Sunday, September 30, 2007

History Begets Music

Video Find of the Day

The bells being played at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan, Icon of the Holy Virgin. The cathedral was built to commemorate the victory of the Russian army over Polish invaders in 1612. This time you have to read the description at YouTube!

Мой звон в Казанском соборе - My chime at Kazan Cathedral

Road Trip III

After stopping to gawk at the Grand Canyon, we finished the last leg of Route 66. Then there was a detour south to Tijuana, where my parents spent most of a day looking for souvenirs. One of the souvenirs they got was this tourist shot of me posing on a burro painted to look like a zebra. We also got one of my Father on the burro wearing one of the other hats, but I've lost that one. My Mother was in a foul mood most of the time we were in Tijuana, complaining about how dirty it was, and how all the souvenirs were junk, but she cheered up during the taking of these pictures, because we looked so silly.

The planned ride up the coast was skipped in favor of a faster inland route. We were getting behind schedule. So I had to see the coastal highway another time. The highways we took eventually brought us to the Eastside and we approached Seattle by way of the Lake Washington Floating Bridge.

I'd been to Seattle before, over two years earlier, but I couldn't make much of it, because all I had to compare it with was my little neighborhood in Schofield Barracks, and the comparison was too distant to put anything in perspective.

But this time, I'd been across the country, passing through 15 states and hundreds of cities and towns, all fresh in my mind. There were a couple of things about Seattle now that stood out and struck me as pretty special.

For one, it is way cool that a nearly 4000 mile journey can end with a drive on a road on a lake that takes you into a tunnel which then spills you out into the guts of the city, to see the downtown skyline suddenly, as you emerge. That's a hell of a cool entrance.

For the other: At that time in history Seattle didn't look like any of the other cities and towns I'd recently been in. I couldn't place the difference at first. There was something about the overall impression that was unique, but it took a day or two to figure it out.

The houses were unalike! Every other town and city I'd been through had a more or less uniform look to it, at least neighborhood by neighborhood. There'd be block after block of nearly identical houses with nearly identical color schemes and architecture. In places in Seattle you might have four or five similar houses in a row, but there'd never be that degree of sameness throughout a neighborhood.

When I realized that was the difference I felt a great sense of relief. At least architecturally, Seattle was an escape from the culture of conformity that was the United States in the 1950s.

It was another couple of years before I noticed it, but Seattle was also pretty special in its sense of humor. Back then, before Century 21 and the '62 World's Fair, Seattleites didn't think of the idea of Seattle being "New York By and By" as a goal to grow by. It was just an in-joke. Nobody took the aspirations to greatness seriously. Or almost nobody.

The sense of humor even extended to its oppression. Today motorcycle cops in Seattle run you off the road and pin you to a wall before giving you a jaywalking ticket. In the 50s they enforced the jaywalking law with the same 50s sense of humor that got us Seafair Pirates.

One day when my parents had taken me downtown to do some shopping, it was either '55 or '58, we were standing at the southeast corner of 3rd & Pine waiting for the light to change, when a man next to us stepped off the curb prematurely. There was immediately a booming voice saying, "You in the blue and green flannel shirt! Yes, you! Step back on the curb, please! Don't make me send my buddies over to talk with you!" My Father pointed up in front of us. It was a policeman with a bullhorn cheerfully directing us pedestrians from a vantage point above the awning of the Bon Marché. All you had to do was listen to the happy policeman, and you didn't get a ticket. There was none of the gotcha games that the city is into now. They were after compliance, not collecting fines.

Another example of the great old-time spirit of Seattle turned up when I was finding this image of the Bon (4th & Pine corner) over at Wikipedia. The Wikipedia article tells how Josephine Brennan, cofounder of the Bon with her husband Edward Nordhoff, learned Chinook to better serve her Native American customers.

It was definitely in '55 when my Father drove us downtown for the first time in my memory. When going downtown we always followed the same route that the bus from Beacon Hill took in those days, north into the city on 4th Avenue. So we passed under the 4th & Yesler overpass and drove by the City Hall Park. The Park was then just like it is now except the trees were smaller. There were the same number of poor people lying on the grass. My Father pointed to them with pride. He said that in other cities, they wouldn't let their poor people lie down like that, but Seattleites were proud of the fact that they didn't punish people for being poor.

Whenever we passed poor people downtown, Dad would say, there goes some local color. "That's what makes Seattle great," he'd say, "anyone can be at home here." He wasn't the only one who had that attitude. Many strangers that I met on buses and in diners over the next ten years expressed the same feelings.

Of course, in the 50s, a lot of Seattleites were proud that, while Olympia was the official capital of the state, Seattle was the real de facto capital of the Soviet of Washington.

[Left: James Farley, Postmaster General for FDR, who is credited with coining the phrase, "There are forty-seven states in the Union, and the soviet of Washington." The same year, 1936, he also came up with the gem, "As Maine goes, so goes Vermont."]

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Out of Algeria

Video Find of the Day

Here's a beautiful pictorial video of old Algerian Sephardic communities, with a song by Lili Boniche.

Lili Boniche, Jewish Algerian Chaabi master

Friday, September 28, 2007

Group Yodel

Video Find of the Day

Doesn't this look like a great way to kick back after a day of hard, back-breaking, recreational skiing? Everyone loads up on their beverage of choice, wine, beer, or ovaltine. Sit around out in the brisk air letting the breeze evaporate that excess perspiration, and get led in rounds of yodeling until your toes freeze. Beautiful!

Yodel in Adelboden

Road Trip II

[Reminder: Some of my posts, including this one, are memoirs of my abusive childhood. In this post I'm relating events that happened late June, 1955, two or three weeks before my 6th birthday. The links to the right can be used to follow backward through the memoirs, or to restrict viewing to other kinds of posts.]

From Springfield, MO, Rte. 66 goes through a piece of Kansas, then Oklahoma, then northern Texas. The only thing I remember about Texas was that Dr Pepper was king. In those days soft drinks, soda pop, or whatever you call them, came in little bottles out of a machine. They were each a nickel. The bottle caps were lined with cork, and if you were careful you could pry the cork out intact, put the cap on the outside of your shirt, and press the cork back in on the inside, and it would hold, making a little badge. We kids thought that was cool.

Don't get me wrong, I had no shortage of toys. What my parents lacked in the love and care department, they made up for as best they could by buying me crap. The US jigsaw puzzle map, for instance. But I had at least as much fun with bottle caps, sticks, and rocks, and stuff I found (like the muddy tennis ball) as I did with all the toys they bought me.

As the highway continued on through New Mexico and Arizona, more and more roadside shops, diners, and gas stations carried Native American gift items, such as baskets, blankets, shawls, scarves, beadwork and leathers. Some had abstract Navajo designs. My favorites were decorated with abstract Thunderbirds. My Father said those were junk, that the local natives didn't do thunderbirds, and therefore they were "trash for stupid tourists." I achieved a new insight: My Father always saw the negative of everything. The positives didn't register or weren't important. "Beautiful" couldn't be allowed to outweigh "Inauthentic." But, by the same token, "Authentic" would never outweigh "Ugly." What rose to the top was not any particular quality, but negativeness itself. My Father simply chose to see everything around him in the worst possible light.

I vowed not to be that way, but to look for treasure everywhere. It was another step on the way to becoming as xenomanic as I am today.

Old Route 66 passed through the middle of the Petrified Forest, AKA the Painted Desert. We made a toilet stop and everyone looked for petrified tree trunks high enough to pee behind without alarming other passing motorists. My Mother had Koko on a leash and lost her grip, and Koko raced off into the desert, so we had to sit around for half an hour until he got bored and came back. My Father fumed at my Mother. "We have to get to a motel before dark! Why couldn't you be more careful?" I don't actually think it would have hurt to drive in the dark. He did it deliberately at other times.

The next day we took a side trip north and visited the Grand Canyon. Dad wasn't taking chances now. Favorite son Koko was kept in the car except for a brief walk.

Every time we stopped at one of those places, like the Grand Canyon, or the Petrified Forest, the expansiveness of the scenes gave me hope that I might find a way to lose my parents. I began to have fantasies of finding a wilderness Eden of my own with plenty of foragables, living off the land out of a shack or a cave.

Probably the persistence of those fantasies contributed to my homelessness later, because I became conditioned to the idea that it was only by such means I could achieve peace. As a social solution seemed impossible since I couldn't even openly discuss the problems I had, the only thing left was to run away and become a hermit. Eventually it became the solution of last resort for everything, always there in the back of my mind.

Superb Accuracy

A sentence in a story today showed the kind of scientific accuracy we used to laugh about back in grad school. The story was cutely titled, "Hair may solve mammoth mystery." It was about efforts to learn more about extinct mammoths from sequencing the DNA of their hair. Lead researcher Stephan C. Schuster, of Penn State University, had this to say about it:

"It is important to understand the genetic makeup of an organism before it went extinct."

You see, once a species becomes extinct, it ceases to die and leave fossils. The only fossils we have of a species are the ones left by animals before extinction or on the very edge of it. Ergo, it is best to obtain samples of that nature, rather than wasting time going around looking for post-extinction fossils, which form a null set.

As always, I wish to remind my readers that if I write a sentence such as these, it was intentional.

[Above right: The finest mammoth DNA always comes from animals such as depicted here, as had once existed. Never settle for anything less.]

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Mouret Rondeau

Video Find of the Day

Here's a beautiful version of Rondeau de Mouret, AKA the Masterpiece Theater theme. I was surprised by how clear the trumpet is on this video. You don't expect that from the internet.


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Meanwhile, in Clejani

Video Find of the Day

While we were wondering what Oprah had to say about bipolar children and whether we should cut out all trans-fats or if a little wouldn't kill us, Clejani, RO, was waking the dead.

Gypsy kids from Clejani, RO

Road Trip I

The Summer of 1955 was fairly eventful. The first big event was a trip by car across the country to Seattle and back. My father somehow arranged a month's vacation to start mid-June, right after Kindergarten ended. The four of us, my parents, Koko, and I, went in a new family car, a two-door dark blue DeSoto.

One item that was carried unpacked, accompanying me and Koko in the back, was a jigsaw puzzle map of the United States. My parents told me the itinerary. West to Springfield, Illinois, as fast as possible on major highways and turnpikes. Then a more leisurely pace, taking Route 66 to California and the West Coast highway north. Route 66 would pass through my mother's home town Strafford, and then take us into Springfield, Missouri, where we would visit my Mother's best friend Zenobia, and her husband Guy.

I set up the jigsaw puzzle map with all the states in except the ones we would pass through. Then as we entered each new state, I inserted that state's piece. That made it easy to fix in my mind where we'd been along the way.

On the fast leg of the trip there was little to see except when we pulled into a town to get gas. I never smelled so much gasoline and creosote as I did on that trip. It seemed like the whole country reeked of it. In those days it was more common to use creosote laden logs rather than concrete to edge parking lots. Gas was so cheap and people thought so little of the hazard its fumes posed that no one was careful not to spill it at the pump. And of course it was all full service so the spilled gas wasn't paid for by the guy who spilled it. To this day whenever I smell gas or creosote I think of that trip.

Speaking of noxious fumes, the most vivid single memory I have before we reached St. Louis was of a tire fire a few hundred yards from the highway near Akron. It made me wonder if Akron was named to sound like acrid.

I also remember several stops at Howard Johnson's. I was a finicky eater, usually refusing to eat anything at a restaurant but peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Then, in a Howard Johnson's, they got me to try the Howard Johnson's specialty, the breaded fried clams. I loved them. So my parents would stop at Howard Johnson's wherever they could.

I learned to sit directly behind my Father. If I sat behind my Mother he would look over his shoulder occasionally at me and if I was doing anything at all besides nothing he would yell, "What's going on back there? What are you doing?" If I sat behind him he would have to take my Mother's word for it that I wasn't getting into trouble.

We stayed with Guy and Zenobia for a couple of days. They were a wonderful pair.

He had been in the Navy when they married, probably right after WWII. So they'd been married close to ten years by then. Guy became an engineer for International Harvester. They'd tried to have children and failed for so long they'd given up. So now they had a clever Border Collie for a son.

They were fun loving but never mean-spirited. Zenobia wasn't interested in glamor the way my Mother was. They both had insatiable curiosities which showed in the fact that they had a bedroom-size room in the house devoted to nothing else but storing their back issues of National Geographic.

I started calling them Aunt Zenobia and Uncle Guy on this visit, and continued to think of them as family as long as they lived.

Whenever I've found good people like them, who can live so happily and gracefully, I've tried to figure out how they do it. In the case of Guy and Zenobia I'd credit wisdom, intelligence, humility, and each other.

[Above right: My Mother and Zenobia together in Missouri, in an undated photo.]

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Ravel's Greatist Hit

Video Find of the Day

I just like this bolero. It's my favorite bolero. I don't know what a bolero is.

Ravel - Bolero - Daniel Barenboim - Berliner Phil. Pt. 1

Ravel - Bolero - Daniel Barenboim - Berliner Phil. Pt. 2

Monday, September 24, 2007

Cowboys and Indians

Video Find of the Day

This one's being posted behind schedule owing to the fact that yesterday was my worst day of 2007 so far. Among other things I got notice from SHA that my rent is supposed to increase by $66 per month in November, which means they calculated it wrong (It should have gone up by about $6) so I'm due for a round of dealing with SHA bureaucracy -- the worst bureaucracy operating in Seattle, with the possible exception of the VA.

I'll date it for yesterday so as to not lose step and antagonize the OCD god.

What we have here is very difficult to say. It's a Western, definitely, in which some of the cowboys are (East) Indians. There's an invisible dancing Indian ghost. There's a lot of dancing and singing all around.

Awesome Indian music video

New Sponsor

If you're one of my three readers, and you've been paying attention, the Weekly Wes Whine has not happened. I'm sorry to say that, due to a severe cash flow problem, and the fact that I am not compensated sufficiently for my efforts here, the Weekly Wes Whine will be on hiatus indefinitely. In its place we will have a brand new feature, the Weekly Run Off Corporate Sponsor. This week Run Off is brought to you by the American Gruel Association -- Don't settle for some! Say, "Please, Sir, may I have some more?"

Sunday, September 23, 2007

El Cascabel

Video Find(s) of the Day

I find a tune I like, I have to hear it as many ways as possible. A cascabel is a rattle, and also a kind of chili pepper that when dried can be used as a rattle. So there's this tune about it.

I first saw this raw video of a street performance. I especially loved watching the dancer in the first half.

EL CASCABEL ramita de cedro

That got me looking for more. I found this video with a version involving what appear to be Japanese musicians and one harp.

El Cascabel

That linked to a version by one big mariachi band.

El Cascabel - Mariachi Vargas


When one of the Real change vendors asked me how I was doing today, and I answered "OK," he replied, "Just OK? Not great?" reminding me once again that I can never be great. If I say I feel great I'm being facetious, and I make sure you know by the tone of voice. This comes from my childhood. I was raised that way.

It worked like this: Say I'm 5 years old, sitting in the living room drawing, and my Mother says, "How are you doing?" and I say "Great." What happens next is Mother says, "Then you can be the one to do the dusting, so you can be miserable like the rest of us." Eventually I was conditioned to answer no better than "OK", always.

My Mother was an egalitarian. She believed that if we are all created equal, and if she was in a sour mood, then everyone should be in a sour mood.

As a result I grew up extremely suspicious of arguments from equality.

I've noticed how it's used to limit freedom. Here's an actual conversation between me and a teacher in junior high school, conducted in the hall.

Teacher: "All the rest of the kids in the school are going to the cafeteria to see the talent show. Don't you think it will be fun?"

Me: "No."

Teacher: "Well, you have to go. You're just the same as everyone else."

That's the catch. The flip side of "we're all equal" is "you can't be allowed to be an exception." No stepping out of line.

Eventually the teacher admitted that the real reason he wanted me to go was he didn't trust me roaming the halls by myself.

I call that sort of thing micropolitics.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Gene Krupa

Video Find of the Day

Great clip from a 1941 movie featuring Gene Krupa and his orchestra. Stay for the end, because it also has "Kroop" playing on a matchbox and matches. The singer is Barbara Stanwyck in the role of Katherine 'Sugarpuss' O'Shea. The guy taking notes is Gary Cooper in the role of Lexicography Prof. Bertram Potts, who is studying Miss O'Shea's impressive modern slang, and ends up hiding her from the mob.

Gene Krupa - Drum Boogie

Friday, September 21, 2007

Ballet upon Carrion

For today's Video Find, I was looking for something along the lines of a madrigal or polyphonic Renaissance music. Along the way I ran into stuff by the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt. The connection being that since the early seventies Pärt has looked more and more to early music, including sacred music, for inspiration. The same choral groups that like to sing from the 16th Century Cancionero de Upsala often like to do Pärt's later works, so if you search for one you get the other.

There are two dances on this video choreographed to two parts of Tabula Rasa [double concerto for two violins, string orchestra and prepared piano, composed in 1977]. It's the first of the two that really blew me away. The choreographer is Miguel Robles. According to the curriculum vitae on his website, the work was done for the Festival de danza de Buenos Aires, 2002.

Tabula Rasa - Miguel Robles/Arvo Pärt

First Dream

Soon after Einstein died, within a month or so, I had my first dream, or first dream remembered upon waking up. I was almost six and had never remembered a dream and didn't know what people were referring to when they talked about them. The things that happened to me in my sleep weren't dreams. I really did wake up in the woods, after Alex took over.

The dream was what I would now call a third-rate production, a C-dream. It was black and white and silent. The sets looked fake.

I think now that the dream was influenced by TV and the science fiction serials I started watching about then. Now that I was going to be a scientist I was interested in the fiction, to see where this thing could be going. One of the places it was going was outer space, where there were aliens. The aliens might already be here.

So the dream had aliens. There was a cavern, typical of the cheap cavern sets of cheap Flash Gordonesque serials, the ones made of papier-mâché. A canal ran down the middle of the cavern. A cigar shaped vehicle floated down the canal to a large hall. Everything was very dark until a hatch opened up at the top of the vehicle releasing a blinding light. As the gradually dimmed hundreds of white troll-like aliens could be seen swarming out of the hatch.

Or, it could have been an obvious re-imaging of the nocturnal rapes.

I looked for a video that showed the papier-mâché caverns. I didn't find any that were worth watching, but I did find this fine episode of the 1936 Flash Gordon serial. It has all the sparks and flashy lights that were very sciencey. Plus, Doctor Zarkov was in it. Aside from wearing hot pants, which was lame, Zarkov seemed to have all the fun, getting to play with more of the sparking sciencey stuff than anyone else. I wanted to be just like Doctor Zarkov, without the hot pants, and without the beard.

Flash Gordon (1936) Ch. 7 Serial Clip

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Man Man

Video Find of the Day

Wikipedia says, "Man Man is a playfully existential United States Viking-vaudeville punk-wop rock-and-soul collective from Philadelphia." I don't know what Viking-vaudeville means. How would that compare to Mongol-hordes-vaudeville? Or Visigoth-vaudeville? Maybe it's best I don't know. This video was recorded in Seattle of all places.

Abuse Goes On

[Reminder: Some of my posts, including this one, are memoirs of my abusive childhood. In this post I'm relating events that happened early 1955 and on, when I was 5. The links to the right can be used to follow backward through the memoirs, or to restrict viewing to other kinds of posts.]

Whenever we moved my Mother would ease up on the sexual molestation. I never understood it when I was a child, but I have a theory now. I think that it was a combination of two things. The move itself would be a distraction. Also, the novel surroundings made for better sex with my Father, so she didn't think of using me.

When the novelty wore off at Fort Devens she began something new, the nocturnal visit. I've alluded to it already. My Father would begin drinking as soon as he got home. By the time dinner was ready he was screaming at people who weren't in the room. Anyone at work who offended him in any slight way would be the subject of a screeching tirade.

Dinners were therefore unbearable.

But I'll talk about that more later. The point is, by my 7 PM bedtime, Dad would often already be too drunk to do anything but scream. I would go to bed, and lie awake for hours hearing the yelling. Finally I'd hear sounds from the hall that told me it was over. My Father would stagger to bed, colliding with the walls. I'd hear my Mother undressing him, to occasional giggles. I'd hear her talk seductively to him. I'd hear him start snoring.

Soon after the snoring started, not every night, but maybe twice a week, my Mother would walk into my bedroom. When the moon was out I could see her and see that she was naked. Without a word she'd climb into bed and under the covers with me. If I said anything she'd put a hand over my mouth and shush me. She'd turn me so I was lying on my side with my back to her, and she'd reach around me, pull down my pajama bottoms and fondle my genitals.

When that would finally elicit the kind of sexual response she wanted, she raped me anally with one hand and masturbated with the other.

By the time she was done I would usually be crying, and she would get up and say, "Oh stop it, I didn't hurt you one bit." Then she would say, "If you don't stop right now, I'll give you something to really cry about."

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

French Sea Chantey

Anyone glancing at the list of Video Finds of the Day that I've posted here could easily get the impression that there is no sort of music I detest. This is not the case. Anitra, my sweetheart, likes a kind of over-produced, slick sea chantey, or shanty, however you want to spell it, that I call, "diddling in my ears," and do not enjoy. So she will look for sea chanteys that she thinks I might like and tries them out on me. If Wes likes it, it goes on her "Wes likes it" list. If Wes tolerates it, it goes on her "Wes doesn't utterly hate it list."

It occurs to me that I can preempt some of this experimentation upon me by posting videos that I have found on my own that fall in the "Wes likes it category."

Here's one. It helps to not understand the language it's sung in, for example.

NexTradition Sings at the South St. Seaport Museum in NYC

New Old Photos

Every single month I have to submit to an inspection, of my room. At least, I tell myself, they don't do cavity searches.

This comes from living in subsidized housing. It's bad, but it's good. The good thing is that periodically I get ambitious and decide to really clean, instead of just find clever places to hide crap from the inspectors. This happened yesterday and today.

Which was bad, because I stirred up a lot of accumulated dust, which caused me to have an asthma attack, which necessitated a walk down to the Pioneer Clinic for a nebulizer and a new inhaler, but hey, it's all good, I have a new inhaler, and I found cool stuff in the dust.

The cool stuff were old photos I thought I had lost, and a little bit of old artwork. The latter is now up on Somewhat Art, the former will end up here eventually. I'll start with three of them.

I was going to talk about how, in 1955, my Father took me fishing. He went to the trouble of procuring a kiddie size rod and reel.

I caught a fish! It was a perch, just barely legal. It was a thrill until Dad told me how great he was going to taste knowing that I'd caught him myself. I didn't know the idea was to eat them. I thought we were going to keep him for a pet. Always the failures of communication.

This picture next was taken on April 4, 1955. It shows Dad hauling in trout that look paltry to me, but what would I know. The photographer was Corporal James H. Bissett, and this ran in the Fort Devens Dispatch, to prove that the fish were biting on opening day. Another note stamped onto the back of the photo says, "PLEASE CREDIT U.S. ARMY PHOTOGRAPH. The Department of the Army has no objection to the publication of this photograph. It's use in commercial advertisement must be approved by the PUBLIC INFORMATION DIVISION, OFFICE OF THE CHEF OF INFORMATION, DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY, THE PENTAGON, WASHINGTON 25, D.C." Good thing this site isn't commercial, that would be a pain. Anyway it was Dad's success that day that enabled him to get me to go fishing with him a week or two later. So now I know when that happened!

I also found the following outstanding picture that I'd even forgotten I'd ever had, of my fiancée Kathy making dream eyes at me, while I savor the moment. The picture was taken in Kindergarten on a day when a reporter from the Dispatch dropped in looking for human interest stories. This shot wasn't used in the paper but we got a copy anyway.

Finally, proof that I graduated Kindergarten. The class picture, less Kathy, who was out that day. I'm in the back row, third from your right. There we were the future of America. Note the coonskin cap on the guy directly in front of me. The future of America will remember the Alamo, and know Fess Parker was there.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Paco de Lucía

Video Find of the Day

One more flamenco video! This is my new favorite flamenco guitarist and composer since I found this video. He was doing this in 1976. Almoraima is the name of the piece and the album. A review of the album is here. Unfortunately the only real media links to the music there that worked for me are the ones for the Almoraima and Ole tracks.

Paco de lucia - Almoraima Falseta.-Bulerias

Monday, September 17, 2007

Great Paragraph

Today, had the headline, "Jack Hanna, flamingo trapped in airport turnstile." Jack Hanna, if you didn't know, is an animal expert and director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo, who is often seen on TV talk shows showing off animals and being generally goofy. The story proceeded with this opening paragraph:

"COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Animal expert Jack Hanna and an 11-month-old flamingo became trapped while trying to squeeze through an airport security turnstile. It took firefighters to finally get the flamingo out."

We had to read five more paragraphs to finally learn that Jack Hanna was able to free himself without help before the fireman were called. Aw, shucks.

La Tobala

Video Find of the Day

Tientos is a cognate of English tentative. Both come from words meaning to feel or try out. Tientos is an old style of improvisational flamenco that has no set rules and is largely imitative. The following video is titled, "Tientos y Tangos." I looked for the tangos and didn't see them, so I looked it up, and sure enough, tangos means something altogether different in connection with flamenco from the familiar South American tango dances. It's a style of music with a set rhythm played in Phrygian mode. Phrygian mode has been described as playing the white keys only. It's the same as medieval Dorian mode. That's more music theory than I can handle in one sitting. The video is awesome. The singer is Juana Salazar (La Tobala), and the guitarist is her husband Pedro Sierra.

I don't know why she's called La Tobala. I did find that it was the name of a variety of agave. Maybe that's it.

Tientos y tangos de La Tobala

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Cante Jondo

Video Find of the Day

"The 'cante jondo' approaches the rhythm of the birds and the natural music of the black poplar and the waves; it is simple in oldness and style. It is also a rare example of primitive song, the oldest of all Europe, where the ruins of history, the lyrical fragment eaten by the sand, appear live like the first morning of its life. The illustrious Falla, who studied the question attentively, affirms that the gypsy 'siguiriya' is the song type of the group 'cante jondo' and declares that it is the only song on our continent that has been conserved in its pure form, because of its composition and its style and the qualities it has in itself, the primitive songs of the oriental people." -- Federico García Lorca.

Agujetas por Siguiriya

Terremoto por Siguiriya

The World Turns, Bites

Years after the fact my Mother told me that I missed almost half of Kindergarten due to childhood diseases. I remember being sick frequently but have no independent sense of how often. What I clearly remember is that none of it bothered me until the time I got mumps.

I remember having the measles. No problem. The doctor came with his black bag. The worst part of it was the stick in my mouth. I'd spend some time being nauseous, some time counting bumps, some time drawing, some time being delirious with fever, and then it was over. At no time would I feel like I was suffering. The disease wasn't an alien force invading my body. I didn't feel under attack. There was no sense of injustice.

It was still like that when I got the mumps on one side. I coasted through that. I also coasted through the chickenpox that I came down with the same day the mumps ended.

Then, I came down with mumps on the other side, the same day the chickenpox ended. That did it. Now, it was personal. The germs hated me. I broke down. Forever after, diseases were an assault. I've never been able to take them easy since.

I think it was soon after that triple whammy finally ended, in the late Spring of 1955, that there was a big ASA party out at a lake on base.

Mirror Lake was about fifty acres. An access road led to a bathing beach with restrooms, picnic tables, and BBQ grills. For the party a PA system was set up. Actually, anytime the ASA held an official party there was a PA system. The ASA did electronic surveillance. They were into it. They had the wires, they had the microphones, they could buy cheap speakers.

Boy, were they cheap. It was a little like listening to arrivals announced in a New York subway hub.

Nevertheless a lot of attention was paid to the speakers because when there weren't announcements pertinent to the party ("Three-legged races are about to start! Choose your partners!") they patched in a radio broadcast of a Boston Red Sox game.

I was intrigued by all the interest people had in it. My Father had watched some games on TV with interest, but I didn't know baseball was so popular. I hadn't assumed that my Father's interests matched those of the general public.

My Father noticed how intrigued I was. So he tried to make points with me by promising to take me to a game. The way he said it, "We'll go and watch the Red Sox win a game!"

The party started in the morning and lasted until dusk. My parents let me run and play in the shallow water for several hours without sun protection. Around 4 in the afternoon I started to burn. Within an hour I was in agony. My entire body from the waist up was on fire. It was a new way for nature to attack me.

The next two days half my skin peeled off. At one point a sheet of about a square foot of burnt skin came off my back all at once.

At least, through it all, I could look forward to that Red Sox game I was going to with my Dad. I didn't blame either him or my Mother for the burning, I blamed the sun and the Universe apart from us. That was the injustice. What had I done to hurt the Universe?

In retrospect it's surprising that the trip to Fenway Park ever happened. My Father tried to make points with me by promising to do other things later, and then never followed through. This, the baseball game promise, was an exception.

My Father and I went alone. Mother stayed home. That was awkward. I was no longer accustomed to speaking directly with him.

The tickets turned out to be so far up in the stands the diamond looked like the size of a postage stamp held a foot from my face. To see it at all I had to crane my neck from one side to the other, because a pillar blocked my view. I had to stand in my seat to look over people in front of me, a trick that didn't work any time they also stood, like whenever something was happening. I never saw a ball or a bat. The players looked like ants running around for no evident reason. The proof that anything ever happened was in the cheers of the crowd that was nearer who could see something, and announcements over the PA system. The announcements meant little, since no one, least of all my Father, had seen a need to explain the rules or the terminology to me. I was supposed to have been born with it wired into my neurons, or to have learned it in a Kindergarten that had no yard.

The high point of the game was getting a hot dog.

The Red Sox lost. Two weeks of being told, "We're going to see the Red Sox win a game" ended with, "Oh well. Next time will be better! I promise!"

There never was a next time. I refused to go again. To this day, I've never seen another baseball game. I can't bear the thought of spending three hours being reminded that all my Father's best efforts to bond with me could be summed up by his pointless BS, "We're going to go watch the Red Sox win a game!"

Saturday, September 15, 2007


Harmonic convergence of interests in the form of a Video Find of the Day from a Provider Find. The video provider is ididjaustralia, who has over 200 videos on YouTube, mostly aimed at selling didgeridoos (magos). To that end Australian aborigines are featured in one after another demonstrating them. The wares are shown off, and people who just want to hear the music get an opportunity to hear tons of it. In most cases embedding is disabled so I have to encourage people to go see for themselves. But this one is an exception.

Didgeridoo Solo, Darryl Digarrnga Brown | Darwin Festival 07

I'm The Ninja King of Lapland

I'm late with the Weekly Wes Whine. It's just as well, because this morning I got an email newsletter from my favorite goat, MySpace, telling me, among other things, all about

"MySpaceTV branded channels

As part of MySpaceTV's beta launch, a number of exciting video channels are now on MySpaceTV including your favorite sitcoms condensed to 'minisodes', Lonelygirl15, animation from Animation Show, lifestyle programming from RipeTV, KushTV, LXTV and Young Hollywood and a whole lot more. Go to and check out our featured channels section."

Oh boy! Minisodes! Of my favorite sit-coms! Sit-coms are my third favorite genre of television entertainment, after fake news and comedic talk shows! I could hardly wait! With a trembling index finger, being careful to keep my drool from falling on the keyboard, I clicked my mouse upon the tantalizing link.

What sit-coms? Where? Which are the branded channels? I do a search among channels of branded and I get all the videos that have the word "branded" among their tags. I do a video search of "sit-com" I get, OK good, one fraction of one episode of Red Dwarf, and then Hangin' With Mr. Christ, Jesus's First Party? It's from a video podcast!

This is what you get. Fan rips of individual shows, plus episodes of video podcasts. You can look for a specific sit-com you want to watch but you won't find it posted by the brander. It's posted by the ripper. That means uneven quality and you're a party to copyright violations.

To me, branded channels means official internet distribution of the shows by the people who own them. I get quality and full range of episodes, and in return, I would expect, to have to fast-forward through the commercials, just like I have to do when I tape them off the cable box.

To MySpace, branded means anything that calls itself branded.

This business of "everybody can be what they self-identify as" is getting way out of hand.

Sidewalk Cracks

In 1996 I wanted to work on my writing so I joined a writer's email list that Anitra recommended to me. I'm posting a piece I submitted to that list. It provides an episode for my childhood memoirs. In the text I say I was 6 the day Einstein died. Actually he died April 18, 1955, so I was close to 6, but closer to 5 and three quarters. I should also mention that when I talk about my breakfast, the fact that I ate differently than my parents was not evidence of abuse. I couldn't stand their greasy bacon, and eggs grossed me out, so actually they were accommodating me.

I've kept the old email signature line at the end. By the way, I was homeless when I wrote this. It was sent from an internet café.

Date: Fri, 13 Dec 1996 16:13:59 -0800 (PST)
From: Wes Browning
Subject: Friday Prose Bush thing

This is an exercise in "form following content" that I am planning to expand upon. I spent about seven years in the eighties obsessed with a step in Heisenberg's arguments leading to his Uncertainty Principle. I believed then (and still do) that he missed an opportunity to spotlight a good deal more uncertainty in the nature of reality than what he picked out, but I was in no position to be heard by physicists on the subject, as they demand, and rightly so, the Practical Details. So I sought them in the form of equations that would clarify my point. My search took me a little far afield, and this writing is about that sort of thing (getting far afield that is, on your way to you don't know what).

Sometimes sidewalk cracks make me laugh. It's not the "step on a crack" thing. If I think of that I'm not amused. Sidewalk cracks mostly make me laugh when they remind me of Einstein.

Last night, for instance, I was walking up 2nd Ave Ext by the Union Gospel Mission and had to step over one that was just right. It set me thinking of one morning when I was 6 and got up to the smell of bacon and eggs cooking, and the sound of the radio in the kitchen. That was actually every morning in our house. My parents had bacon and eggs, I had cereal, just about every morning, and the radio in the kitchen was always on. But the sidewalk cracks by the Union Gospel reminded me of this one particular morning when my parents were paying more attention to the radio than usual.

Remembering the radio reminds me that I had a Radio Flyer. I always wondered what it had to do with radios, being a little red wagon, but there it was in plain writing on the side, over the zig-zags. Come to think of it the radio might have had zig-zags on it too. It's all about lightning of course I know but real lightning doesn't look like that. It looks more like the sidewalk cracks by the Union Gospel Mission.

So anyway my parents were really leaning into the radio. And the changing voices on the radio kept talking about the same thing over and over again. Somebody named Einstein had just died. At first I didn't think anything of it. The people on the radio were always talking about somebody or other who had just died. But this time they wouldn't give it up. So I had to ask who was this guy? My father said he was a great scientist. So I said what's a scientist and my father started to get angry cause I was asking stupid questions again but my mother said he's only a boy he doesn't know and my father said alright he's somebody that knows things. I said I know things, am I a scientist?

I was a little scared at this point, wondering now what killed this Einstein guy. Now my father was really mad but my mother laughed and he turned red and said a scientist's job is to learn new things that other people don't know yet. And I said it's a job? They get paid for it? And he said yes now shut up so I can hear the radio. So I shut up and listened for a while longer and then I took my red wagon outside, and pulled it up and down the sidewalk in front of the house, thinking about things.

I used to do that a lot. I wouldn't actually play with the red wagon, I just used it as a prop so if someone asked me what I was doing I could say I'm playing with my red wagon instead of saying that I'm thinking because if I said that they always asked me what I was thinking about and then I'd tell them and they'd get mad and say they didn't want to hear all that. Which would make me mad cause I'd think why'd they ask?

Anyway this particular day that I was reminded of by the cracks in the sidewalk by the Union Gospel Mission, I started thinking about how when I'd wanted to be a cowboy or a fireman I hadn't known about this scientist option. It was definitely sounding good. After all I was always wanting to know new things wasn't I? Then I got sad as I realized that all my questions had been stupid ones that someone always already knew the answers to. I started walking with my head down feeling stupid when I noticed how the cracks in the sidewalk didn't go straight.

Now I wasn't THAT stupid, really, that I hadn't noticed that before. Cracks in sidewalks never go straight, period. These by the way were the really elaborate kind that zig-zag like lightning really does all over the place with lots of branchings and branchings of branchings, ending just anywhere. Like the ones I've been talking about by the Union Gospel that made me think of Einstein. The cracks in the sidewalk in front of our house were that impressive. So anyway what I meant when I said I noticed that the cracks didn't go straight was that there were questions in that for a scientist. If they don't go straight why do the go the way they do? Could you, seeing a crack start, figure out which way it was going to go? Could you look at a supposed drawing of a sidewalk crack and tell whether it could be a drawing of a real sidewalk crack?

For some reason I was sure even without asking that these were questions no one had yet answered in all of history. Nevertheless, full of the confidence of youth, I imagined that, if I devoted a lifetime of study to these questions, I could eventually elucidate the geometric evolution of sidewalk cracks to an amazed and astounded world, and that then when I finally died everyone would talk about what a great scientist I had been, and my parents would then listen intently to every word the announcers would say about me on the radio.

(c) Dr. Wes Browning

Have some gestalt on me!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Bhangra Times Three

Video Find of the Day

Bhangra is a form of dance that began with celebrations of the Vaisaki or Baisakhi, a Punjabi Spring festival held in April. It is not only an old harvest festival, but a 1699 celebration of Baisakhi was the occasion of a major founding event of Sikhism. That explains the archaic costumes that are often worn. They are in imitation of the latest fashions at the end of the 17th century, in the Punjab.

But mainly, we're talking dance. And song. There's songs, too. Here's some without the costumes and with.

Babe Bhangra Pounde Ne - Gurdas Maan

Captain Bhangra Da

Bhangra Party Hindi, Punjabi - Bhangra competitions 2006

The Cardinal

Fort Devens, as I've said, lies between Shirley and Ayer, Massachusetts. It's 35 miles East by Northeast from Boston as the crow flies along a line that passes Somerville, then Lexington, and then goes straight over Concord. Actually the base lies a little south of a straight line between Shirley and Ayer so although Shirley and Ayer lie in Middlesex County, Fort Devens sits over in Worcester County.

It's part of the Massachusetts Coastal Lowlands. The local roads wind around rounded hills and weave between small lakes and ponds, the occasional swamp, and countless small streams. To a Seattleite, the area is distinguished by having weather. When it rains, it pours. When it snows, it blizzards. They clear the roads with snow plows there. And every winter, from the first snowfall on, there is snow on the ground until well after the groundhog sees his shadow. By March it's filthy gray dirty snow. There's patches of it everywhere on base, surrounded by thawed areas where brown grass is recovering and trying to turn green again.

The Spring rains of March or April finally melt all the dirty snow. One day in 1955, in March or April, a long rainy period, lasting days, during which I was stuck in the house with my Mother attracting molestation and beatings, there was a sunny day and I could go play outside.

Before the rains the dirty snow had been all around, and all the grass was brown. On that day, when I walked out the front door, I was confronted by paradise by comparison, a fresh Eden of green covered by blue skies and billowing cottony clouds.

One minute out the front door, as I stood and gaped at the transformed environment, a male cardinal landed on a branch of a low bush, four feet in front of me. After a short pause he burst into song. Then there was another pause, and he flew off as abruptly as he came.

When he landed on that branch, I was transformed. I recognized that color. I had seen a red bird just that distance before, singing. Not that red bird, and not that song, but the similarity was enough that it woke my soul up and the green became ten times as green, and the red of the bird became fiery and everything in my view glowed.

The cardinal is also my 'aumakua, I found out. The depression eased.

Thursday, September 13, 2007


One of those parties for Dad's career happened early on in 1955. There was top brass present, so the party stayed in the formal living room, and didn't migrate to the Sun Porch. The Sun porch was reserved for casual affairs.

I had trouble sleeping because of the noise.

OK, it wasn't only the noise. I hadn't mentioned it before, because it was such a minor thing, but I have to bring it up now. My parents put a weight driven clock in my room with an owl face that had eyes that looked right and left with each second.

I can't begin to describe how freaky that clock was. I've looked all over the place for a picture that comes close to depicting the horror of it, but found nothing that even approximates it. You're lying in bed and you hear tock tock tock tock tock tock tock tock tock and you look up tock tock tock tock and you see tock tock two eyes tock tock looking tock right looking tock left looking tock right looking tock left looking tock right looking tock left looking tock right looking tock left AND IT'S TOO FREAKY FOR WORDS IN ANY LANGUAGE. I begged them to get it out of my room and they laughed at how cute I was.

So I got up and got out of that room and away from the horrid freaky clock, and went in to the living room looking for someone who would console me.

No one was conscious. There were army officers all over the place, passed out. Including my Father. But my Mother was not there. If she had been, I probably would have shook her to wake her up, because when it came to Mom I could be a hard ass. Being raped regularly by someone can do that to you. Oh, she wants to sleep, does she? Well, she screws me, I'm going to screw her.

But she wasn't there. Where could she be? I went back into the hall, and put my ear up to the door of the master bedroom. There was laughing. There was giggling. It was my Mother's voice and a man's voice, and the man was not my Father. And then there was the pounding and the moaning that I recognized as the sound that meant "Do not open this door or you will get the beating of your life."

Stupid stupid owl clock.

Bhangra's Cup of Humor

Video Find of the Day

Another key ingredient of Bhangra is humor. It isn't sad music, it's celebratory. You almost never see a Bhangra dancer who isn't grinning ear to ear. Here's a clip entitled "Places You Do Not Do Bhangra" that makes the point clear.

funny bhangra

Budding Mathematician

After we moved to Fort Devens my parents started leaving me with the teenage daughter of one of their friends. They'd drop me off at her house. I think her rate was a quarter an hour.

Once again, I had an age-inappropriate crush. I don't know if I had more of them than any other kid my age. But I have the feeling I did, and the rapes had something to do with it. I think I was looking for an attachment that could be a repository for all the uncomfortable feelings.

The baby-sitter's name was something odd. I think it was Sylvania. I remember having to ask what it meant and finding the answer a little hard to believe. Sylvania is a name like that -- who names their daughter "woods?" So let's say she was Syl.

She was a pretty brunette with glasses. She loved math and she was into computers. In 1955! I can't vouch for it, but I was told that for a science project she built some sort of calculator using coat-hangers. I think she was 16 in early 1955. Not having a picture of her, I've substituted Tina Fey, both on this post and in my thoughts.

Syl had a much younger little brother, Fred. He was a couple of years younger than I was. He was what we would call hyperactive today, and he'd be stuffed with Ritalin. To me, he was a super pain in the ass. I wanted him tied and gagged. Not having a picture of Freddy, I've substituted Eddie Munster, both on this post and in my thoughts. During my earliest visits, Syl would put him to bed early, so I'd get to be alone with her for a couple of hours, and she'd use the time to teach me whatever I was interested in. I was interested in math, mostly, and a little science.

At some point I asked her how much you could learn, and she said you could keep learning math forever if you wanted to. I liked the sound of that. She told me about the math she was studying then, called "calculus." I asked her to teach me some calculus, but she said I had to finish learning arithmetic first, and then I'd have to learn geometry, and then I'd have to learn trigo-something, and then I'd have to learn al-something.

I felt like I was close to finishing with arithmetic so I asked for a preview of geometry. She showed me some stuff from Euclid, like the Pythagorean theorem. The square of the hypotenuse of a right triangle equals the sum of the squares of the two sides. It didn't look like anything that could possibly be true, but she said that when you study geometry you learn how to prove things like that.

She didn't show me a proof of the Pythagorean Theorem or any other. It was enough that she just told me there were such things. I started to realize that even in arithmetic I was taking far too much on faith. I should be insisting on proofs. For example, my Mother had often said I could save trouble learning my times table by noticing that the order you multiply two numbers doesn't matter. So if you know 7 times 8, then you also know 8 times 7, because the answer is the same. But how do I really know that the answer is always the same? I would have to see a proof.

I came up with a proof in my head at home while sitting on the floor of the Play Porch. It wasn't rigorous by the standards of a 21st century mathematician, but you have to start somewhere. I just convinced myself that what multiplication did was count the total number of things you got when you arranged first-number rows of second-number things in each row, and that if you switched first-number and second-number the result was the same as turning the arrangement 90 degrees. The turning doesn't add or subtract anything. It was more of a persuasion than a proof, and it was hell making it work for fractions, which I'd just started learning, but, you know what? After getting a Ph.D. in math and picking up a hefty dose of Foundational Theory along the way, I've decided that persuasions are what proofs ought to be, screw overblown rigor.

The new-found need for proofs began to be felt in all matters. I started noticing how often flat statements by even my own parents turned out to be flat wrong. The more I noticed that people could be full of it, the more concerned I was to subject all claims to proof.

I might have decided in the midst of all this to become a mathematician when I grew up, except for one problem: I didn't know that mathematicians existed. I had an idea people could be paid to use mathematics. I certainly did not know that anyone could be paid to discover new mathematics and find new proofs for their discoveries.

I didn't even know at this time that science existed. I assumed that everything that needed to be known about the world was already written down in books somewhere. Probably anything I needed to know was somewhere in our set of Encyclopedia Britannica, and I could find it if I knew the word to look it up under.

The immediate effect of my obsession with proofs was that I pissed Dad off more than ever. "It's true because I say so, Dammit!"

[Below: Chinese-style Pythagorean Persuasion. c-squared = the area of the big square = the area of the four triangles plus that of the center square. The area of each right triangle is half a times b. So c-squared = 4(ab/2) + (b - a)-squared = 2ab + b-squared - 2ab + a-squared = a-squared + b-squared.]

Christmas, 1954

At the end of 1954 I was severely depressed. If I were 5 years old and that depressed now I'd probably be put on Wellbutrin, instead of being 58, and on Wellbutrin. In those days you didn't treat kids' depressions by giving them pills, you treated them by telling them it's their own fault they're depressed. You were depressed because deep down inside you hated Jesus, or because you were too lazy to be cheerful ("Don't you know smiling uses fewer muscles and takes more work than frowning?"), or because you were trying to put something over on people. "You don't want to play with the other kids and have fun, because you're selfish." This was just about the time that the term "maladjusted" came into vogue. I wasn't maladjusted yet, but that was only because I hadn't yet been diagnosed.

For my own part I blamed the depression on the move and missing the House in Shirley. I especially missed the old retired farmer who owned the house and took care of me periodically.

That's my best explanation for the fact that as Christmas neared I wanted a farm. That, and Roy Rogers had a farm. And I believed at the time that both my Grandfathers had farms. It turned out not quite true about Grandfather Browning, but he did raise fruit and vegetables, chickens, and rabbits.

I couldn't have a real farm. But the Christmas Wish-Book, i.e. the Sears catalog, had pictures of plastic farm sets with plastic sheep and cows and horses and farm house and fences to play with.

My parents were freaked out by my single-minded insistence that a farm was all I wanted. They took me to a store Santa in Worcester in the hopes he could squeeze out other clues. The Santa, who scared the daylights out of me, said, "If you're going to have a farm aren't you going to need a wagon to haul your supplies around?" I nodded yes in the hopes he would be satisfied and let me go. He did, thankfully.

My Father later complained about all the trouble he took setting up the farm under the tree for me to find Christmas morning, only to have me lose interest in the set within an hour.

My two favorite presents were the red Radio Flyer Wagon, which replaced the red Dixie Junior Wagon I'd had that got left behind in Hawaii, and an easel one of my aunts gave me. The easel had a scroll of butcher paper that was about two feet wide and I don't know how long. Fifty feet? A hundred feet? All I know is it took me months to use it up.

Every day I'd set the easel up in front of the TV. As commercials came on I would write down the words that flashed on the screen. I learned to spell a great many new words that way, and was able to add them to my vocabulary. Colgate and Palmolive were two of my favorite new words. I also drew pictures in crayon on the easel, sometimes inspired by the pictures on TV, sometimes not.

For several months the red wagon followed behind me from room to room and went outside with me wherever I went. I haven't been able to find a picture of it. The one I had featured a zig-zag design on the side, instead of the framing ornaments of the one pictured above. It hauled toys, always including the precious muddy tennis ball, and it hauled George, the invisible ghost. George liked to go for rides.

My Father was done with photography but my Mother insisted that it was time I be photographed, so right after Christmas a professional photographer was hired to do it. The guy they hired did house calls. He set up a portable curtain in our living room. He got on my bad side by asking me right off what I wanted to be when I grew up. I despised adults who started off with that question. The underlying premise was, you're not worth anything now, how are you going to rectify that? I shocked my parents by announcing for the first time that I wanted to be a fireman.

My Mother said, "WHAT?! Just the day before Christmas all you wanted in the world was to be a farmer. Before that you wanted to be a cowboy. Where did fireman come from?" "I want to help people." "God help us all," she said.

I then found out that the whole reason the photographer asked was so he could guess which props he should pull out of the case he dragged in. He heard "cowboy" so he pulled out the cowboy props, a toy horse, toy pistols, and cowboy chaps. The scar from the first birthday head injury was prominent at this age, but you can't see it because the photographer was explicitly instructed to airbrush it out. He forced me to say cheese against my will. What's wrong with people these days, that everybody has to be smiling in pictures. Where did that addiction to a graphic lie come from? My great-grandparents never had to smile for their pictures. Why don't I get to be myself?

Topper Influence

When Alex stopped manifesting to Kona, Kona filled the gap with his own imaginary friend. I think that's pretty cool, when you consider that Kona began life as an imaginary friend of Alex. So I didn't just have imaginary friends when I was a kid, my imaginary friends had imaginary friends of their own!

The imaginary friend's name was George, and he was an invisible ghost.

The idea for George was lifted whole from the TV show Topper. Topper was a half-hour comedy that ran for two years from Fall '53 to Fall '55, and was shown in repeats for ages after. It was based on movies that had been based on books. The TV set up was that a wealthy handsome and fashionable but whacky young couple George and Marion Kerby [pictured] are buried by an avalanche, along with an alcoholic St. Bernard named Neil, while skiing in the Alps. Staid down-to-earth sophisticated bank vice-president Cosmo Topper (played by Leo G Carroll) and his not-too-bright wife Henrietta buy the Kerby estate in Los Angeles. Just as they are moving in, George, Marion, and Neil, return home as ghosts to haunt their old digs. For some reason Cosmo Topper is the only one who can see or hear the ghosts, but the ghosts can manage to move furniture and appliances, which they do a lot, because they're party animals. Laughter ensues when Topper finds out that if he tells people what is causing all the activity, they think he is crazy, and the premise was you can't have a crazy man in charge of other people's money, so his job would be on the line, and he still had the mortgage to pay.

Plus, Topper was a straight up tee-totaller, while the Kerbys were cocktail lushes and smokers. So Topper had to keep after them to hide the booze and cigarettes.

The whole thing was designed to appeal to me. You had people who were drunks just like my own parents, but they were fun drunks. They didn't yell and hit. They just joked around and had a good time. They were mischievous but not mean. Just like me!

Marion Kerby was yet another hotty I had an age-inappropriate crush on. It was a little disappointing to learn that the actors, Robert Sterling and Anne Jeffreys, who played the Kerbys, were married in real life. As my Mother said of that, "It explains the chemistry." I wanted to be Robert Sterling and have it so good.

Then, too, there was the fact that for quite a while (close to two years) whenever anything was spilled or knocked over, George had something to do with it. "How did the lamp get broken?" "George did it, Mommy," was how it would go.

This didn't go over well with everybody. My Mother was surprisingly cool about it. She'd say, "Tell George to be more careful." My Dad would scream and sputter and fume, "I won't stand for any son of mine making up fibs!" "He's not fibbing, dear, he's using his imagination."

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


[Reminder: Some of my posts, including this one, are memoirs of my abusive childhood. In this post I'm relating events that happened around late Autumn, 1954, when I was 5. The links to the right can be used to follow backward through the memoirs, or to restrict viewing to other kinds of posts.]

My first best friend at Fort Devens was a kid my age named Charles. Charles lived in another of the multiplexes on Chancellorsville. His was three or four buildings east. He was so disturbed he made me look like a rock of sanity.

One of the things I'd gotten as a present for either the previous Christmas or my birthday was a set of Lincoln Logs. If you don't know what they are, don't sweat it. It's enough to know they were made of wood, they interlocked, and you built stuff out of them. Like Legos. Only the pieces were bigger and less fun. You were supposed to make log cabins. I think the idea was to teach millions of kids the skills needed to become presidents and know how to free slaves. We don't have enough people like that.

Charles had a weird need to eat wood. His parents asked my parents to have me take pencils away from him, or he would eat the wood and leave only the graphite. It was a pain watching him all the time.

One day when he was over he disappeared, and I thought he had decided to go home without telling me. After an hour playing by myself in my room I heard a sound like rats were nosing around in my closet. I opened the closet door and found Charles had been sitting on the floor in the dark chewing on Lincoln Logs, surrounded by sawdust. He'd chewed his way through a third of the set.

Later I was invited to his house. I found out Charles had a teenage big brother who treated him like dirt. I found out that Charles' parents put Charles down constantly, even in front of me, and told him he'd never be as good as his older brother.

My Mother tried to molest Charles. This is the most direct evidence I have that my Mother was an indiscriminate child molester. She announced that I needed a bath, and suggested to Charles that he might want a bath, too. When he didn't answer, she just pushed us both into the bathroom and said, "It'll be fun." She took my clothes off first to convince him it was OK. He let her take his off.

Then she fondled my genitals and let Charles see how much I enjoyed it, and said, "Don't you want me to do this for you, Charles?"

Charles was afraid, and made it very clear he didn't want that. His Mother didn't touch him that way. That was a bit of a surprise to me, because I had been told all mothers did it.

She then tried to get Charles interested in anal stimulation, by showing him that doing it to me didn't kill me.

I'm always amazed when I think of the risks she seemed to take. Charles could have gone straight home and reported all of this. I would have backed him up in an investigation. But somehow my Mother was able to psyche out the kid and figure out that he wouldn't tell anyone what happened.

Tumbi, Tumbi and Dholki

Video Find of the Day

Another piece of the Bhangra experience is this one-stringed instrument, the tumbi. Here's a demonstration to "urban" music, which I hear is catching on with the kids.
Ha, just kidding. I like it too.

Tumbi - Tumbiwalla does urban music again!

Here's a single tumbi played with dholki, a smaller cousin of the dhol. The picture is grainy but the sound is pretty decent, as these things go.

Dil Singh N Suraj Singh - Dholki N Tumbi Freestyle

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Lethal Dholis

Video Find of the Day

Like most people, I find Bhangra astonishing. So I thought, maybe it would be good to look at pieces of it before getting overwhelmed by the whole. One of the pieces is the dhol, the drum that is used.

I think the guy in the middle is the Alpha Drummer.

Lethal Dholis @ Bhangra Invasion

Tending to Mom's Honor

My parents had to throw parties for the sake of my Father's career, a couple of times a year. The parties always featured cocktails and gin.

With all the noise from these affairs, which were held in the Sun Porch just off my room, it was natural that I'd be kept awake and sooner or later think I needed something, like water, or an assurance that it would be all over soon.

So on one occasion I came out of my room, hoping to get a glass of water, and I found a roomful of adults in various degrees of nakedness. There was a man wearing boxers, a women wearing underpants and a bra. My Father still had his undershirt and shorts and shoes and socks. Had I known that they had been playing strip poker, I would have known that Dad was having a relatively lucky night, with the cards.

Then I saw my Mother. She was completely naked. She was sitting in the sofa with her legs crossed smoking a cigarette and drinking a gin and tonic. I was horrified, and told her she should put some clothes on.

Her answer was to lean forward and blow smoke in my face. One of the men told her it wasn't right, and she told him to mind his own business. I went to bed, forgetting that I was ever thirsty.

Abducted by Aliens?

I was slow making friends on base. A pattern emerged that continued throughout childhood. I'd have one or two good friends to spend one or at most two hours a day. The rest of the time I would retreat into solitude, if allowed.

A typical such retreat would be a long walk for hours around the area of the officers' quarters. I must have looked as depressed as I felt, because other children I passed would often tell me I should smile.

This is one of my huge pet peeves. Whether I smile or not is not subject to requests. Requests are not even welcome. My smile is a sign of my mood and if I'm sad so be it. Anybody that doesn't like that has my permission to make up for it by stapling the corners of their own mouths to the backs of their heads.

Another way I spent alone-time was play in a muddy area near the Officers' Club. For some reason, none of the other children wanted to join me in the mud. The mud was in a very shallow depression with poor drainage. I engaged in earthworks and pie-making. It was very soothing.

Another very soothing activity was tennis ball bouncing in the Play Porch. The wall of the porch against the rest of the building was brick. I had a tennis ball I'd found way back in Hawaii, in the clay mud near where I regularly met Lani and Lono. The tennis ball was permanently stained red from the clay, and smelled like the soil that saved my life on my 1st birthday. Kona/Wesley would bounce the ball repeatedly against the brick wall and catch it, while Alex chanted. I entered a kind of trance state doing this. An outside observer might have thought I was autistic.

Apart from those sessions, Alex and Kona/Wesley began to grow apart. A time-share style of integration began, in which Kona/Wesley would control most of the day, and Alex would control at night. I would go to sleep as Kona. I would wake up around 1 or 2 AM as Alex. Alex would wait until my parents were asleep and snoring. It was especially important that my Mother was snoring, because if she was still awake she might want to make a nocturnal visit to my room, and I had to be there, or I'd be in huge trouble.

When my parents were both asleep, Alex would get up and wander, often sneaking out of the house to explore the base until dawn.

Alex was much more the explorer, and his wanderings at night took him two or three times as far as Kona's day wanderings.

One time, as Alex, I was in some woods on a dark moonless night, unable to see my own feet. I was inching along, when for some reason I had a fainting spell. I woke up as Kona. As Kona, I didn't know what Alex was doing. I didn't know what I was doing in the middle of dark woods at night. I didn't know how to get out of there. I panicked and ran though the bushes getting scraped by branches I couldn't see. I fell down two or three times before coming out of the woods into a clearing I recognized.

As Alex wasn't speaking to Kona during this period the incident remained a mystery for more than a year. I would have suspected an alien abduction, but I hadn't yet heard of such things, so I was stuck with notions of Leprechauns or mischievous-but-not-totally-evil boogey men.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Miao Song

Video Find of the Day

I find this sort of singing incredibly beautiful. Such a voice could probably carry from village to village, especially in the early morning. You might want to lower the volume. It's comparable to yodeling. At least one of the comments is from someone who seems to know what he's talking about and identifies the song as a Hmong mountain song.

The title calls her Miao, which is a collective Chinese name for a number of ethnic groups of Southern China, including the people who are known in Vietnam as Hmong. The term "Miao" formerly meant barbarian, but evidently those Hmong who live in China are cool with that. I can understand how that could be, being part Scots.

At one time China tried to wall the Miao out the same way they tried to wall out the western barbarians, with even poorer results.

Chinese folk songs of Miao ethnic group 4

Sunday, September 9, 2007

boyz from umthwakazi territory

Video Find of the Day

The video says these guys are from Umthwakazi Territory. According to a Frontline documentary that aired last year, Umthwakazi is an ancient name for the region in Zimbabwe that's home to the minority Ndebele people, and the word also means a tree that shades and shelters and welcomes all people under its leafy branches. There is a Umthwakazi movement that aims for independence for that region of Zimbabwe. Since that puts them at odds with Mugabe's government, it turns out that a lot of the movement is in exile, so it's likely this wasn't filmed in Zimbabwe. The music they are dancing to is an instance of Kwaito. I intend to find more of it.

1 kwaito / boyz from umthwakazi territory/zim

New Home

Sometime in the Fall of 1954 it was our turn to get on base housing. We were assigned a unit in a quadruplex, the fifth of five on Chancellorsville street, which faced out onto a beautiful green marching field having an area of about 8 football fields. We weren't on an overgrown abandoned farm anymore we were on a well-maintained clean military campus.

The officers' quarters and the administration and ASA training buildings were built in the same Colonial Revival style that's found on most US military bases built in the period between world wars.

Our quadruplex had two units on the first floor and two on the second floor. Our unit was the westernmost unit on the second floor. The living room and my parents bedroom looked out over the main street, Chancellorsville, and the marching field. That side was officially the front of the house. The kitchen, and the main bathroom, looked out the back at a service alley and across it, a wooded area, with mostly birch trees. My bedroom would also have looked out on the service alley, but attached to my room was an airy covered porch, screened on three sides. It became a deluxe play room, where I could be indoors but feel outdoors. My parents completely left it to me.

They had their own play room: another covered porch had been attached to the far end of the house with three entrances. You could get there from my room, from the main hall down the middle of the unit, or from a small bathroom that was connected to my parents' bedroom. This porch may have originally been open on three sides like my play area, but someone had decided to build windows, so it became a sunny second living room. My parents treated it as a party room and family retreat. It was the place they invited their best friends, keeping the mere acquaintances to the formal living room.

The Sun Porch, as we called it (as opposed to the Play Porch) got all the Hawaiian furniture which now came out of storage, so it took on a tropical look.

Fort Devens covered more than two square miles. It was decommissioned in the 90s. The old wooden structures like the Kindergarten building were all torn down, but most of the brick buildings were kept to form the Devens Community Center. The map below is based on a current satellite image, and only shows about a third of the total area of the base.

Some of the street names have changed. Chancellorsville became Elm. What is called Walnut Street on the map was called Detrobian Street in 1954. On the other hand Sherman and MacArthur Avenues were called the same back then, so not all the names have changed, maybe not the majority of them. Between MacArthur and El Caney, almost none of the structures were wooden, so nearly all the buildings in that part of the map are as they were then. One notable exception is the nursery which was a wooden structure on the west side of Sherman Avenue.

Another change, not having to do with the structures, is that the golf course appears to have shrunk. Formerly the golf course had fairways on either side of the marching field. Once I caddied for my Father and a golfing partner, and remember how, as we finished the holes to the west of Sherman Avenue, we had to walk across the marching field with the clubs to get to the final holes.

I've marked a building at the top as "Devens grade school." It actually only had first and second grades. I believe it had a total of 160 to 170 children in four classrooms, two to a grade. South and a little west of that, and up a slight hill you can't see in this view, I've marked a complex as the ASA School where my Father taught. I'm guessing slightly. It may have had other functions. Somewhere on the end of the base was the enlisted men's barracks, either in that complex or further east. Or the school may have been further east. I'm more sure about base headquarters which was a much smaller building on the other side of Sherman Ave.

Next door to the alleged ASA School, across a parking lot, was the main Fort Devens theater. It was one of the first new places I visited on base once we settled in, as my parents dumped me off for an all-day cartoon marathon. I got to know it very well, and would never confuse it with a school or barracks. Saturday matinee double features for kids were a dime!