frighteningly good members of Albany Pro Music, and it was the first time that Tom Savoy and I performed (singing the P.D.Q. Bach “Twelve Quite Heavenly Songs”) with someone other than Tom at the piano, something we thenceforth pursued in our cabaret shows. But to say we owe that to Janower is to risk minimizing the man’s incredible contributions to the musical life of the Albany area – contributions in many concert halls, at the university where he taught, and in the lives of the countless people he trained, encouraged, or otherwise influenced. His passing leaves an unfillable void. I offer the review below as but one example of the many times I had the pleasure of reviewing his ensemble.


David Griggs-Janower
Photo by Gary Gold
THE VOICES OF ALBANY PRO MUSICA are pushed into precarious realms, unsupported by any instrumental forces, then cruelly manipulated by founder/conductor David Griggs-Janower. The result is the most sublime singing you'll hear in this or many another area.

Like any skilled ensemble, they can venture into areas of the repertory that leave the merely adequate far behind. Unlike many ensembles, they continue to grow and explore. We in the audience reap the bounty of this, especially this time of year when music is cheap and shopping expensive.

Last night’s concert at the First Reformed Church in Schenectady was a virtuoso job gorgeously done, a program that was as much about vocal texture as about Christmas.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Back to School Dining Special

Keeping It Platonic Dept.: Welcome back to class. As you know, the two volumes of Alcibiades ascribed to Plato are assumed to be spurious, and we’re not about to fight that opinion here except to note that the even lesser-known third volume makes the first two look like works of genius. Authentic or not, the following excerpt compellingly examines a problem faced by all back-to-college students, unless you’re sitting in a cave somewhere staring at firelit shadows.


THE THIRD ALCIBIADES, Probably Written by Some Manner of PR Flack to Plato;
Translated by John Burnet (although some terms obviously resisted translation)

Persons of the Dialogue: Socrates, Alcibiades and the Delivery Guy

Socrates: Now that you are newly returned to Academe, Alcibiades, will you offer a prayer to Zeus?

Alcibiades: I shall pray to Zeus to grant me something other than the tiresome sameness of what must be reckoned as drab cafeteria food, no matter that it be dressed with fancier monikers and sluiced with snappier sauces than was characteristic of my high-school grub.

Socrates: Ah, poor soul! To lack satisfactory corporeal nourishment is to starve the mind as well. You do speak as if your brain cries out for a pork chop or something.

Alcibiades: Why, friend Socrates, I have achieved my majority, reached man’s estate, and I may state with confidence that I find myself at what surely must be the peak of my aesthetic sensibilities. Yet I am wearied by the prospect of another nine months of munching this shit.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Infant in Arms

Guest Blogger Dept.: Another bit of doggerel by the indefatigable P. G. Wodehouse, which carries the note: “It is suggested that children should be trained in shooting
and scouting from the very earliest age.”


MY CHILD, AWAY with your
     toys and games.
No more on the floor shall roll
The painted indiarubber globe,
To gladden your infant soul.
No more shall your rattle whirr:
     no more
Shall the gay tin trumpet toot:
My child, it is time that you
     learned to drill;
It is time that you learned to shoot.

Time was when Spillikins
     caused you joy,
When you played with a model train,
When Pigs-in-clover was
     deemed enough
To foster your growing brain.
Time was when you rode
     on a rocking-horse,
Or petted the local cat;
Time was when you worried the patient dog –
We are going to change all that.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

How to Sell on eBay

History Lesson Dept.: Here’s a decade-old piece of mine that still is marginally pertinent, and at the very least gives an idea of how much eBay has changed during the intervening years.


“EBAY IS THE BEST THING ever to happen to the used book business,” a fellow in that business confided recently. “I pick any old book out of the stacks, put it on display with some information that makes it sound important, and guaranteed someone is going to buy it to try to get more money for it on an online auction.”

AP Photo
During its nearly eight years of existence, eBay has become (according to their believable claim) the most-visited site on the Internet. “On any given day,” the company bio observes, “there are more than 12 million items listed on eBay across 18,000 categories. In 2002, eBay members transacted $14.87 billion in annualized gross merchandise sales.”

People spend their time doing little but selling stuff on eBay; I know people who seem to do little but browse the site. And I’ve been sucked into it, too, keeping track of auctions of things I really have no business pursuing, but there they are, I know I can raise the money by the end of the week, and if I just sit tight and watch the listing. . . .

Monday, August 26, 2013

Morning Bugle

Personal Narrative Dept.: One of the perks, if you can call it that, of taking Speech Class in high school was being tapped to make the morning announcements over the school’s public address system. Here are some tales from the trenches.


“WE ASK THAT YOU rise for our national anthem, and remain standing for the ever-popular pledge to the flag!” With those words, intoned in his finest Alexander Scourby style, my friend Harry Minot got himself tossed off the morning announcements team. Richly influenced by the Firesign Theater and the Goon Shows, Harry believed – correctly, in my view – that a little levity was needed to make this Friday-morning ritual palatable.

We’re back in the days of vinyl. The “Star-Spangled Banner” recording, jingoistic by its mere presence, was scratchy and, in purely audio terms, vile-sounding. And the Pledge of Allegiance, enhanced in the Eisenhower Era to satisfy nervous theists, only spurred further anger against Nixon’s government for sluicing us – us teenagers – into a needless war he refused to end.

Harry was more of a candidate for conscription than I – my eighteenth birthday arrived after the draft had wound down, although my lottery number would have been 118 had I bothered to register – and shared the growing country-wide cynicism about the boss-led Business of Patriotism.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Stravinsky and His World

IF YOU CAN DEVOTE but one day to a Bard Summerscape composer series, you should go whole hog. A Saturday, for example, starts with a 10 AM talk, and breaks in time for you to nibble the lunch you packed on the pleasant lawn. At 1 PM there’s a pre-concert talk, followed by a chamber-music performance guaranteed to give more variety than anything in a standard concert series.

Leon Botstein and the ASO
The hamlet of Tivoli beckons after that, with enough choice of restaurant that you’ll be recharged in time for the 7 PM lecture that prepares you for the evening’s orchestral event. Series organizer, conductor, speaker (and Bard president) Leon Botstein believes that it’s part of the Academy’s responsibility to present music and ideas you won’t easily encounter elsewhere, so prepare to engage and be engaged for a very long day.

Last Saturday offered just such a scenario, but one that I feared would be excessive even for die-hard me. I left the evening concert just as a showing of the Alain Resnais movie “Night and Fog” was getting underway (at 10:15 PM), because I feared it would postpone my departure until nearly midnight, and it’s a long drive home, and I had to pack for a trip ... anyway. Only later did I discover the film is a half-hour long. I would’ve stayed!

Hanns Eisler, a Stravinsky contemporary, wrote the film score, which was played by the American Symphony during the film. Unlike Stravinsky, Eisler was politically outspoken, and got the boot from HUAC in 1948. Bernstein and Copland made public statements on Eisler’s behalf; Stravinsky did not. What was his attitude towards and relationship with repressive regimes?

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Come into the Garden

Cabaret Team Casual | Mohonk Mountain House
Photo by Lily Whiteman | 19 August 2013

Friday, August 23, 2013

No Use Complaning

Family Values Dept.: I suppose if family members actually got along with one another, there would be no theater. This production certainly exorcised a few of my demons.


WE KNOW THAT PROFUNDITIES are strewn throughout the smalltalk that comprises most of our conversations, and what little self-awareness we cultivate these days probably goes to trying to pluck any such clues out of it. Thus does our make-believe contentedness continue.

Elizabeth Aspenlieder and Tina Packer.
Photo by Enrico Spada.
Playwrights long ago learned to burnish such talk for its cumulative power, and Martin McDonagh’s “Beauty Queen of Leenane,” written in 1996, takes place in an oppressively shabby Connemara kitchen where mother and daughter verbally tangle over such seeming inanities as the lumpiness of Mom’s energy drink and her reluctance to use hot enough water to smooth it.

With his first play out, McDonagh waded into the peat-burning hovels that had become so popular in Irish plays, but took a scalpel of black humor to the setup, giving us four characters so bounded by self-imposed limitations that their attempts to meaningfully connect with one another go awry at every turn.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Where Do You Start?

Credit Where Due Dept.: Nothing sparks awareness of my superannuated sensibility more than songs – and songwriting. As a teen, I schooled myself on the standards, the enduring classics from our musical theater heritage that were written at a time when it was unremarkable for a Tin Pan Alley song to scan and rhyme correctly. Even the dreck – of which there was plenty – at least was well-crafted. Having bitched about this recently to some friends, I’m reminded that I’ve been carping like this for a long time, with proof provided by the 28-year-old review below.


STARTING HERE, STARTING NOW, a musical revue by Richard Maltby Jr. and David Shire, is a string of songs that examines love, disappointment in love, and the triumph of jaunty self-regard.

As performed by the combined efforts of the Schenectady Light Opera Company and Siena College at SLOC’s Opera House in Schenectady, it demonstrates that good performances can make an enjoyable evening out of material that never really rises above the mediocre.

Director Mark A. Heckler, head of Siena’s theater department, puts the five members of the cast through a well-staged, energetic series of sequences with stunning choreography by Marion Nazarian. The cast members themselves are seven in number, with different people appearing in different performances. They are: Linda Lane Ammon, Andrew Di Donna, Denise Angela Gagne, Gail Garrison, Michael Pipa, Christine M. Redway and Pete Simmonds.

The setting is a bare stage with five stools; the cast appears in costumes of black and white –  mostly black, actually, with prop hats and canes added for effect during the second half.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Cathedral at the Chapel

Leon Fleisher Dept.: For several days I’ve been itching to listen to Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 1, my favorite recording of which features Leon Fleisher with George Szell conducting the Cleveland Orchestra. Finally got to it this morning, and it reminded me that Fleisher, who just turned 85, is still performing – and has just been honored with a box set from Sony containing all of his Columbia recordings (including the Brahms). Seven years ago, he performed in Schenectady; here’s my review.


ALTHOUGH PIANIST LEON FLEISHER’S hands tend to be his limbs most under scrutiny, I spent the duration of Debussy’s “Submerged Cathedral” – one of the composer’s evocative preludes – studying the performer’s right foot.

Leon Fleisher | Photo by Joanne Savio
That’s the foot activating the “loud” pedal, allowing the instrument’s strings to vibrate freely as long as the pedal is depressed. If you’ve tried it, you know that it encourages an inchoate wash of sound.

Such wasn’t the case with the prelude, which builds chord upon chord as it fashions a portrait of – well, a submerged cathedral is as good as any other. Under Fleisher’s superbly modulated touch, the chords seemed to float (appropriately) into one another, each with a fuzzy shimmer of sound. Adding to the challenge is the slow crescendo informing the first half of the piece, even more of a test of the balance between pedal and keys.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Come up to My Place

With Malcolm Kogut and Amy Prothro
Mohonk Festival of the Arts | 18 August 2013

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Living History

Mohonk Dept.: I’m heading again to perform at Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz, NY, one of the last of the old-fashioned, all-inclusive, doesn’t-get-more-comfortable-than-this resorts. I’ve written about Mohonk’s foodservice here. Now I’ll share a piece I wrote a decade ago.


THE SECRET OF MOHONK is something no event planner or interior designer could ever achieve. It’s based on the age of the place, which was built between 1869 and 1910. It’s sparked by the Quaker sensibilities of the Smiley family who built it and who, generations later, still own it. The dress code is definitely a throwback to an earlier era; so too, it can be argued, is the unfailing hospitality of the staff.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson | 17 January 2003
Jack Finney’s novel Time and Again suggested that time travel could be achieved by putting yourself so thoroughly in the milieu of your destination that you easily slip into the past. This is what happens at Mohonk. You don’t notice it at first. But once you finish the long drive up the switchback road and surrender your car at the entrance, the pace begins to slow. There’s no TV set in your room. Your connection with the outside world evaporates quickly.

You’re becoming part of history. If it were possible to view from afar the guests at Mohonk– if you could see yourself even after only a day on the premises, you’d see someone moving a little more slowly, someone thus able to enjoy the splendors of nature. You’d see a living museum.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

A Little Ado

How to Conduct Yourself Dept.: Erich Leinsdorf was an assistant to Toscanini in Salzburg, music director of the Boston Symphony, author of some fascinating books about music, and, once he put Boston behind him, a freelance conductor around the world. He made regular visits to Saratoga to conduct the Philadelphia Orchestra, and I phone-interviewed him in advance of one such visit in 1984. It was a wide-ranging talk that ended too soon. “Come and see me while I’m here,” he insisted, so we met at the Gideon Putnam Hotel, where he was staying.
Erich Leinsdorf

Among the many topics we discussed was the issue of opera in English, for which I’m a strong advocate when on these shores. “I don’t know that I agree,” he said, “unless it’s a comedy.”

“I have a good example of that,” I said. “I just saw ‘Beatrice and Benedict’ at Tanglewood. It was in French, so only a fluent speaker of that language could follow it.”

“Who was conducting?” he asked sharply.

“Ozawa,” I said.

“Ah,” said Leinsdorf. “Then he was conducting it in Flench. That’s what he does over there in Renox.”

Here’s my review.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Musing on the Road

Way Back When Dept.: A new orchestra sprang up in the Albany area couple of decades ago to satisfy the needs of choral groups that needed such forces from time to time. The St. Cecilia Orchestra was an ensemble comprising the best players, and it even was able to put together its own season of adventurous programming. Internal fractiousness eventually took its toll; as one of its former conductors put it, in a different context, it was “too good to be true.” Here’s a piece I wrote about a run-out the group made to appear on Boston’s WGBH.


TWO HOURS BEFORE BROADCAST TIME, Anne-Marie Barker looks stricken. She is pale and nervous. Only when she settles into her seat as concertmaster of the St. Cecilia Chamber Orchestra and begins to rehearse with the other players does a measure of composure return.

The St. Cecilia Orchestra in Boston;
Antonin Kubalek at the piano,
Alfredo Bonavera conducting.

She explained it on the bus the day before: “Too much pressure. I'm just – I can't believe everything it takes to put this together.”

She’s referring to a visit by the orchestra to Boston public radio station WGBH and its popular program, Morning Pro Musica. The group has been invited for its second appearance to perform in the studio for a live broadcast with host Robert J. Lurtsema.

Composer Bohuslav Martinu is being honored on the centenary of his birth; Lurtsema has been presenting recordings of Martinu’s music throughout the past few weeks and the St. Cecilia performance of his Sinfonietta Giocosa for Piano and Small Orchestra will be a highlight.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

And the Playwright

Guest Blogger Dept.: Speaking of theater, let’s enjoy Alexander Woollcott's screed on censorship. He gives us the perspective of 1922. Little revising would be needed to update this essay.


EVERY AMERICAN PLAYWRIGHT goes about his work these days oppressed by a foreboding. He suspects that before long a censor is going to materialize out of thin air to take stern and morose charge of the American theatre. It is true that no statutory precipitation of such an agent has been definitely proposed. It is true that the policeman from the nearest corner has not gone so far as to drop around and warn him that he'd better be careful. Nevertheless, he has the foreboding. He perceives dimly that a desire to chasten the stage is in the air. And he is right. It, is. It has been ever since the war.

Alexander Woollcott rescuing the Playwright
from the awful shears of the Censor.
Drawing by Ralph Barton
Of course an itch to lay hands on the theatre was begetting restlessness in the American bosom considerably prior to April 6, 1917. It is part of this country’s Puritan inheritance to believe that playgoing is somehow bad, that an enjoyment and patronage of the theatre is sinful. This belief flows as an unconscious undercurrent in the thought even of those clergymen who try pathetically hard to seem and be liberal and unpharisaical, the kind who always begin their lectures on Avery Hopwood by saying that they yield to no one in their admiration and respect for the many splendid ladies and gentlemen of the stage whom they are proud to number among their acquaintances.

Shaw, in his comparatively mild-mannered preface to “The Showing Up of Blanco Posnet,” recognizes the Puritan hostility to the theatre, but, somewhat perversely, ascribes it to the fact that the promenoirs have always been used as show-windows by the courtesans of each generation. I suspect, however, that that hostility was more deeply rooted. The Puritans disliked the theatre because it was jolly. It was a place where people went in deliberate quest of enjoyment. And you weren’t supposed to do that on earth. Plenty of time for that later on.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Poplar Heroes

THANKS TO ITS OPENING MOMENT, “Heroes” assures us from the start that it won’t turn into too-talky BBC-type fare. That opening moment is silence. Long, long – for a piece of non-Pinter entertainment – silence. And when it’s broken, leading to Jonathan Epstein’s just-right placement of the punchline, we have a taste of the play’s character and quirkiness.

Robert Lohbauer (Henri), Jonathan Epstein (Gustave),
Malcolm Ingram (Phillipe). Photo by Kevin Sprague
And if Epstein’s character – the phlegmatic war-veteran Gustave – seems a little over-cynical, we’ll soon get a sense of why that’s so.

“Heroes” is a three-hander written in 2003 (as “Le vent des peupliers”) by Gérald Sibleyras, translated from the French and re-titled by Tom Stoppard. There’s a Stoppard-esque breeze to some of the dialogue, but it’s not a Stoppard show. The plot, such as it is, concerns Gustave and two other WWI vets, residents at a countryside home for old soldiers as 1959 comes to an end. It's part of the current Shakespeare & Co. season in Lenox, Mass., a season fancifully themed “rebellion and revolution,” and a production that runs through September 1.

Phillipe, played by Malcolm Ingram, is thoughtful and imaginative; too busy to correspond with his sister, but convinced of a birthday-related conspiracy at the home. He’s also given to sudden fainting spells. The cheerful Henri, who supports a gammy leg with a walking stick, is played by Robert Lohbauer. As we learn more about each man’s history, we better understand why it is they interact with one another as they do – as old friends who bicker and confide – and the common dream that draws them to an inevitable finish.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Regina Resnik Remembered

Stubborn Stains Dept.: On April 30, 2003, I was excused from a rehearsal of “The Wizard of Oz” with the NY State Theatre Institute in Troy, NY, to participate in a press conference – swapping, suddenly, my actor’s hat for my journalist’s. “Regina Resnik is in town,” I was told. “We already talked to Metroland for you. We need someone at this luncheon who actually knows who she is.

Regina Resnik | 30 April 2003
Photo by B. A. Nilsson
I’m enough of an opera fan to have been very aware of her reputation. I’d seen her in the NYC Opera’s “A Little Night Music.” But I had only scant familiarity with her work at the Met, at Bayreuth, at the Royal Opera – at all the great halls. So it was very intimidating to placed beside her at a restaurant table ringed with other area reporters and PR people.

She was a majestically imposing figure radiating a strong sense of self-assurance. “I never know what to order at events like this,” she confided as she studied the menu. Food! A great conversational opening. “I know what you mean,” I said. “I’m looking at the burger here, but I know that when I take my first bite, it’ll squirt out the other side and land on my sweater where my gut sticks out.”

“That happens to me all the time!” she whispered, laughing. “Look at this!” She indicated an ample bosom. “Every blouse I own has a stain right across here!”

Friday, August 09, 2013

Sing, Sing, and Sing Again

Kingdom of Swing Dept.: Clarinet wizard Ken Peplowski is coming back to town. He’ll be at Proctors in Schenectady at 2 PM Sunday, Oct. 13, with the Capitol Center Jazz Orchestra and singer Patty Barkas performing a  Benny Goodman tribute – specifically, a tribute to the famous January 1938 Carnegie Hall concert. Peps has been here before, and my review below is a reminder of why I can’t wait to see him again.


ONE OF THE VERY FEW young people in the audience approached the CD sales table during intermission, where singer Kim Liggett asked what instrument he plays. “What don’t I play!” he responded. Obviously, she knew the sad truth that the only youthful attendees would be musicians.

Ken Peplowski
Clarinetist-bandleader Ken Peplowski paid tribute last week to Benny Goodman’s famous 1938 Carnegie Hall concert, with a 13-piece band of crack jazz players who more than fulfilled the challenge thus presented. From the familiar opening bars of “Don’t Be That Way” to the frenetic finish of their final encore, “Swingime in the Rockies,” the ensemble reminded us why that form of jazz called swing dominated the pop charts in the ’30s and ’40s.

It was an era of star players, with Goodman the most famous, so his incursion into Manhattan’s hallowed hall was inevitable. Drummer Gene Krupa and trumpeter Harry James were among the 1938 band members; in Peplowski’s group, drummer Chuck Redd and trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso replicated those roles.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

City Flights

AS RED-GOWNED Angelica Bongiovanni crept onto the stage, in the opening minutes of “Cirkopolis,” she was pursued by an outsized hula-hoop, nearly six feet in diameter, catlike in its ease of movement and apparent wish to rub Bongiovanni around the ankles.

Angelica Bongiovanni
She moves from merely dancing with it – it’s called a Cyr wheel, designed by and named for one of the Cirque Éloize founders – to taking a through-the-looking-glass trip to its interior. It carries her in sweeping arcs around the stage. She seems weightless. The wheel seems to be controlling her as it settles and climbs and spins her upside-down.

Coming, as it does, after an industrially soul-crushing prologue, it seems pastoral. It looks beautiful. Bongiovanni’s breathtaking skill is an afterthought.

“Cirkoplis,” the latest spectacle from Montreal’s Cirque Éloize, welcomes us with an office space used by shows as diverse as “The Adding Machine” and “Gatz.” It’s the office through which Charles Laughton shambles in search of escape in “If I Had a Million.” And the gears heavily cranking in the impressive video backdrop remind us that it’s also the assembly line of “Modern Times.”

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Shacking Up

Spa City History Dept.: The current chef-owner, Jasper Alexander, makes chicken according to Hattie’s recipe, even as he has made appropriate adjustments to the look and feel – and menu – of the venerable eatery. But there was a magic about Hattie herself, something I felt when I met her in 1987 to write the piece below. And check out her page at the National Women’s History Museum site.


UNDERSTAND SOMETHING: four stars for ambience doesn't always mean the posh swank of a fancy hotel. The sign over 45 Phila Street reads, simply, “Shack.” 

Photo by Michael Noonan
Inside it’s a crazy jumble of tables, pushed kind of close together, with an aging jukebox in one corner and photos and memorabilia hanging on the walls.

A long counter parallels the back wall; behind that wall is the kitchen which you can glimpse from time to time as Bill Austin carries food with the dignity of a man who knows he’s serving the world’s finest fried chicken.

Which is exactly what he’s doing and has been doing for close to 50 years. And it’s his wife, Hattie, who makes the magic happen back there.

Her chicken shack has been a Saratoga Springs institution since 1938, first at Congress and Federal and then, when urban renewal hit 17 years ago, on Phila Street.

Bill laughs at a rumor that he’s retiring and the Shack will close down. “I have no plans for that,” he insists, wearing his trademark formal shirt and crushed-velvet bow tie.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

The Fable of the Slim Girl Who Tried to Keep a Date That Was Never Made

Guest Blogger Dept.: It’s George Ade time again. Here’s another one of his Fables in Slang. They appeared originally in the Chicago Record, and the first published collection was issued in 1899, from which this one originates. Illustrations are by Clyde J. Newman.


ONCE UPON A TIME there was a slim Girl with a Forehead which was Shiny and Protuberant, like a Bartlett Pear. When asked to put Something in an Autograph Album she invariably wrote the Following, in a tall, dislocated Back-Hand:
“Life is Real; life is Earnest,
And the Grave is not its Goal.”
That’s the kind of a Girl she was.

In her own Town she had the Name of being a Cold Proposition, but that was because the Primitive Yokels of a One-Night Stand could not Attune Themselves to the Views of one who was troubled with Ideals. Her Soul Panted for the Higher Life.

Alas, the Rube Town in which she Hung Forth was given over to Croquet, Mush and Milk Sociables, a lodge of Elks and two married Preachers who doctored for the Tonsilitis. So what could the Poor Girl do?

In all the Country around there was not a Man who came up to her Plans and Specifications for a Husband. Neither was there any Man who had any time for Her. So she led a lonely Life, dreaming of the One—the Ideal. He was a big and pensive Literary Man, wearing a Prince Albert coat, a neat Derby Hat and godlike Whiskers. When He came he would enfold Her in his Arms and whisper Emerson’s Essays to her.

Monday, August 05, 2013

A Bone to Pick

Personal Narrative Dept.: In the summer of 1972 I was sixteen years old and desperately in love, or so I termed the infatuation that consumed me. Carol was my obsession, my dream, my goal, my despair. She also was my friend, although I didn’t realize it at the time. She suffered me a couple of dates but declined the romance component. This particular day started as sunny and hot in the morning and only got hotter, which I perspired off as I bicycled the five miles from my house to hers. A trip I made in order to “accidentally” show up at her door, which she graciously indulged by walking with me for a while, carrying on a conversation she deftly steered away from my whiny attempts at professing adoration.

She had to leave for work at noon. As I pedaled back towards town my frustration at not being able to stake a solid claim to her heart was mitigated by the joy of just having been able to walk with her along the pleasant, tree-lined street. When I reached Ridgefield center, my infatuation had rebounded to full strength. I was insufferably happy.

Town Hall stands at the crossroads of Main Street and Bailey Avenue, and the low brick wall that separated the building’s patio from the sidewalk was a favorite hanging-out place. I met a schoolmate named Dave Gehly and we decided to wander in search of lunch – but he had a great idea to pursue first.

“Do you know Harry Thomas, the blacksmith? He’s got a great shop to hang out in.”

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Navitel TouchPhone

Dinosaur Tech Dept.: Here’s an example of the breathless hype I was asked to write for computer magazines that paid well but butchered copy. Not surprisingly, little trace of this product and company remain.


PLACE A PHONE CALL, get a sports score. Read your e-mail, check the weather forecast. Navitel’s new TouchPhone puts Internet access and conventional phone calling into one handy instrument that comes complete with a touch screen and Windows CE software.

It’s such a practical device that Buzz is almost embarrassed to remind you that we predicted this kind of gadget with last year’s debut of Microsoft’s portable operating system. And it’s the first obvious step in what we expect to be a steady progression of Windows CE-based devices throughout your home.

Caller ID and voice mail are built into the TouchPhone, and there’s even a traditional keyboard hidden under the machine. By default it calls for your e-mail every hour, and you can fetch info from favorite Web sites. Use the easy TouchFinger interface to check your inbox, update the address book--or, if you’re using the TouchPhone 200 with its high-resolution screen and 28.8K modem, to stay online and browse the Web. This is smart phone with a master’s degree.
TouchPhone * Navitel * Model 100 (low-res screen and 14.4K modem): $299 * Model 200 (high-res screen and 28.8K modem): $499 * Available July-August * (415) 462-9171 *

Computer Life, July 1997   

Friday, August 02, 2013

Couch-Surfing Culture

Gazette’s Loss Dept.: Yet another of the trial pieces I wrote in hope of landing a steady gig as a columnist for the Schenectady Gazette (which didn't happen). So much has changed since 1990, and so little.


COULD IT BE that convenience is the worst enemy of the arts? We enjoy the stories of the deprivation suffered by many of our favorite painters and composers and writers and such, but we associate art with entertainment and entertainment with ease, as if a good symphony should be the aural equivalent of a few days on a Bermuda shore.

Every discipline has its special range of conflict. Ballet still battles modern in the dance world, even as painting pits realism against the abstract. Sift through the rest: you know where the lines are drawn.

On one side of all of them is a conservative audience element that consumes only art that’s been pre-digested, sinking a lot of money into it in the process.

But the price of everything associated with arts consumption – seats, travel, accomodations and so on – is spiralling ever higher even as more sophisticated entertainment equipment is sold for the home.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Particular Passions

Ow! Dept.: I just saw a terrific production of “Camelot” at the Glimmerglass Opera, but you’ll have to wait until Thursday for my Metroland review. Meanwhile, here’s what I wrote about another of the current productions.


MUSICAL PORTRAITS OF SUFFERING and pain probably go back to the beginnings of song, and the musical techniques of rendering it have since then grown ever more intricate. Our ears are long accustomed to the flatted third and its plangent cousins, but that’s not to dismiss the music of long ago: a dolorous Dowland lute piece still packs the punch of a good “Gloomy Sunday.”

Nadine Sierra and Anthony Roth Costanzo in
Stabat Mater. Photo by Karli Cadel
The suffering captured by Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater and Lang’s the little match girl passion underscores the original Latin root of the word “passion,” with the added Xian gloss that it’s good for you. Which is a perfect form of exploitation insofar as it relies upon abstraction rather than direct abuse, and has proven deliriously effective at emptying proletarian pocketbooks.

Glimmerglass’s double-bill dubbed Passion shows us two stages of such suffering: the look-who-loves-you-enough-to-have-done-it-for-you of Pergolesi, and the Match Girl’s you-are-ennobled-by-doing-it-yourself. And they’ve very effective.