Sunday, November 27, 2022

Draft Dodger Rag

You may be wondering why the hell I joined the Navy during the Vietnam War, and sometimes I wonder myself. It was certainly easy enough to get out of being drafted, to get 4-F'd, to just forget about the whole thing and ignore the news. 

This song may have had something to do with my joining up. I didn't want to be this guy. 

At least in the Navy you had your "three-hots-and-a-spot," three hot meals and a bed to sleep in. 

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Four Dead In Fiery Car Crash In Queens

Teenagers dying in car crashes was a common occurrence in New York during the 1960s. The streets of New York, particularly the boroughs of Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx, were largely devoid of car traffic after one or so in the morning, but they were fraught with danger for any regular Joe driving home from a straight job with weird hours. There was a lot of “joy riding” going on. I think that it's safe to say that this was true every night. And why not? It was certainly fun, and nothing could have been easier.

The teenagers would at least be drunk, even if they were under age. Obtaining all of the beer that you could afford was no challenge at all. Nor was buying Robitussin, or pain killers. CIBAs were popular, and available over-the-counter at a small number of legitimate drug stores that were having trouble paying their rents. The owner would simply charge fifty or sixty percent over retail to teenagers without prescriptions. The cars of that era were ridiculously easy to steal.

All two-door GM hardtops had no “B” post. That's the solid part which separates the doors on a four-door car. No B-post made it easy to pull up the lock button with a piece of coat hanger. Once inside the car, all you needed was a screw-driver. There was a chrome plate where you inserted the key, if you had one, and all you had to do was pop it off with a screw-driver. What you saw then was a bronze disc with a slot in the middle. Insert screw-driver into bronze plate and turn clockwise and you had ignition. It all took about forty-seconds.

I am neither proud nor ashamed to say that I participated in this activity, although I prefer to keep most of the details to myself.

The night that I found myself recalling just now was in 1964, best guess, maybe early 1965. My best friend at the time was another Fred. It's funny how the same name can be handled in very different ways, isn't it? His birth-certificate said, “Fred,” while mine said, “Frederick.” Also, he went by “Freddie,” while I went by “Freddy.” Anyway, we two Freds were out driving one night. Of course, we were drunk. Neither of us owned the car that we were riding in. The other Fred was driving, and he had a famously heavy foot. The car was a 1961 Oldsmobile, which was a big, heavy car, with a huge engine. Plus the usual lousy brakes and shitty balloon tires.

It was a beautiful night, not too hot, not too cold, not raining or snowing. One of those rare nights in New York when the weather is not somehow making you miserable. The event, or the circumstances that might have led to an event as described in the above title, occurred at about three a.m. We were taking the car “back.” The custom was to park the car either in the spot that you drove it out of, or close. That was the polite thing to do under the circumstances. We were good boys in most ways.

There was a hill, which sounds a lot simpler than the reality of it. 122 Street running north was on high ground until you got to Eleventh Avenue. Right at the Avenue, the street fell off into a very steep hill. One where you could clearly see that the houses lining both sides had foundations that were built at a considerable angle. One side was, still is, about one or two feet, and the other side is about five or six feet. That's a four foot drop within a frontage of less then thirty feet. I'll let the next guy figure out what that makes the angle of the hill. “I'm a lawyer Jim, not a civil-engineer!”

Cresting that hill, going north, a driver was completely unaware of what was in store for him on the other side. Fred, the other one, had an idea that he had long entertained. He wondered how much “air” a car could get heading into that downfall at, let's say, 100 mph.

Now this is a narrow street, with barely enough room for two cars. Both curbs were full of parked cars. Way in advance of the hill, Freddie announced his intention to give it a try. He hit the gas, hard, and the car shot forward. I simply smiled and relaxed, vaguely hoping that the coast was clear and naively trusting fate after my usual fashion. We got to the edge, and while I cannot say how fast we were actually going, or whether the tires actually left the ground, the results were enough to make a big impression on anyone.

We did temporarily lose sight of the actual road, and the bounce, or bounces, must have been a sight to see. I'm sure that the sparks were most impressive. When we could focus on the road again, we were mercifully in its middle, going straight, and there was not another moving car in sight. Gott sei dank.

If there had been a car coming up that hill, and it was in just the wrong place at just the wrong time, the resulting accident would have been at a combined speed of at least 100 mph. We were probably doing seventy, and the other car a more judicious thirty. We would have taken out a few of the parked cars in the process, and all four people in the cars would have perished. That one would have made the papers. We both laughed at our good fortune, and Freddie wanted to try it again because he “hadn't been going fast enough.” I had no desire to roll those bones a second time, so I suggested that we just take the car back and get some sleep. That's what we did.

1964, '65, that would make me sixteen at the time. Freddie too. We were both still in high school. Neither of us had a license to drive. Serious accidents which did kill one or more of the teenagers in the “borrowed” car were so common that they didn't make the papers. They did, however, ruin lives. The drunk and reckless driver of the car killed one or more of his friends. That one stays with you. The dead have lost their futures, and their families have lost a son, perhaps their only son, or even their only child. There was one that still bothers me, because the boys were a few years younger than me and I knew the big sister of the driver very well. In that case, it actually was his car and he did have a license, but I think the boys were only seventeen. The driver survived. He was also driving on 122 Street, further south, when he lost control and went over the curb into the columnar post of an old field-stone wall. The post was hardly scratched, but the car was crushed and set ablaze. I guess the owner/ driver was thrown in a magically perfect way; his passenger and best friend died.

The passenger's name was Bobby Kerr. He was movie-star handsome and universally liked in town. People still tear up when they think about it. I would trade places with Bobby in a minute, because I'm sure that he would have made much more of a success of his life than I have.

I am certain that neither of us would have born any malice towards the drivers who killed us. They were friends that we loved, and we were both willing participants in the wild-ass excitement of driving way too fast on rather narrow, pot-holed, unpredictable roads.

This was all a long time ago, but from what I hear from friends, our old town is still subject to teenage mischief in the midnight hours. Methodologies and the drugs of preference have changed along the way, but the behavior persists. On a bright note, the teenagers are still good boys most of the time, and the friendship groups are now multi-ethnic. At least that's an improvement.

Ed: I only used real names sparingly, and only because both of those individuals are dead. Freddie has been dead for some time, but he did live to grow up, get married, and have a family of his own. We both joined the Navy in 1967. After that he stayed near his last duty station and I only saw him once or twice. I'm sure that he remained the handsome, silver-tongued devil that we remember so well, going back to grade school. I'm also sure that he and Bobby are resting in the peace that waits for all of us.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Bessie Griffin - Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child

I know that I have been a disappointment to many people in my life. My parents, my first wife, maybe even my second wife, probably my children. In their treatment of me, it is obvious that they feel no need to hide their disappointment. 

But, call me crazy, I think that I was a good son, at least until their ridiculous mistreatment of me drove me into a shell. I think that I was a pretty good husband to my first wife. I was at least as good a spouse as she was. She was no saint, and she could be a real pain in the ass. But I didn't complain. She gave me a family, and I loved them, I loved them all. In the end, after forty years, she kicked me out like a filthy, biting dog. I think that I've been a great husband to my second wife, but people often have unreasonable expectations. Think of poor Lord Jim. He doesn't survive his book by Joseph Conrad. 

My sons, I have no idea what their complaints are. It's a mystery to me. What did I do to them? We, they, have a thousand photographs. We did things; we went places; we took nice vacations; we were all smiling! Isn't it cruel to deny a man any contact at all with his two granddaughters? I know parents who failed miserably in the roll but whose children lack the gall to exclude them from their grandchildren's lives. 

I complain, as usual. Maybe that's the point. I never deserved any of it, and shutting the door on me is the only proper response. 

Monday, November 21, 2022

Our Town - Marshall Crenshaw

Marshall Crenshaw might have been too over on the mild side for the rockers, and too old-timey for the kids, and too proper for the hipsters, but he was a hit with me from the first listen. My little sister, God love her, told me in a letter, "you should listen to this guy . . . you might like him." She was right. 

He was one of those YouTube hold outs, you know, "NO MARSHALL CRENSHAW FOR YOU." He had his own web site where he was trying to sell the stuff. He gave up a few years ago, like many musicians, and figured that YouTube listens will drive sales for tix to live events. Which he excels at, by the way. 

I hope he's making a living. I doubt if he sold enough of these records to retire to a private-jet lifestyle. So many of these musicians have brought me so much happiness that I sincerely wish them the best of good fortune. 

Sunday, November 13, 2022

The Rule Of Whose Law?

The “Rule of Law” is constitutionally understood to mean that the government must apply the principles of due process before applying force, or any other type of legal process, on anyone falling under the protection of due process. A closely related legal principle is probable cause. I still remember the bar-exam definition:

Probable cause is facts and circumstances which, in themselves, would cause a reasonable person to believe that 1) a crime had been committed; and 2) a particular person had committed that crime.

We see this on police TV shows and in cop movies all the time. “Yeah, but is it enough to take it to the judge?” They need evidence to back up their request for a warrant. The trouble is that now, in our crazy-quilt Never-Neverland of a country, probable cause means different things depending on the location of that jurisdiction and/ or the status of the alleged perpetrator.

The DA thinks: who is looking over our shoulder? The judge thinks: can I get yelled at if I sign this warrant? This same kind of variable thinking goes into the decision to indict someone for a crime. “Is it enough to take before a Grand Jury?” Location and status rule.

Let's say some famous snitch gets picked up with a couple of grams of coke in his pocket out in kickstump somewhere. Cops know him. “Fucked up again, 'eh Robbie? Got anything good for us this time?” Robbie, a duskie gentleman and a fine witness with plenty of experience, spins them a tale about two guys he knows that are planning to buy a half pound of powder cocaine, turn it into crack, and sell it forward. What's more, one of the guys has a sister that has a carry-permit for a gun, and sometimes she lets the brother borrow it.

What do you think? Do those police have probable cause to arrest the two black guys, and the sister, and charge them all with conspiracy to traffic in narcotics, including crack, backing up the conspiracy with a gun? In many jurisdictions they certainly do. Federal police in Washington DC did, in this matter.

They pick the three of them up for questioning. They're just in a bar having some laughs. The sister is not carrying her legal gun, that's at home locked up like it's supposed to be. The guys deny everything, and the girl doesn't have any idea what's going on. The bartender says, “everybody in this place is looking to make money off coke.” All three were placed under arrest.

Who that does coke occasionally doesn't just talk about it sometimes? Who that has no money never talks about how we could get some money? The snitch is a famous rat, and talk is cheap. Is this enough to indict the two guys for the conspiracy? One has a prior small coke bust; the other has an old assault rap from when he was a teenager. There's no real act in furtherance of the conspiracy. What about the sister? The sister has a clean record and a good job.

To me, it's all hearsay and the gun is properly licensed and legal.

I read about that one, and the set up was just like that. Very thin on the evidence. All three were charged and found guilty on the conspiracy, with the crack enhancement, and the gun enhancement. Federal; no parole; long bids.

The whole paradigm shifts when the allegations circle around a high-status individual.

Take our whiney little baby of an ex-president. Everybody knows he's been breaking the law on a daily basis since fucking forever. Since he's been out of office, how many times has he been subpoenaed to show up somewhere, or surrender some documents, and he just says, “no.” The New York State Attorney General finally got him to show up for a depo, and he answered the first question, “Fifth Amendment,” and the next 150 questions, “same answer.” And yet, he's still just waving his Schwanz at the legal establishment wherever he encounters it.

They did get a warrant to search for documents at his residence down on the flood plain, and they found a lot of them. They represented proof of a crime, and there was every indication that some of the documents had been sold or otherwise separated from their folders, and evidence that many additional boxes had been moved to other locations.

Where's the indictment? It was a legal warrant, they found the evidence of a crime, then they ran right out of gas.

For any of the crimes that he has been getting away with for decades, a small-timer like me would be in a basement cell in a Federal Penitentiary working on about 100 years. That's the white-privilege sentence; a black defendant would be doing the whole 225 years. Remember that cute little white girl who got ten years for ONE document?

Either I'm missing the point, or there are a lot of “unless” clauses in the Constitution that have escaped my notice.

Here, I've been thinking that the “Equal Protection” clause means that the law as it is written applies equally to white and black, rich and poor, etc. Maybe it actually means that the law applies to all rich, high-status individuals equally, while bearing in mind that it also applies to all low-status black individuals equally, although not in the same way as the high-status individuals, and in a still different way to all low-status white people, etc.

And to certain people, evidently, the law does not apply at all.

Bill Evans "Alfie"

I've been wondering, off and on, why Alfie didn't catch on more with the jazz players. I don't rush to the computer every time I get a random thought like that. I was happy with the occasional, Alfie, that would really work for a small jazz combo, wouldn't it? 

I came across this today, and I was happy that I did. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Saint John Coltrane

Coltrane was certainly a miracle of human potential. He was only a man, but he was way out in front of the other people plying the same trade, the trade of trying to make a living by playing jazz music. I love many of the musicians contemporaneous to Trane, but really, there's Trane, and there's everyone else. When it was Trane's turn to solo, he immediately exploded into a dimension that was unfamiliar to the other musicians. The question of, “what can I do to compete with that?” quickly became, “what the hell is that he's doing?” John Coltrane was on another level.

It's not surprising that many fans caught the scent of the divine in Trane's music.

Something like this had happened before with Charlie “Yardbird” (generally “Bird”) Parker. A church arose around the worship of Bird, with Bird's music as the sacrament. I'm going to number the names of some churches herein to make the changes easier to follow:

Number One, “The Yardbird Temple Vanguard Revolutionary Church of the Hour.” This was in San Francisco during the 1960s.

It may help to recall that John Coltrane was born in September, 1926, and he died in July, 1967.

At some point in the sixties, a nice couple in Oakland decided that there was no better way to spend a Saturday than listening to Coltrane records on a big hi-fi in their garage. With the door open; neighbors welcome. Before long, the crowds were growing. In light of Trane's death, the divinity angle started to come into focus. In 1969, they declared themselves a congregation and purchased the Yardbird Temple, calling the new church:

Number Two, “The Saint John Coltrane Church of San Francisco” (1969).

This went on fine for about ten years, but there was some kind of court battle in 1981. The Saint John Coltrane church was taken over and renamed, “The One Mind Temple Evolutionary Transitional Church of Christ.”

Wasting no time, the Coltrane church reorganized themselves and opened at a new location as the:

Number Three, “The Saint John Coltrane African Orthodox Church” (1982).

This church may still be there for all I know. They have about eighty saints, with Coltrane occupying the top spot. They create beautiful icons for each of the saints, nicely done and very ornate in a very Eastern-Orthodox manner, featuring lots of gold. The Trane icon is labeled:

Saint John Will-I-Am Coltrane.”

I personally do not approve of religion in general, but this one can claim a much more direct connection to the divine than most. The music, of course.

Monday, November 7, 2022

I Idolize You - Ike & Tina Turner

Those were simpler times. Not better in every way, no, I'm not going that far. Not perfect, certainly. 

But, let's face it. Any honest man, black, white, or Puerto Rican, could find some job in a factory or a store and raise a family on the salary. All medical providers and insurers were non-profit, and almost every job came with a family health care insurance plan. People settled extreme disputes with their fists, and guns were rarely involved. Even the gangsters were more gentlemanly. If they had a beef with you, they just killed you. Now they kill everybody in your house. 

And, most amazingly, politicians from both major parties could take breaks from arguing once in a while to pass important legislation that benefited the whole country. They even compromised on big, important issues! Can you imagine? 

And Ike and Tina were on the radio. Maybe not every station, but they were on WWRL anyway. Man, I miss the Big-RL. The "Weekend Spooktacular!" Yeah, those were simpler times. 

Sunday, November 6, 2022

You Did Your Best? Really?

You often hear people use this old saw, “well, I did my best.” They seem so sincere, and maybe they even believe it. It is, however, almost never true.

It is much more likely that they have not, in fact, employed all of their natural abilities to their best advantage while applying the greatest possible energy to the entire enterprise. In almost every case, you will find that their efforts lost efficiency due to one or more from among many factors. Social anxiety; fear of failure; fear of success; despair; stage fright; passive-aggregation; any of the many emotional handicaps that afflict modern humans; laziness; being unprepared; failure to avail one's self of good luck when it presents itself. This list could be stretched out a lot further.

I am at the stage of life where the scales fall off of our eyes and we are forced to see what has been there all the time. Our failures, in Technicolor and Panavision, which we are forced to watch like that juvenile delinquent towards the end of Clockwork Orange. There are no Mulligans, no do-overs. These are the things that we fucked up, and we see them with eyes open or shut, awake or asleep, haunting us. The only course open to us is to smile and try to make a good show of disintegrating in real-time and finally dying. Or, disregarding once again the feelings of those who may enjoy our company, taking the easy way out. Attempts at contrition just make it worse, and there is no “Way-Back” machine that we can use to travel back forty or fifty years and do things differently. No, we are left to tell ourselves, “I did my best.”

Even though it is a lie. Most of us know it to be a lie. What we did was, at best, as much as we could manage at the time, faced with our own set of challenges. In my case, it has never been enough. Ask anyone.

If you are my age or thereabouts, and you were also blessed with a family, good for you. This may be a family of your own procreation, or a family that you were born into, which has always surrounded you with fellowship and love. It may even simply be a family of good, long-term friends, who look out for each other and share a strong bond of love. Not everyone is so lucky. I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to raise two fine sons, only having to divorce their mother when my sons were already in their forties.

If you, dear reader, have had that opportunity, and your family has always been generous with forgiveness and acceptance, and they still share their love with you, I salute you.

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Don't Hit Me No More - Mabel John (1967)

A very good song, and a great lesson in the evils of spousal abuse. Also a great job by the session gang over at Stax Records. 

Mabel John, incidentally, was the older sister of Little Willie John. He was a tragic figure. Dead already at this time, after a brief blaze of glory and a few years of trouble making. RIP, Willie, and Mabel too. Mabel died this August at the age of ninety-one.