Thursday, December 31, 2015

Sunset at the CWC

I'm here to wish you all a Happy New Year, and to announce that the Crime Writer's Chronicle is folding after five years of rambling on.

Thank you to all the guest writers who have enlivened this page with their posts. Their names are all in the list, and if you click on them you can read what they had to say over the years.

Thank you to Robin Hathaway, our co-founder, sorely missed since her death in 2013. Thank you to Annamaria Alfieri, our other co-founder, for her thrilling travelogues and feisty political observations. She can still be found on Murder is Everywhere. Thank you to Bob Knightly for opening a window on the life of a big-city policeman. Thank you to Thelma Straw, who knows every crime writer on the planet, for her personal stories and for the guests she was able to draw in. Thank you to Stephanie Patterson, who reads everything, for her book reviews and her personal stories. Thank you to Sheila York for her charming posts and her amazing drink recipes. Thank you to Mike Welch for his movie reviews and his gloomy bachelor travelogues. Thank you to Rosemary Harris, always off someplace improving the world, sometimes reporting back to us with a hair-raising story.

We are moving on now, all of us, to other venues and other forms of expression. Look for our books in the coming months and years. May you all keep reading and writing.

Kate Gallison

Monday, December 28, 2015

A Police Story: Chance Encounters

When I was sworn in as a New York City Patrolman on May 15, 1967,  a college friend asked, disbelief evident in his voice: “You!... How?” We’d gone to college in Brooklyn in the late 1950s, graduating as the Protesting Sixties got under way. I didn’t protest, I didn’t demonstrate. True, there weren’t many sexy targets in 1961 to stir the blood of the young; I even voted for Richard Nixon rather than JFK in the 1960 Election although that was about Kennedy being lace-curtain Irish and my feeling sorry for a sweating Nixon on TV.

Actually I was stumped at first for a reply to my friend’s question. After modest soul-searching what I came up with was: “Cops can go anywhere, even into people’s houses.” That sounds weird, I know, peeping-Tomish, yet it was as much truth as a budding writer could manage. For a 26-year-old just mustered out of the Peacetime Army, police work promised to be the high road to the Great World Experienced a la Jack London’s Call of the Wild.

And it was. I met celebrated people with whom I crossed paths (and swords, on occasion). There was the great Jacques D’Amboise, star of Gorge Balanchine’s New York City Ballet, who taught me to dance, and 300 children from mainland China, and 11 other NYPD cops. We debuted in his Corps de Ballet Recital at Madison Square Garden in May, 1982. Actually, he taught us one routine. Every Tuesday night for eight weeks before the Show, we’d show up at the Dance Studios at Lincoln Center to practice. It didn’t come naturally to me. That last Tuesday I was still failing to execute a small leap to the left when Jacques himself materialized at my side, took my left hand in his right and did a short leap to his left, compelling me to follow. “Remember the puddle there,” he said, and, eureka! I did. He had recruited us cops, instructors at the New York City Police Academy, to perform in uniform, christening us “The Dancing Cops”. On Show Night, waiting in the wings to go on, I stood between folksinger Judy Collins and TV’s Mary Tyler Moore who were having a conversation over my shoulder. Despite a flawless performance that night, I didn’t keep up with ballet.

On July 4, 1986, New York celebrated Operation Sail, on the centenary of the arrival of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. Thousands gathered on the Piers and FDR Drive to see the Navy warships and hundreds of small craft. I didn’t get to see because I was the Sergeant in command of 50 police officers detailed to the Pier at the end of East 20th Street where a Destroyer was tied up awaiting the boarding of dignitaries for the Fireworks Show. My men formed a gauntlet as the invited guests funneled forward, me at the foot of the gangplank keeping a weather eye out. Then I spied them. “Cagney and Lacey,” in the flesh (actresses Sharon Gless and Tyne Daly, respectively), stars of Network TV as NYPD detective partners working out of the fictional 14th Precinct in Midtown Manhattan. Of course, there was no “14th Precinct” anywhere in the City nor did a pair of female detectives work the streets together out of a Detective Squad in the ‘80s. I’d never seen the show, but I was taken with the sight of them. a blonde and a brunette. (Maybe a hangover from rubbing elbows with Julie Collins and Mary Tyler Moore at the Garden?) Before I let them up the gangplank, I required each to sign her name in my Official PD Memo Book, which they did: “Christine Cagney” and “Mary Beth Lacey.”

In June the previous year, or the year before (who remembers dates anymore), I supervised the police detail assigned for U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s security. He was Commencement Speaker at New York University’s graduation ceremonies held in Washington Square Park in the heart of Manhattan’s Greenwich Village—all within the confines of the 6th Precinct where I was then assigned, hence my presence. What I vividly remember of that day was lunch with Moynihan, at his insistence (on NYU’s tab, I presume), at the White Horse Tavern in the West Village, the immemorial poet’s hangout favored by the likes of Dylan Thomas and Brendan Behan. I was at table with the Senator, his daughter and some staff when The Troubles in Northern Ireland were mentioned. Apropos of too much death, I mentioned that my grandmother came from the Village of Coonagh near Limerick City, where all the men went to sea, including her brother Tom Grimes who went down with his ship HMS Goliath, all hands lost, off the Coast of Gallipoli in 1915. At that, Moynihan, in a pleasant, lilting tenor, began to sing a sea shanty about the exploits of Coonagh’s sailors on the oceans and we all joined in at the Call and Response. I was a convert that afternoon. My grandmother Catherine would have loved him.

All these past encounters can be classed as pleasant, fun, sociable. This last is none of that, being pure cop business—exactly what I’d hoped for when I joined up. In 1975, I returned to measurable work again in a Patrol Precinct, the 83rd in Bushwick Brooklyn, where the neighborhood was being burned out by arsonists—two kinds, from different motives: landlords for profit and rebuffed suitors for love. The 83rd had more crime then than any other Brooklyn Precinct. Obviously, they needed me, ostensibly because the City had laid off 5,000 cops to avoid fiscal bankruptcy which had left many patrol cars empty. For the six years prior, I had been performing comfortably (in civvies, 9 to 5, no weekends) as a reporter/writer for the monthly Police Magazine SPRING 3100 out of the Press Relations Office at 400 Broome St., known as “The Police Annex”.

Plunked back in a radio car in the 83rd felt like being rudely awakened from a deep sleep, but I’d been in the shit before and soon acclimated. Unexpectedly, I was picked up by an elite Precinct Unit, the Eight-Three Precinct Conditions Car whose sole mandate was to handle, neutralize Precinct “conditions;” namely, drug sales indoors and out, guns toted and sold, stolen car chopshops, counterfeiters, and, of course, arson—essentially, any violent street crime requiring immediate action but beyond the capacities of the regular patrol force. To that end, the Unit ran a stable of a dozen Registered Confidential Informants (CIs) and on the strength of their intelligence procured Judge-ordered Search Warrants for persons and premises which we then executed. That’s where I came in. I’d just graduated from Fordham University Law School, Night Division, which probably made me the only patrolman/lawyer in Borough of Brooklyn North. I interviewed the CIs, drafted the warrants, then took my flesh-and-blood informant and the Warrant down to Brooklyn Night Court where he or she would swear to its underlying truth before a friendly Judge. (No need to bother with hair-splitting assistant district attorneys who’d only gum up the works.)

And that’s how I came to meet Joseph Mad Dog Sullivan on a cold January night in 1977. We had a Search Warrant for an after-hours Puerto Rican “Social Club” (drug market) on Troutman Street, just around the corner from Knickerbocker Avenue, Bushwick’s main commercial drag. We went in without knocking: four patrolmen and our Sergeant, all of us in uniform. From the crowded bar, we were met with a cascade of glassine envelopes floating to the floor like a leaf fall in autumn. At an isolated corner table, I noticed two men staring at us intently, motionless, then the gun under the table. “Gun” I yelled to alert my partners while ordering both men up and on the wall. Before complying, the Irish-looking guy looked me hard in the eyes; he was of average height, muscular build, with eyes like dark pools, dead as a shark’s are said to be. At the Precinct, a call to the Bureau of Criminal Identification at 400 Broome Street informed us we had Joseph Mad Dog Sullivan in custody, on lifetime parole for a murder conviction, the only inmate to ever escape in 1971 from Attica, the maximum security prison upstate. And the gun, a Beretta semi-automatic, operable and loaded with seven live rounds.

In those days, an arresting officer escorted his prisoner to Criminal Court and arraigned him in person before a Judge, after consulting with an assistant district attorney who’d draw up the Complaint. The law permitted charging both men with possession of the gun I found under the table but it weakened the case against either at trial. It was therefore expected by the district attorneys (and approved of with judicial silence) for an arresting officer to solve the dilemma by testimonial creativity; i.e. I swore that I’d observed Mad Dog make a motion under the table where I then found the gun. Pleased with his tidied-up prosecution, the DA and I were in accord that Mad Dog should be on the first bus back to Attica. But that changed when we entered the Courtroom.

Mad Dog’s defense lawyer was Ramsey Clark, former United States Attorney General under President Lyndon Johnson, in the flesh. Mr. Clark, I learned later, had been instrumental in springing Mad Dog to early parole from Attica in 1975, and Mad Dog had been assisting him ever since in “Prison Reform work”. Star-struck and fawning, those who should have know better decided to dismiss all charges and Mad Dog walked free. Clark, Southern gentleman that he is, approached me in the hallway outside Night Court, and said: “Officer, I think justice was done.” I replied: “I doubt that, sir.”

Of course, hooked on the mystery of Mad Dog and Ramsey Clark, I investigated. Between December, 1975 when Ramsey Clark interceded with New York State Parole to release Mad Dog, and our meeting on January 29, 1977 in Brooklyn Night Court, Mad Dog had killed at least three men he admits to—Tom Devaney and Eddie “the Butcher” Cummiskey, in Hell’s Kitchen bars a few days apart; enforcers for Mickey Spillane who controlled the West Side piers and Hell’s Kitchen; and Tom “the Greek” Kapatos on a mid-Manhattan Street. Mad Dog had just begun employment as a hit man for the Genovese crime family, intent on eliminating competitors for control of the waterfront and the Javits Convention Center rackets. I pieced together that the other man at the table arrested with Mad Dog in the Social Club—identified as Anthony “Snooky” Solimini, a soldier in the Manhattan-based Genovese family—was the go-between who arranged the hits. Solimini and Sullivan had history: cell mates when imprisoned as juveniles upstate. Intriguing is the locale for their rendezvous, around the corner from the Italian Cafes, hangouts for the members of the Bonnano crime family.

Was the Don of the Bonnano family, Carmine “The Cigar” Galante, to be Mad Dog’s next assignment from his Genovese patrons? Mad Dog says yes, in his eclectic autobiography co-authored with his wife Gail Sullivan, self-published in 1997 and memorably entitled Tears and Tiers. But, he claims, he could never get close enough during 1978, before a four-man team shot-gunned Galante to death on July 17, 1979 as he lunched in the back garden of Joe & Mary’s Restaurant on Knickerbocker Avenue. Galante’s cousin Joe, the proprietor, and a bodyguard also died. Eventually, an FBI Task Force caught up with Mad Dog for the 1979 murder of a Mob-connected Teamsters Union official near Rochester in late 1979. After convictions for that murder and others in Manhattan, Mad Dog was sentenced to 87 years to Life. He’s now incarcerated at the Sullivan County Correctional Facility (no relation) and goes before the Parole Board for the first time in 2069. He is 77 years old. The FBI credits Joseph Sullivan with 31 mob murders.

Yet, Ramsey Clark has remained Joseph Mad Dog Sullivan’s loyal friend over the years, helping him as he could; Sullivan had christened one of his sons Ramsey. How their friendship came to be and flourished is a mystery. Reminiscent of, yet distinctly different than Norman Mailer’s championing of the convicted murderer Jack Henry Abbott before the New York State Parole Board. Abbott had written a critically acclaimed memoir from inside The Walls, In the Belly of the Beast. Soon after being paroled largely due to Mailer’s efforts, however, Abbott in the course of an argument with a young waiter at an East Village café stabbed him to death. It’s unlikely that Tears and Tiers played any part in the Mad Dog story.

© 2015 Robert Knightly

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Your Marble Angel…

"I saw the angel in the marble and I carved until I set him free."
—Michelangelo

Think of some of your colleagues who have successful mystery novels for sale today: Terry Shames, Alafair Burke, Dennis Palumbo, Tom Savage, Triss Stein, Jenny Milchman, Larry Light, Leslie Budewitz, Matt Coyle, Lois Winston, Mike Lawson, Reed Coleman, Joseph Finder, Sandra Parshall, Hank Phillipi Ryan — to name a few on your long list…

- Contemporary themes…
- Real flesh and blood characters…
- Brainy writers you can communicate with at meetings, or call or email…

You read them all, enjoy most, maybe wish you could have turned in "THAT" novel to your editor this week!

Consider the vast variety of topics these crime writers have chosen — small town Texas, big city crimes, Brooklyn's neighborhoods, kidnapped kids, urban financial crime, small town gift shops, bars, crafts, the law, country life, cops in love — you name it — there's a crime novel on a shelf waiting for your eager eyes!!!

If your thing is international thefts, sex scandals, poisonous foods or French prostitutes — some fellow crime writer will have the book for sale!

Pick a topic that made the news not long ago: Mr. Strauss-Kahn, a onetime presidential contender in France, resigned as head of the International Monetary Fund — after he was accused of sexually assaulting a hotel housekeeper in Manhattan!

How would your favorite writer handle that one? Think, for example, Larry Light, Alafair Burke, Hank Ryan or Jenny Milchman…

You ponder for a moment and YOUR brain tells you at once which authors might tackle that theme!

And which might NOT!

Or food poisoning at the Mayo Clinic. Again, you can imagine some writers taking on that one and some not touching it with a ten-foot pen!

Back to Mr. Strauss-Kahn… There were many real-life issues in his alleged crime… He was also accused of involvement in a prostitution ring in Lille, France. A Serbian high level official said Mr. S-K's history had no bearing on the guy's financial expertise. That questioning Mr. S-K's economic acumen would be like questioning Pablo Picasso's powers as an artist because of his treatment of women!

Which writers on your FAVE list would do the job?

Maybe you yourself!!!

Crime, whatever the genre, color, size, type, location, is brain food for you and your fellow writers.

A crime novelist is: A hunter, always on the prowl for tasty prey…

A homo sapiens with a big brain, gigantic insight, gift of gab and ability to draw and hold an avid audience.

What kind of crime/scene/action/character tugs at your cerebral head strings?

Thelma Jacqueline Straw

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Mike Welch Comes Home

Day 14

I am exhausted. I was able to get Netflix streaming on my Kindle last night, and watched Sherlock. It was the best part of my day, being so tired. I have been walking the city today for what seems like hours. I don’t want to sit down for some reason. I would feel like a loiterer. Finally, I have a beer at a sidewalk café, and converse with a Norwegian business woman about this and that. There is no romance in the air, and I am sad. Vienna by yourself can be a downer, even in November.

In another bar, a guy and his wife are eyeing me. For a threesome? He seems effete, a fop, wearing a too fey scarf ascot thing, and she has on a leather skirt and sexy stockings she should have stopped wearing 20 years ago. Finally, he comes over and explains he manufactures little writers’ notebooks like the one I am writing in. He gives me one.

Day 15

On the train back, I get a Polish girl in my compartment whom I find eyeing me suspiciously every time I look up. I wish I knew how to say I am not a pervert or a rapist on Polish, but I don’t. Weird dreams, even without the Slavic political arguments, and then we are back in Katowice. 5 am I get off the train, and take a wrong turn and end up in the red light district. People are still drinking, and one vomits in the street outside a club named Sex. Now that is creative. Somehow I get back on a street I recognize, and make it back to the hotel. If you lug a back pack a long way, you get sore in weird places, in your hips, feet and shoulders. And if you walk around in sweaty clothes you get chafed in some surprising spots too.

Spent the whole day in my room. Everyone else is in Warsaw at some Chopin concert. I have to admit to myself I think it is pretty cool I went off by myself like that. I know, I know, it wasn’t like I went into the Heart of Darkness or anything, or like I survived in the jungle with a compass and a Swiss army knife, but I did it. Have to go back to normal life tomorrow. Another eight hours crammed into a seat made for a human half my size. And I will have to make my own meals again. No room service, waiters, tour guides—I’ll have to guide myself through life again. This has been fun—I don’t know if any great lessons have been learned, but fun. I do see that there are other ways to live. More economical and ecologically minded, more thoughtful and slower-paced, with more of an emphasis on beauty. And maybe less assurance of our very rightness in the world. They say that a journey without is also a journey within. I don’t know, that is kind of a cliché, but I did learn that I have a taste for travel, and that I enjoyed the quirky comfort of my companions more than I thought I would. Maybe when I retire I will do more of this kind of thing, but like a Hobbit, I think I am going to enjoy the little comforts of my hidey-hole of a home when I get back.

Today, Lufthansa went on strike. I am glad. I don’t want to go home. I like being a stranger in a strange land, and I like being part of this merry band of weird pilgrims. At home, I will be back to the old grindstone, and being ground down with the loneliness of being a 53 year old bachelor. I know, there are a lot worse things, but still, it sucks.

Been back at work for two days now, exaggerating my adventures. It has been fun having people ask me about them. Like it has been fun writing for this blog. Life does indeed move on, both when we want it to and when we don’t.

© 2015 Mike Welch

Friday, December 25, 2015

Strained Credulity


One of the annoying aspects of modern life, especially around the time of the holidays, is the proliferation of signs in shop windows urging us to Believe.

In what? I ask myself. There's a particularly gooey one in the window of a local real estate agency. Believe, it says, in red letters with sparkles and curlicues. In the future of riverside real estate, I guess. Or in the benevolence of your fellow man. Parked nearby is a Florida geezer car covered with cranky bumper stickers. Hilary Lies! says one of them. Well, of course she does. Is she not a politician? Are not her lips moving? They all lie. So what?

That an angry old white man from Florida would not understand this seems sort of pathetic to me. Grow up, old man. It's the way of the world. Forty years or so ago I was married to a man who wasn't Harold. One day about the time of the breakup I realized that it was futile to converse with him, because all he would say was whatever he wanted me to believe. Most people in public life are the same way. After they talk to you, you know nothing you didn't know before except what they want you to think.

If you want Truth, you have to dig for it. It helps to have a solid education. Children should be taught what facts are all about, and to trust their own informed judgment. It helps even more to have trustworthy, hard-working journalists uncovering the things we need to know. An enlightened populace is supposed to be running this country, after all.

Belief is charming, but it's important to know what's real. Once when I was little my sister and I played a game where we blindfolded ourselves and walked around in my grandmother's front yard. I walked into a large elm tree. I had a bump on my head for days. Yet another useful lesson.

Instead of a sign that says Believe, I would post one that says Keep Your Eyes Open. Or even, Study. It may not be as much fun as Believing. It's certainly more work. But for getting through life successfully, it's a lot more effective.

So this is my wish for you for the holidays, and for the coming year: May you study hard and learn things you never knew before. May your eyes always be open. May you find the Truth. May it be nothing you can't stand to hear.

© 2015 Kate Gallison




Monday, December 21, 2015

What's the Matter with the Cops?


I’m in my living room watching the video of this Chicago cop shooting this black kid sixteen times, all but two shots fired at him while he’s down-and-out on the pavement. There are six other cops right there next to the shooter, their guns out, too, probably, but they don’t fire. Laquan McDonald, age 17, was by himself running in the middle of a highly-trafficked street with a pen knife in his hand. This occurred a year ago but it’s news today because the public just got to see a video of the shooting, captured by the camera installed on a police car. I’m betting some cop is in Dutch for forgetting to turn off that camera because that video is the evidentiary lynchpin making a reluctant Chicago Criminal Justice System (pun intended) charge the killer-cop with intentional Murder.

And that’s what he is: a killer-cop. I know this from 20 years as a Patrolman and Patrol Supervisor in the police precincts of New York City and an abiding interest since in police doings. To the initiated, the telltale signs are always there; for example, only that cop fired at the young man, then emptied his gun at him though already out-of-action on the ground—all this mayhem within seconds of getting out of his patrol car. Typically, the killer-cop is not an unknown quantity to the other officers with whom he works day-to-day nor to his sergeants who must file periodic evaluations of his performance. Without a doubt, the Chicago cop has history.

He is not alone nor a rarity. His brothers (apparently, membership exclusively male) are practicing everywhere in the country, primarily in big cities: New York, Chicago, St. Louis, Baltimore, Philadelphia New Orleans, and others yet to be reported on the TV news channels. The virtually universal source of revelation of their deeds is the cell phone cameras used by civilian witnesses to record the interactions between the cop and his victim. Rarely is the action recorded by a patrol car dashcam, as happened in the Chicago shooting, because they’re routinely rendered inoperable if the car’s occupants have that discretion.

Why, I wondered, do all these civilians, typically uninvolved in the action, feel compelled to intervene remotely in a violent, unfolding event? Are they all just frustrated newspaper reporters like “Brenda Starr, Star Reporter” from the Sunday comic strips of my boyhood? Nah! I think they know, in the depths of their being, that otherwise the truth of what really happened will not be told. The police will lie, both the killer-cop and his brother officers who are under the duress of their work ethic to support him by word and deed. Back in the Bad Old ‘80s in the NYPD there were Narcotics cops who worked in teams that were designated “TNT”, the acronym for Tactical Narcotics Teams. To us lawyers who tried cases in the criminal courts, they were more familiarly known as the Tell-No-Truth cops. Their successor generation coined the term “testilying” to describe police testimony in Court under oath.

It’s P.C. to denounce and bemoan the Blue Wall of Silence as if the reluctance of policemen to inform on their fellows (as the police view it) is indefensible, unreasonable. Truth is, it’s a human reaction born of a comradery that must and will always exist among workers in a dangerous profession who must rely upon one another for mutual support—what motivates soldiers on a battlefield.

The problem for the rest of us, including government types who insist upon (and may or may not really want to know) the unvarnished truth, is that it’s hard to get at. Not surprisingly, the six Chicago policemen who witnessed the execution of Laquan McDonald by their brother officer, when interviewed by their superiors, echoed in their written statements some or all of the shooter’s claimed justifications, clearly contradicted by the video. One doubts that the Chicago Police Department or the Mayor were any more committed to the truth than the rank-and-file cop witnesses.

I don’t condemn the police, even those reluctant Chicgao cop witnesses. I regard them as victims, too, of the shooter. Killer-cops are employed in unknown numbers in Police Departments throughout the U.S., arguably even in the FBI that after internal investigations of 170 shootings of “subjects“ has yet to find a “bad shooting”. Killer-cops invariably bring down, destroy the lives of their comrades who covered up for them. Indictments for perjury or worse, loss of employment and pension, jail, are often the fate of lying cops.

A smattering of the NYPD experience with a few of the notorious killer-cops is instructive.

In 1994, Police Officer Francis Livoti killed Anthony Baez, while using his nightstick to choke Baez into submission in the course of arresting him for throwing a football on a Bronx street that struck the windshield of Livoti’s patrol car. Robert Johnson, the long-tenured Bronx District Attorney, unhesitatingly indicted the cop for Depraved Indifference Murder. Livoti elected to be tried by a single Judge rather than a jury (the routine choice of police facing felony charges, invariably in the Bronx where juries are regarded as anti-police). Livoti was ultimately acquitted by the Judge but fired by the Police Department after an administrative trial that found him guilty for the same conduct that was the subject of the criminal trial.

The Police Department procedures have been found by the Courts to be “civil in nature”: consequently, not Double Jeopardy under the Constitution. The U.S. Attorney had entered the picture, indicting Livoti for Violating Anthony Baez’ Civil Rights by taking his life. After trial, Livoti was found guilty and sentenced to 7-1/2 years in Federal prison. No one was taking cell phone videos in those days, but what stands out in my recollections of the Livoti case is one of the trial witnesses: a policewoman who was at the scene whose testimony at the trial put the lie to the defendant’s version of events. She suffered the shameful, usual consequences for telling the truth out loud about wrongdoing by a fellow officer: ostracized by her fellow cops on the Job, under the blind eye of her bosses. See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil: a motto too many police departments live by.

Eerily, Eric Garner’s death last year on Staten Island in New York City echoed the Livoti case in salient details. Police were trying to arrest Garner for selling “loosie” cigarettes in a public park, a trivial, ticketable offense. Five cops piled on Garner to take him off his feet for handcuffing. The last one to pile on, Officer Daniel Pantaleo, applied the Department-banned chokehold to the neck of the much larger man, who choked to death. Unlike Livoti, it was all recorded on a bystander’s cell phone. Unlike Livoti, there was no trial. Although the Staten Island District Attorney presented the case to a grand jury, the jurors voted “No True Bill” (meaning no cop was found to have committed a crime). New York City cops and firemen are overwhelmingly represented in the residential population of Staten Island, known as the most politically conservative borough in the City. Despite the fact that Officer Pantaleo had a considerable history of civilian complaints for use of excessive force in making arrests, none had been proven to the satisfaction of the NYPD.

A readily discernable fact about the killer-cops is that they’re emotionally bent—shrapnel bombs waiting to explode. The fellow policemen they work alongside know it and pray they’re not nearby when it happens. Knowing nothing about that Chicago cop, I predict that he was a disciplinary problem known to his fellow officers and, tragically, to the police supervisors who over 14 years refused to get rid of him when they could. It is always the background in these cases. Virtually, the only reliable indicator of this sort of over-the-top violent behavior is on-the-Job conduct. To a man, the killer-cops have demonstrated it.

In Cleveland, Ohio in November, 2014, Police Officer Timothy Loehmann shot to death a 12-year-old boy within two seconds of getting out of his patrol car. The boy was in a public park waving around a BB-gun that looked like a .45 handgun. Significantly, Loehmann, a recent hire by the Cleveland PD, had a brief career with a smaller department just prior, which was about to fire him for “breaking down emotionally while handling his firearm on the training range” when he resigned. He then applied to four other local police agencies who rejected him before being hired by the Cleveland PD. No action yet by the local prosecutors.

In New York City on August 9, 1997, Officer Justin Volpe sodomized Abner Louima, a Hatian immigrant, in the bathroom of a Brooklyn Precinct with a broken broomstick. Louima was arrested during a free-for-all outside a Flatbush nightclub in that Haitian neighborhood. Volpe thought, mistakenly, that Louima was the man who punched him in the street. The U.S. Attorney immediately took jurisdiction, and indicted Volpe for the assault, along with three other cops who’d been with Volpe in the street and in the station house. Louima could only positively identify Volpe, and no cop corroborated the victim’s testimony or gave evidence against Volpe despite tremendous pressure from the federal prosecutors.

In the end, Volpe’s three co-defendants were acquitted in a jury trial while Volpe, during the trial, elected to plead guilty to Violating (Louima’s) Civil Rights, to avoid a life sentence. He was sentenced to 30 years in Federal prison; one co-defendant, Charles Schwarz, was convicted of perjury and served five years. Two other officers—not assigned to the 70th Precinct but present there that night while processing an arrest—were indicted by the Feds for perjury: essentially, they said they didn’t see what happened in the bathroom nor overheard any incriminating statements, but the prosecutors were intent on sending a message.

One cop pled guilty and went to prison; the other went to trial and, convicted, also went to prison. Both convictions were later reversed, the indictments dismissed, the cops freed, but not reinstated to employment by the Police Department. Officer Volpe was a known steroid abuser, whose violent outbursts should have given ample notice to his fellow cops and supervisors of what lay in store for them all. On a prior occasion when being dressed down by his Squad Sergeant in private, he exploded, flinging chairs about the room. No corrective action or punishment followed.

A moral here? A caution? The wages of sin for a loyal silence or, worse, lying under oath to protect a killer-cop, is more and more likely to be loss of career and/or prison, i.e. life-destroying. When will the good cops get the message?

© 2015 Robert Knightly

Sunday, December 20, 2015

These Are A Few of My Favorite Books

The Stephanie Patterson Best Books of 2015 isn’t nearly as well known as that published by The New York Times, The Washington Post or Publisher’s Weekly.

But I’m going to offer a few of my favorites anyway. If I wrote about a book in the blog earlier this year, it was a favorite and won’t be mentioned here. Also note that unlike NYT, WaPo and PW, my list reflects books I read this year, but they weren’t necessarily published this year.

Best Books of 2015

Atkinson, Kate, Life After Life.
Every time Ursula Todd dies, she is born again. She drowns, she falls off a roof. When she dies in the London Blitz she appears again as the wife of a Nazi officer who hangs out with Eva Braun. This is very cleverly done. Don’t be put off by its description as “postmodern,” it’s a page turner. Just as good in its own way is the sequel to this book, A God in Ruins. It seems like a much more conventional narrative until the last few pages.

Carroll, Lewis, Alice in Wonderland and Alice’s Adventures Through the Looking Glass.
Alice is 150 this year but as fresh, funny and witty as ever. All honor to the man who gave us “galumph” and “chortle.”

Clanchy, Kate, Meeting the English.
Philip Prys, a famous English playwright, has a stroke. Struan is a bright 17 year old from Scotland who needs money to get himself to college. He has considerable experience with stroke patients and nursed his father through his final illness. When he begins to take care of Philip he also has to deal with his patient’s entitled children, his patient’s ex-wife, and his current wife, a 26 year old Iranian artist. His sense of what family members owe to one another and what his patient’s family feels entitled to clash again and again. Well worth a read.

Dickens, Charles, Nicholas Nickleby.
I’m lucky to own a fabulous 2 volume edition of this book which has the monthly installments of the novel as they appeared originally in serial form. This means that every chapter includes wonderful Victorian advertisements for nostrums, all sorts of patent medicine, and other books (Miss Farley’s Botany for Young Ladies). Dickens' good characters are too good to be true but so many of the characters are fabulously drawn and named (Wackford Squeers, The Cheeryble Brothers, the pitiable Smike). If you like lots of colorful characters and plot twists and turns this is the book for you.

Egen, Elizabeth, A Window Opens.
Alice’s husband, Nicholas, does not make partner and leaves his law firm to start his own practice. She then needs to leave her pleasant part-time job as a book reviewer for a women’s magazine for something more lucrative. She lands at Scroll (hint: The author worked at Amazon) where she hopes to create the perfect reading experience for customers. Alas, there is a “pivot” to computer games. Alice also has to deal with her husband whose career switch is not going smoothly, her children, who miss her, and her father, who is growing increasingly ill.

Essbaum, Jill, Alexander.
Hausfrau Anna meets her gorgeous Swiss husband in America. She lives for many years in Switzerland feeling bored and lonely. (She never bothers to learn the language.) She starts therapy. She joins a German language class. She meets lots of men. Overtones of Flaubert and Tolstoy are deliberate.

Everett, Percival, Erasure.
Thelonious “Monk” Ellison is an African-American author of experimental novels. He gives talks on the theory of the novel at academic conferences. When the family from whom he is estranged unravels, he realizes he needs to make some money so he writes “a ghetto novel” like those sometimes favored by talk show hosts. This is satire with humanity and a novel within a novel.

Edison, Jonathan, This is Your Life, Harriet Chance.
Harriet is a woman in her 70s whose husband suddenly dies. She goes on a cruise following his death even though she discovers he meant to go with his mistress. Harriet has many things to contend with, not the least of which are her grown children. The real treat in this book is the narrator, who, depending on his mood, praises, encourages, chides, and mocks his heroine.

Groff, Lauren, Fates and Furies.
This is a more literary version of Gone Girl. Once more we have an account of marriage from two points of view, the wife and the husband. Lotto (short of Lancelot) sees his wife Mathilde as almost perfect. She doesn’t see herself that way and neither does the reader.

Knausgaard, Karl Ove, My Struggle: Book Four.
I’m never sure I actually like this series of books, but I keep reading. This one finds our “hero” starting his career as a writer, working as a teacher and hoping to find a girlfriend. The events in these books are stunningly ordinary but I do find myself wanting to know how the series (there are two more books to come) turns out.

Murray, Paul, Skippy Dies.
Paul (“Skippy”) Juster is a student at Seabrooke College, an Irish boy’s school. When the priest who runs the school is taken ill, he is replaced by an administrator who is interested in “branding” and mission statements and all things blandly corporate. He is frustrated at almost every turn by students and faculty. Besides the sensitive Skippy, he must deal with the young genius Ruprecht Van Doren who is trying to find a portal into another world. Then there is Howard (the Coward) Fallon who tries to rouse both his students and himself from a constant torpor by having them read Robert Graves’ WWI memoir, Goodbye to All That, and consider the lives of young men not much older than they are when they go to war. The is book is complex, ambitious, thoughtful and hilarious.

Packer, Ann, The Dive From Clausen’s Pier.
On a Memorial Day weekend Carrie and Michael, who are engaged to be married, drive out to Clausen’s Pier for a picnic. Michael is paralyzed after diving into shallow water. Burdened by guilt and the expectations of others, Carrie drives to New York City and a new life. Eventually, Carrie has to decide where she will be happiest. I understand that readers, frustrated by her decision, have hurled the book across the room. My Kindle is pricy so I didn’t go that far.

Yanagihara, Hanya, A Little Life.
I didn’t so much read this book as live in it. It is grim, but compelling. It follows four male friends live in NYC. JB is an artist who chronicles the group friendship in his work, Malcolm is an architect and Willem becomes quite a famous actor. The focus of the group is frequently Jude St Francis whose brutal physical and sexual abuse as a child continues to blight his adulthood. While he has a brilliant professional life and commands the love and loyalty of many people, he is never really able to reveal much of himself to them. Some of the book didn’t ring true to me, but all in all, I found it hard to put down.

Crime Fiction

Armstrong, Charlotte, Mischief.
When a couple travel to NYC so that the husband can make a speech (about what we never know) at an important dinner, he and his wife bring their young daughter with them. They hire a babysitter to take care of her in the hotel room and that is when the mischief occurs.

Dahl, Julia, Invisible World.
Rebekah Roberts is a stringer for The New York Tribune. When she begins investigating the murder of the wife of a prominent Hasidic Jew she confronts a crime that no one seems to want to investigate. Rebekah’s mother is a Hasidic woman who left home shortly after Rebekah was born. Her father is not Jewish As she is drawn deeper into the investigation she learns more about her community and her own past.

Greenwood, Kerry, Cocaine Blues.
This is the first of the Phryne Fisher mysteries. Phryne is what used to be called in the 1920s a New Woman. Her first mystery finds her leaving her boring London season to investigate the disappearance in Australia of a friend’s daughter. There is plenty of wit and adventure and the portrait of post WWI Australia is fascinating as well.

French, Tana, The Secret Place.
Just a word of warning. It’s best to read Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad mysteries in order. (This is her fifth). If you don’t, certain allusions and quirks of character won’t make sense. The action for this case is set at an exclusive girls' school. Holly Mackey, the daughter of detective Frank Mackey, thinks she may have found a clue to an unsolved crime committed at the school. French’s understanding of the loyalties that young girls form and the secrets they keep make this
mystery most absorbing.

Hawkins, Paula, The Girl on the Train.
This has been one of the best selling books of the year and hardly needs my endorsement. Rachel passes the house of two people she calls Jess and Jason. They seem happy and she spends a lot of time imagining what their lives might be like. Then one day she sees Jess kissing someone who isn’t Jason. Jess then seems to disappear. This is fun because you have the perspective of several unreliable narrators.

Nesbo, Jo, The Harry Hole novels: (Cockroaches, Redbreast, Nemesis, Devil’s Star, Redeemer, The Snowman, The Leopard, The Panther, The Police).
Harry Hole is a cop based in Oslo (though the first two books take place in Australia and Thailand). His personal life is a mess. One can question whether any police detective, no matter how brilliant, would be retained by his employer if he consumed the the number of substances Harry does.The books are undeniably compelling. Detective Hole is very smart (except about his own life) and the books are riveting.

Nonfiction

Allingham, Margery, The Oaken Heart: An English Village at War.
Allingham is best known for her murder mysteries, but this is a tale of her life in rural England during WWII when she helped families evacuated from London (people from urban areas don’t necessarily find the country soothing) and neighbors cope. She also manages to work on a novel. Other accounts of Allingham’s life don’t necessarily jibe with the portrait she paints here but she is, after all, a writer of fiction.

Carr, David, The Night of The Gun.
This is better than a memoir. Who can really trust the memories of a drug addict? Carr, a substance loving, award winning reporter goes back and essentially researches and reports his own addiction. He talks to friends, lovers and people he betrayed. This is a great book about the fallibility of memory but also about the rewards of recovery.

Cooke, Rachel, Her Brilliant Career.
This is a look at 10 British women who had major careers in the 1950s. I had heard of none of them and when I checked out the Amazon UK site found that many of the British readers of this book knew little about these women either. Subjects include the Box sisters, who were very much involved in the British movie industry, Elizabeth David, a sort of British Julia Child, and Rose Heilbronn, one of the first women to “take silk” (become a high court judge). My total unfamiliarity with any of these women didn’t get in the way of my enjoying the book.

de Margerie, Caroline, American Lady: The Life of Susan Mary Alsop.
Though she was both an author and a Washington hostess, Susan Mary Alsop came of age in a time when women got their power, in part, from their associations with men. She married Bill Patton, had a child with British diplomat Duff Cooper, and then married Joseph Alsop at at time when his Georgetown dinner parties were the place to be for important and policy changing political discussions. The book is fascinating look at a woman who was notable even though the times in which she lived did not especially favor women who asserted themselves.

Granger, Farley Include Me Out: My Life From Goldwyn to Broadway.
Farley Granger may be best known for his role in Hitchcock’s filming of Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on A Train. This is a good book about movie star life in the 1950s and being gay when it could ruin your career. Granger and writer/director Arthur Laurents lived together for a while, Laurents paid for Granger to undergo psychoanalysis. When they broke up Laurents offered to find Granger an analyst in New York. Granger said, “But I don’t feel guilty about being homosexual. I don’t need analysis.” Indeed, Granger hadn’t been keeping his appointments in California. He just drove around for a therapeutic hour.

Hart-Davis, Rupert, and Lyttleton, George, The Lyttleton-Hart-Davis Letters (v1-2 1955-1957).
Whenever I meet someone who has read these letters, I know I’ve met a kindred spirit. Hart-Davis was a British publisher, author and editor (he edited the complete correspondence of Oscar Wilde) and Lyttleton was one of his Eaton masters .
They meet at some literary function and Lyttleton complains that no one wrote to him. Hart Davis takes up the challenge until Lyttleton’s death in 1962. It is a wonderfully bookish correspondence and has had a substantial impact on my book budget.

Lough, David, No More Champagne: Churchill and Money.
This is the letter to his wife Clementine that inspires the name of this book: “No more champagne is to be bought. Unless special directions are given only white or red wine, or whiskey and soda will be offered at luncheon and dinner. The Wine Book is to be shown to me every week. No more port is to be opened without special instructions.” Churchill’s daughter has no recollection of these directions ever being followed. We owe the flow of Churchillian publications to the fact that he never had enough money. He did expensive taste, a love of gambling and stock market speculation. A book sure to make any reader feel better about her financial acumen.

Manning, Molly Guptill, When Books Went to War: The Stories That Helped Us During WW II.
During WWII the US government thought providing soldiers with books would offer a wonderful contrast to the book burning of Nazi Germany. This is the story of ASEs (Armed Services Editions) that were produced and the paperback revolution they heralded. The most popular book printed in these editions? A Tree Growns in Brooklyn by Betty Smith.

Maraniss, David, Once in a Great City: A Detroit Story.
Maraniss, a Detroit native, tells the story of an 18 month period in the history of Detroit from roughly 1962-1964. There’s a lot about the auto industry and the civil rights movement. Martin Luther King led a march that foreshadowed the March on Washington. There is lots of good stuff about Motown. You can read about Aretha Franklin and her influential pastor father, C. L. Franklin.

Reidel, Michael, Razzle Dazzle: The Battle for Broadway.
This is not a full account of Broadway musicals. Reidel is interested in the musicals backed by the Shubert Brothers and the Nederlanders. If, like me, you’re not an Andrew Lloyd Webber fan, the latter part of this book is fascinating in the way a train wreck is. But there’s lots of gossipy details about many Broadway stars and how various Broadway properties did or did not make it on The Great White Way.

Risen, Clay, The Bill of the Century: The Story of the Civil Rights Act.
You see, once upon a time government worked. This is the story of the many people who made the Civil Rights Act possible and how they worked together to get it passed. Democrats worked with Republicans—I know you think I should have put this in the fiction section—and a major piece of legislation was passed. It makes me proud and sad to read about this much more productive time in political history.

Schultz, Kevin, Buckley and Mailer: The Difficult Friendship That Shaped The ‘60s.
The subtitle here might be more accurate if it characterized the relationship between Buckley and Mailer as one that reflected the ‘60s rather than shaped it. The interest of the book lies in its portrayal of two very different people trying to understand each other.

Silberman, Steve, Neurotribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity.
Silberman’s book traces the history of autism theory, diagnosis and treatment but also looks at how people with various neurological idiosyncrasies have affected our technology and our culture.

Stephanie Patterson

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Mike Welch Goes to Vienna

Day 10

I have decided to take the bus to Vienna. It is only about $40 round trip. And I found a room in Vienna for $56. I hope it is not too horrible. I just wanted to see one of those classic European cities. This is more like Pittsburgh on the Polish Plain or something. I don’t have any German, so it will be an adventure, but I am game. I leave at 11 tonight, and get there at 7 am.

I needed a caffeine fix, and so found a kind of 7-11, mini mart gas station convenience store behind the hotel. They have a lot of the usual stuff, beer and soda and junk food. They also have vodka. I got a lot of Pepsi, they don’t have diet, usually, and when they do it is called “lite.” I don’t know if it is comforting to know you can get caffeine, sugar and alcohol along with your gas in Katowice as well as Albany. I’d like to give the world…….a coke?

Drank a lot of beer today. Reminded me of college. You start out thinking this is great, I can drink as much as I want, and then you realize you didn’t want to drink all that much. And then you get a hangover anyway. It seems like everyone has a little English in their arsenal, even though I have no Polish in mine. The weather during the day is quite nice, although the temperature plummets as soon as the sun goes down. In the early morning, a fog that is not quite a fog, but something perhaps more synthetic and pernicious, covers everything. Seems like everyone walks on takes the Tram. I keep being surprised by all the odd foreign, tiny cars. I guess us Americans think the whole world is supposed to choose to be just like us. They are really tough on jaywalking here. Everyone waits patiently for the pedestrian light to change. Some of us have gotten impatient and gone against the light, only to have the cops stop us and yell at us in Polish. We got off by pleading ugly American ignorance. Matteus says he has three unpaid tickets sitting on his dresser at home.

Day 11

Off to Vienna tonight. I changed to the train, which is still only $60 each way. I am a little afraid, to be honest, Stranger in a Strange Land, not knowing where the traps and lairs and snares are, but I can’t pass up this opportunity. The romance of Vienna, the third man, John Irving’s novels, etc. I think a train is more cool than a bus. When I was taking the bus, I had this image of people sitting on the roof and chickens running around, but that must be South America or Mexico. You would freeze to death riding on top a bus in Poland. We go through Czechoslovakia to get there. And they even have Wi-Fi! What could be bad with Wi-Fi?

Day 12

I turned 53 on this trip. November 1st. All Saints Day. A big deal in Italy, All Saints day. And in Poland too. The tour guide explained the night before, our Halloween, is the time to go out and party, and then you go and visit your dead relatives with a hangover and some flowers at their gravesides the next day. That is, unless you did something like drinking and driving and got killed and joined them here in the cemetery.

I am staging a rebellion. I am not going to see one more statue or painting or old monument. I am going to Vienna, to sit in a café and write like some real writer. Or at least like a guy who wants to be a real writer. And besides, familiarity is breeding contempt. David, whom I love dearly, asks the tour guide stupid questions, has more special requests at dinner than Meg Ryan in When Harry met Sally, and always manages to somehow hold up the plane or the tour bus. Our other friend Ted is loaded, and always talks about how he is going to give his money away to some charity at the same time he is trying to cadge free beers off you. Don, who is a good guy, is bright, but intense and worried. He has been talking about his colon and Metamucil and a possible blockage for three days now. I want to take a plunger to him, or a snake. Roto rooter the guy into silence. Oh, and the singers don’t get along with the piano player, and they don’t like to take direction, and yada yada ya.

Day 13

Took off last night on the midnight train to Vienna. Trapped in a compartment with two Slavs (Poles? Russians?) who I could not decipher. They talked loudly for the whole six hour trip. I could make out Beider Meinhof, Roosevelt, Churchill, realpolitik, agitprop, Ben Gurion, Palestine, and not really anything else. Politics, but it could be of the far right or far left variety. From the volume, I don’t think it was right down the middle of the old plate. While they expounded and expatiated, I dozed fitfully, dreaming I was in a movie, or movies, and it had something to do with Truman Capote and In Cold Blood, and I had to run up a very steep hill like in The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, and I kept reminding myself it was only a movie when it turned into something like Carnival of Souls, where I think I am alive and can only stay out of the graveyard until I realize I didn’t survive the car crash I thought I did.

We got to Vienna late—two minutes late. Pretty good. It is a pretty crappy part of town, looks like. The Banhoff Meidling Station. It’s pretty cold outside, and I set off with my heavy back pack and my money belt around my waist, savvy and intrepid traveler that I am. I get a map but four attempts to find the city center by Tram and bus failed, so I begin to fret. A bus took me to an industrial area and then a rural one, and I figured I could either stay on and get more lost, or stay on and find the city again. I gamble on staying on, and soon we come to an “underground” stop (the subway) and I am golden. There are only six lines, and even I can figure out how to get around.

By now it is not freezing at all, I am sweating. I order a beer in a café and sit for twenty minutes waiting for the bartender to come back and see if I want another one. I wander out and look at St Stephen’s square. I am exhausted. They have horse drown carriage rides, and I feel bad for the horses, like I always do when I see them in Central park. Like the comfort and romance for the few must be paid by the blood and brute labor of the many.

I don’t want to miss check in time at the Ramada on Greisinghoffgasse, so I set off on the subway again. Did I mention it takes .50 euro to take a pee? This is the only way Europe does not seem kinder and gentler to me. People walk around and take long meals just for the heck of it. They push babies in strollers. There are bike paths everywhere. Public transportation is a viable option. Store owners stand outside their stores sweeping the sidewalk with care.

My neighborhood is a little Greenwich Village, an open air market right across the street, with book stalls and restaurants that are little more than shacks. You can get beer everywhere (I will find out later you can even get it at the movie theater). Kids play basketball in a little park. They are OK, but would get slaughtered in Bed Stuy or Harlem. They play soccer too. There are betting parlors, and instead of what I called a candy store as a kid, you buy candy and cigarettes and gum and the paper in a Tabak Shop. A lot of these are run by Muslims.

© 2015 Mike Welch

Friday, December 18, 2015

Christmas at Corwin C

It's raining in Lambertville this morning, looking like another warm day today. Our Christmas tree is up. The tree is modest this year, not too tall, rather slim. I like them slim some years. They remind me of my first Christmas at Douglass, in the dorm called Corwin C, where we put up a downright scrawny tree and draped it all over with junk jewelry. In those days people didn't steal your stuff if you put it out in public. Maybe it rained. We were very merry. There were, as I recall, sixteen girls in the dorm.

No boys. Douglass was a women's college in those days, not an appendix of Rutgers • the State University. Sixteen girls, six of them Jewish, four of them Theater Arts majors (an overlapping set), one anti-Semite, one Chinese Jamaican, one married woman whose husband was at school on the West Coast, one budding beauty queen who together with her roommate played the baritone ukulele and sang close harmony, and one girl who used to weep and scream at her mother on the phone, a pay phone in the downstairs hall right outside where I was trying to sleep.

But the screaming girl didn't last until Christmas. She was a pretty little thing. I used to listen to her shouting at her poor mother and think, that's amazing. If I shouted at my mother like that God would turn me to stone. She went home for Thanksgiving and never came back.

For those of you who are younger than I am, and that would be nearly everybody at this point, a few words about what dorm life was like in those days. There were rules. No men in the rooms. Or, you could have a man in your room, but you had to holler first—MAN COMING UP, or something like that—and keep your door open, and everyone had to have two feet on the floor at all times. We had an eleven o'clock curfew. You could sign out overnight to a relative's house, or the house of a fellow student's parents. You could lie about that, though I never had occasion to. Douglass was on an honor system. That meant if you messed up you had to turn yourself in, and if your sisters messed up you had to rat them out.

The building itself was pre-war, high-ceilinged, steam-heated, sparsely wired, anciently plumbed. You could make tea out of the water that came from the hot tap but it tasted funny. You could get the heat to come on a bit higher by wrapping ice in a washcloth and putting in on the thermostat. If anything terrible happened in the night there was a whistle for you to stand on the doorstep and blow. It would summon two watchmen, one tall and skinny, the other short and fat, with their eyes rolling around in their heads, wondering what was up. They did not go about armed. There was no need to.

At set intervals—Once a week? Once a month? I can't recall—we had house meetings. One of the senior girls was house chairman. I want to call her Ellen Silverman, but that can't be right, that was Spenser's girlfriend. Anyway, her name was something like that, and she would call a meeting. At eleven o'clock we would all be in the living room in our jammies and bathrobes, with our hair up in curlers and stuff on our faces, for the meeting. All I remember from those meetings is a lot of giggling. There must have been serious business discussed but it escapes my memory.

The one meeting I remember is the Christmas party. Somewhere we got hold of good things to eat and drink. No alcohol, though, because it was against the rules. Marilyn Rockafellow (She would go on to become Miss New Jersey that year, but that's another story) and her roommate, a talented girl whose name escapes me, sang songs the roommate had made up. We all sang Christmas carols. The Jewish girls joined in, because they were good sports. Then we sang Hanukkah songs.

The party wasn't about the birth of Our Lord, anyway. It was about the music, and the camaraderie, and the beauty of life and youth.

© 2015 Kate Gallison

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Not Always a Lonely Hunter… Is a Crime Writer

Any writer who has the nerve to wade into the murky world of crime novels has a lot of guts. Talent also. Plus allegiance to fellow members of the unique Tribe called Crime Novelists.

When you admit to non-Tribals you are a Writer, often their eyes glaze over, as they give you "that" patronizing smile.

Then, when you whisper the word - CRIME - they put on their protective shields, stammer they have an urgent meeting, and vanish…

But mention the magic word C-R-I-M-E to a fellow Tribal and you are at once held by the warmth of instant bonding!

Most folks who write Crime Fiction are far from being criminals themselves. Most of us are guardians of our Precious Earth Planet.

We have deep respect for Fellow Tribesmen, regard them as dear friends and colleagues.

I bear great honor for people of my Tribe… some names are engraved upon my soul: Marilyn Henderson, author of over 60 novels, who honored me as Crime Book Reviewer for her early email work, Lady M.

Mel Berger, eminently wise agent of the Great and Famous, who is the best writing coach on the planet!

And many others: Alice Orr, versatile early pillar of the Mystery Writers, Leslie Budewitz, now SinC President, a thoughtful sharer.

Bob Knightly, Esquire, Jim Fusilli, Al Ashforth, for diverse expertises and professionalism.

Andy Peck, whose lawyerly guidance taught us how to stay within the boundaries.

Hallie Ephron, Hank P. Ryan, and Robin Hathaway (R.I.P.), who share with untold numbers of crime-writing Tribals their wisdom.

Earl Staggs and Kaye Barley, two of the friendliest Tribals on the planet!!

The hundreds of crime writers who have inspired us, not only with their writing, but their braininess and guts in swimming through the icy torrents to get published!

Please give your thanks, as I do today, for the Tribals in your life, who have inspired, nurtured, advised you --- in your own swim through the icy waters of the sea of publishing!

Tell us who your own Tribal Guides have been !!!!!

Thelma J. Straw

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Mike Welch Proceeds to Poland


Finally made it to Katowice, not Krakow. Don’t ask me how to pronounce the name of this place we are in. It has about as many people as Newark, 300,000. It’s an old mining town, trying to resurrect itself by turning to service. They host the European Handball Championships soon. Here in the hotel are the National Hockey teams of Poland, Norway, South Korea and someone else. They are having a tournament. Finally, I can get some laundry done. Had a good old traffic jam at a toll booth on the way here. Progress. I think we are here because it is near Warsaw, where we are going to a Chopin concert. I am ashamed to know so little history. I think I could point out Poland on a blank map, but I know I could not point out Warsaw of Krakow, much less Katowice. The hotel is very nice, and you can get a lot for your good old American dollar, translated into the local currency, which is the zloty.

People are uniformly white and pale here, and I don’t think I have seen any fat people. Maybe it is because the portions at the meals are so small. I wonder how many zloty they will charge me for the coke I took from the mini-bar. We go to a salt mine today, and a brewery. Took a walk through the city last night—it was freezing. Found a mall very much like American malls. And a McDonalds. And a Foot Locker. This is what they have decided to adopt from us? The TV has English channels BBC News and CNN. The internet connection sucks. Goes in and out.

Looking forward to the brewery tour. Don’t know what there is to see at a salt mine. Salt? The treadmill is weird, as the speed is measured in kilometers per hour. The chicken wings are only nominally so. This is port city, on the Baltic, I think. Or the Black or the Caspian. Who can remember? People in Poland seem more friendly than in Rome. They had unisex bathrooms in Rome. Met a mother and daughter from Vancouver in the Munich Airport. The boy of the family was in the world hip hop championships. I didn’t know people from Canada knew what hip hop was. She said she was dismayed to see how America lets religion infect politics. I pointed out the George Bush took his marching orders directly from God, who was in the habit of calling him on the red phone. I wonder what the Pope thinks about that. The people in Rome were just wild about him. I told him, when he held a personal audience for me, to allow women to be priests, so my mother would stop carping about it.

Day 9

Walked all around Katowice on a big tour. Our tour guide, Matteus, was saintly in his patience. My friend David kept asking him dumb questions, over and over. Believe me, there is such a thing as a dumb question. Or an irrelevant one. Or weird. Or all three. David is the same guy who objected to a clerk at the Vatican touching his post cards and getting thumbprints on them. That guy Don seems to have echolalia. He repeats everything the guide says, and then asks him if he has gotten in right. I’ve got only one English channel on the TV, BBC News, and boy is it depressing. Katowice is in Upper Silesia. Silesians, at least some, see themselves as separate from Poland, ethnically, culturally and even linguistically, and have a history of being taken advantage of, bullied, by the authorities, kind of like Poland itself has been bullied by Germany on the West and Russia on the East.

Matteus (no matter how many times he tells David how to say it, David butchers it) explained the difference between the Russians and the Prussians by saying the former drank vodka and didn’t like to work and the latter drank beer and did like to. We went to the old village where the coal miners lived. It looked bleak and Dickensian, sooty dark brick, filthy, depressing. Matteus says there is a mixture there of the poor and young artists trying to make their marks there, those with lives ahead of them, and those who feel like they never had one to begin with, maybe like Greenwich Village.

Two little kids, a toddler and his three or four year old sister, came to a window to stare at us. Anne, she of the Israeli husband, went to take a picture. I told her the mother of the filthy kids might not want to be the subject of a National Geographic documentary. The kids looked terrified and yet wild to make contact with something more than the grinding monotony of their poverty, or maybe their TV was just broken.

Street art, Katowice


© 2015 Mike Welch

Friday, December 11, 2015

Binge-reading Robert B. Parker

A short while ago somebody donated a pile of Robert B. Parker's Spenser paperbacks to the Lambertville Free Public Library. As occasionally happens, the library director brought them home to read before putting them in the collection or in the book sale. The stack is now on the table in our living room. Harold has read them all, and I am reading them, obsessively, perhaps in an unhealthy way. You know how it goes. There are probably quizzes on Facebook to find out how bad you're being. Is this activity interfering with your normal activities? Are your social interactions suffering? Do you find yourself growing distant from loved ones? That sort of thing.

Woman Reading by a Window by David Alison 
By way of interacting in a healthy way with my loved one, as opposed to ignoring him while my nose was stuck in a book, I went for a walk with Harold today and asked him what he thought was so compelling about Robert B. Parker's writing. Lots of things, we agreed. They move along at a brisk pace. The recipes are good. Spenser always makes something tasty to eat in the course of rescuing some beautiful woman or other. Harold himself tried to replicate one of his concoctions, something involving broccoli and pasta. But my favorite thing is the violence. Before the end of every one of these books, retired boxer-turned-private eye Spencer beats the living crap out of some bad guy. Sometimes he pounds him to a jelly and then his friend Hawk shoots him. It's extremely satisfying.

So I've read about five of these in the last two days or so. It's true that I had a tummy ache part of the time. But not all the time. And it isn't as though I had nothing to do. I should be writing Christmas cards and buying presents, to say nothing of working on my book. But I only have three more Spenser novels to go before I can let Harold take the collection back to the library.

Okay, here's the thing. I'm studying these books for technique. That's why I'm reading them. When I get all finished I will have many handy tips on how to write riveting and compelling crime stories. It isn't a vice. It's a professional exercise.

© 2015 Kate Gallison

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Mike Welch Goes to Rome, Days 4 - 7

Day 4

Saw the Borghese Gallery. That Bernini guy can make sculpture that is not statuary in the sense of standing still, but seems to actually be moving. For a second, I thought David was going to sling his shot at me. Caravaggio, who apparently was a bit of a prick, has got some pretty great stuff too. I liked St Jerome writing the Vulgate the best.


There is dissension in the ranks. We were told, or at least everyone thinks we were told, that transportation to and from Rome was provided. Apparently, now, it costs twenty euros a day. And the pool is filled with algae, and the gym is a couple of dumbbells stored under a tarp in a storage shed. Lots of grumbling all around. The weather is beautiful. Sunny and in the low 70’s. Took a double decker bus tour around the city. Weird, and great, how the styles from all the centuries are stacked higgledy-piggledy next to one another. The Termini (their Grand Central Station) is chaos itself. The vendors in the shops range from the brusque to the outright rude. I saw two beggars, and one homeless person. Dinner at an outdoor café (spaghetti Bolognese and some sausage dish) was nothing you could not have gotten in NY. Tomorrow we take a walking tour. We have figured out how to get trains and cabs, and have given the bus company the big raspberry. They are always late anyway. People are starting to talk about Italian time. And the singers have decided they are not chipping in for the bus in any event.

Day 5

The prostitutes park on the shoulder of the road on the way to the train station. Quite out in the open. Some of them look quite beautiful, but I think I will abstain. I guess Rome is a city of both pagan excess and Christian asceticism. I don’t tend towards the latter, but have a feeling an assignation with a hooker would not turn out well for me.

There are regional differences here as in America. I heard our tour guide refer both to Northerners and Southerners, Florentines and Venetians and Sicilians. I am not sure what the differences are yet, but I will keep my ears open.

Day 6

OK, I am getting tired of statues and paintings, statues and paintings. Enough. Some of Caravaggio’s stuff is pretty impressive. It is hard to explain—they are so bold and hit you so hard. But in a good way. Finally had a really good dinner. At an outdoor restaurant. Or an indoor outdoor one. Most of them are like that. It was Halloween, and at night the little beasties and goblins and Ghoulies were out in force. The drivers really are terrible. And you take your life in your very hands when you cross the street. My friend David is driving me nuts. I love him, but he is very OCD and very particular. One of those people who always wants things in a special way, off the menu, off the map, off the wall. He got mad at a store clerk for getting thumbprints on his post cards. And we went to a café where they were selling different things by the pound, and he wanted them to mix everything together for him, a little of each.

There is a revolution brewing. Or at least a minor uprising. We’ve decided the tour manager ripped us off on the tours. On one of them, he charged us each $92. Later we found you could go on that one (the Vatican) for fifteen Euros. So there has been a lot of complaining on that count. The internet works only on the sun porch outside the main office (sometimes). People are pissed. Day after tomorrow it is up at 3 am to head for Krakow. Why Krakow? That is probably what the members of the party that settled it said to their leader.

Day 7

Quite a day. One of the guys, Don, an older guy who is a math teacher, and I went off on our own. The subway has as much graffiti as NY. I think graffiti was originally a Latin word. I took a cab, and the cabbie took offense at the driving of another car. He pulled alongside and let loose with a string of invective, real juicy expletives. I joined in. I caught imbecile and mongoloid. I tried y tu mama tambien. That was fun, kind of a cleaning of the emotional pipes. Kind of like NY.
We found an Irish pub, of all things. They were playing saccharine American music, though. No Pogues, no Chieftains, no Irish Rovers. I didn’t say anything, keeping in mind the cabbie’s titanic tirade. They have an Italian beer called Peroni.

© 2015 Mike Welch

Friday, December 4, 2015

Roads of Terror

Yesterday fifteen or twenty of the girls from my class in high school met for the annual holiday party at Carpaccio's in Middlesex. I was happy to see them all. Most of us are still on our feet, which is an achievement in itself at our age, and all of us are still finding fun in life. The food was great as always. I passed up the cheesecake—all three flavors—and even the lemon sorbet, which came packed in the peel of an actual lemon, because after eating a full serving of tortellini in some kind of cream sauce I was stuffed.

Breaking with tradition, we had a lunch party instead of a dinner party. For some of us, driving at night is becoming difficult. For me, driving at all in that part of the world is enormously stressful. Those ladies are used to it, since most of them stayed around the old home town after graduation. But I'm used to Lambertville. Here I go as far as the store and back and that's pretty much it, except for the odd excursion to Flemington to see the doctor, or worse, to the far side of Princeton to see the endodontist.

What I mostly hate about driving in north central Jersey is the circles. The Somerville Circle is one of those circles of Hell that Dante used to write about. I will bear any burden, follow any route, to avoid the Somerville Circle. Before I leave on these trips to go see my old girlfriends I always sit down with several paper maps and an online direction service and plot a route that will let me avoid 1) the Somerville Circle and 2) any left turn across traffic. Don't ask me why. It might have something to do with an accident I had many years ago where a fellow ran into the driver's side door of my old Mazda. Man, that was two or three cars in the past. The cars come and go, but the psychological damage remains.

So I got busy and plotted a route this morning that would take me straight to Carpaccio's (it's on Route 28) without encountering any circles or otherwise hair-raising intersections and without going on the dreaded Route 22, where all the gung-ho drivers race along bumper to bumper. And my plan worked fine. Since it was daylight, I was able to see all the street signs. New Jersey roads are marked much better than, say, Pennsylvania roads. I came rolling up to the restaurant about the time that everybody else did, partied down, and had a fine time.

Then it was time to go home.

Do you think I could retrace my route, even with it written out in front of me in indelible marker on fluorescent pink sticky notes? I got lost three times. Once I found myself barreling along on Route 22, racing toward New York City. Hey, at least the sun wasn't right in my eyes anymore. That was my first clue that I wasn't headed west, by the way. Then I found myself—you guessed it!—staring into the maelstrom of the dreaded Somerville Circle.

Somehow I got through that without getting honked at or ploughed into. But I missed the way to Route 202, got lost again, found myself in one of those housing developments where you have to slow down to 15 miles an hour to keep from breaking an axle on the speed bumps, knowing that Route 202 was right over that way, only there wasn't a way there from where I was…

Well, you get the picture. Finally I got home. At this point I figure I have two choices: either I never go back there again, which would be too bad, because I would miss those ladies, or I make a point of going to Somerville, Bound Brook, and Middlesex once a week and just driving all over the place until I get used to it. Maybe I'll do that. Gas is cheap right now.

© 2015 Kate Gallison


Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Spies Behind the Spies

Long before the planet went gaga over the film ARGO, I was fixated on Tony Mendez…

Antonio J. Mendez, a soft-spoken, nondescript, nice-guy operative — in the world of espionage, known to the head honchos of the CIA, and other world-class agencies, as "the Master of Disguise."

Tony, an undisputed genius, could create an entirely new identity for Anybody! Anywhere! Anytime!

Combining the cunning tricks of a magician with the analytical insight of an expert psychologist, he saved hundreds of men and women from death — or perhaps worse — by his talents.

He earned the CIA's Intelligence Star for planning the escape of The Famous 6 Americans from Tehran in 1980.

On the 50th Anniversary of the CIA, Tony was named one of the 50 all-time stars of the "spy trade" and is known to be one of the highest levels performers EVER in international espionage!

A former plumber and illustrator from Eureka, Nevada, Tony rose to be the Chief of Disguise of the CIA's technical services staff.

An expert in East Asian spycraft, Mendez masterminded much of the Cold War intrigue in Moscow, as a disguise specialist in the CIA Office of Technical Services. He also helped develop and deploy espionage gadgets — including a low-light camera used during the first moon landing and miniature lithium batteries that were the predecessors of batteries used in modern portable electronics.

Appointed Chief of their Graphics and Authoritative Division, he helped transform the identity of CIA field operations, by supplying them with high-level forged documentation for use in field missions.

Tony married his colleague of 27 years, Jonna Goeser, who was a camera expert and who also trained CIA officers in the use of Covert Technologies. They now live in Maryland.

After their retirement, the husband-and-wife team were called by the Agency to enter the lecture circuit and chronicle their undercover careers in places like Germany, India and Thailand, in an effort to "humanize" the secretive Agency.

Their book SPY DUST recounts their intelligence work in the USSR in the 1980s.

If you share my fascination with the spycraft of these two people, I suggest you read The Master of Disguise, by Tony Mendez and Spy Dust, by Antonio and Jonna Mendez.

Thelma Jacqueline Straw

P.S. I wonder if these two experts are doing any undercover work or advisory functions today, in this maelstrom of international spydom!!!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Mike Welch Goes to Rome - Days 2 and 3



Is Italy one of those countries where everyone is late and nobody worries about it? I think it might be. Our bus into town was an hour late on the way into town and then a half hour late coming back.

We wandered around the Vatican, and it was OK. I am not an art kind of guy, but our tour guide, Ellen, gave us the history of Italy in a nutshell as we wandered around. I liked looking at her as much as I enjoyed the paintings. Our fearless leader, Carmella, who runs the nonprofit that sponsored the voice contest and then set up this concert tour for the winners, is forever wearing a jaunty hat, and has a way of putting her fist on her hip which is very Mussolini like. I think she is a little whacky. Hard to say why. Not Mussolini whacky, but maybe arty-whacky, like not too concerned with mundane details like getting us a hotel that isn’t out in the middle of nowhere, or making sure the bus is on time to take us back from Rome when we are standing on the street in the rain at 11 pm. We are dinner at 11 pm, after travelling back on the late bus, and paying twenty euros for a bus that was supposed to be paid for as part of the tour package.

I hung out at a sidewalk café, outside a gelateria, or ice cream shoppe, where I had a few draught Spatens, a German beer. It was good. I said slainte (Irish for salud or cheers) and the fellow at the next table pulled down his shirt to show me a tattoo on his shoulder that said the same. He ended up being from New Hampshire, and thought we had some kind of deep connection, the kind you can only have with complete strangers when you are frighteningly drunk. He started to talk about racial mixing, and I couldn’t tell if he was for or against. I was grateful when he wandered off to buttonhole another group at the next table. I wonder what kind of deep connection he felt for them.

I guess Italy is still a pretty Catholic country. I saw a number of handbills on walls protesting attempts to pass a law legalizing gay marriage. I thought Europe was supposed to be more enlightened than we are. No one has called me an ugly American yet. Tomorrow we see the Borghese gallery.

Day 3

Today we are going to take the train into town. Supposed to be 70, and it is absolutely gorgeous right now. My fellow travelers are not exactly extras from a production of the Canterbury Tales. They are opera fans the way some people are Star Trek fans. Fanatics, and able to conduct social intercourse only when they are with other fans. We went to a concert last night, and the performances induced a lot of tears among the fans. I was dry-eyed, but I was impressed with some of those impossible notes they hit.

I could appreciate the love for a discipline, an art, these young acolytes have. They were yelling and bellowing and emoting all over the place, and I could see they had put every bit of nerve and sinew they had into practicing and performing their pieces. One fellow, Galliano (does he have a brother Amaretto and a sister Anisette?) is apparently a real prodigy. The whole thing reminded me of a high school theater production, but like I said, the dedication to an art, to love something that is beautiful, unattainable, and is probably not going to love you back, is something I can appreciate. I could have cried for that, for these young and hopefuls who are willing to give, with the ascetic dedication of monks, all for art.

© 2015 Mike Welch

Friday, November 27, 2015

How to Make Kate's Little Scones

One or two people have asked me for my recipe for scones. I bring these to church for coffee hour, and they go pretty fast. Here it is:

Scones

Preheat the oven to 425 F.

Mix together, in a food processor, if you like, or with a whisk:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Add:

3/4 stick cold unsalted butter, cut in pieces

Cut in the butter with two knives, a pastry blender, or a few pulses of the food processor, doing that thing you do that coats the fat with flour but doesn't mix it to a paste, just as for biscuits, soda bread, or pie crust, until the largest pieces of butter are the size of peas.

Stir in:

1/2 cup dried currants or raisins

Mix together in another bowl:

1 large egg
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon grated orange rind, if you like

Mix into the dry ingredients just until moistened. Gather into a ball and knead against the bowl 5 times or so, until the dough holds together. Turn onto a floured surface. Roll out until about 3/4 of an inch thick. Slice across and across until you have wedges the size of 2 or 3 bites.

Place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake util the tops ares golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes.

And there you have it. Tasty scones. Enjoy with butter or Devonshire cream, strawberry jam, and tea.

© 2015 Kate Gallison

Monday, November 23, 2015

Opening Lines Quiz - The Answers

Here are the answers to yesterday's first lines quiz.

1. They threw me off the hay truck about noon—The Postman Always Rings Twice, by James M. Cain.

2. Eunice Parchman killed the Coverdale family because she could not read or write—A Judgment in Stone, by Ruth Rendell

3. Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again—Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier.

4. My bodyguard was mowing the yard wearing her pink bikini when the man fell from the sky—Dead Over Heels, by Charlaine Harris

5. When I finally caught up with Abraham Traherne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon—The Last Good Kiss, by James Crumley

Stephanie Patterson

Sunday, November 22, 2015

First Lines That Keep You Reading: A Brief Quiz

So below you will find five of my favorite opening lines in mystery novels. What are the books? The answers will appear tomorrow. Feel free to add your own favorites. (No fair looking on Google.)

1. They threw me off the hay truck about noon.

2. Eunice Parchman killed the Coverdale family because she could not read or write.

3. Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.

4. My bodyguard was mowing the yard wearing her pink bikini when the man fell from the sky.

5. When I finally caught up with Abraham Traherne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon.

Stephanie Patterson

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Mike Welch Goes to Rome


I wished, when I was younger, and then as I got older, to be able to travel to Europe and do The Grand Tour. It seemed like a lot of kids did it the year after they graduated college. But it is pretty much rich kids, or poor ones much more adventurous than me, who end up doing such things.

The Grand Tour is a tradition wherein, and, as a way to complete your education before you begin a lifetime of work (or at least of exploiting the working class), you spend a year, and Daddy’s money, wandering Europe in the way the idle rich do, learning about how Western Europe came to dominate everything (and pretty much screw it up). It’s the kind of thing you would do if you were a character in a Henry James novel (along with reading a lot of Henry James novels), or if you were one of those loveable young nitwits like, say, Lady Mary on Downton Abbey.

I will be 53 this Sunday, and I never thought I would get the chance to do such a thing. And yet, as I write this, I am sitting in a 16th Century Roman villa outside Rome, in Pomezia, a kind of suburb Mussolini had hastily erected in the years before WW2. Yes, here I am, and I am going to see Rome, and perhaps Prague, Budapest and Vienna, in the next two weeks.

My friend David loves Opera. Nevertheless, I like him quite a bit. He belongs to this group of opera buffs who go around to all manner of these bellowing fests, and the group organized a trip to Rome and Krakow, of all places. I signed on for the ride, and will be going on some tours with these people (who are a little bit out there, I think I can say without fear of being contradicted, but who seem harmless enough) in the mornings, and then escaping in the afternoons to wander Rome and the above-mentioned cities, learning what I guessed I should have learned a long time ago.

If I was doing this when I was 23, I would be hoping to fall in love, a love which would probably break my young heart, teach me about the ways of the world, and which would remain something I could throw in the face of the woman I eventually married whenever she fell short of the ridiculous expectations I had for her after the love itself was long a bittersweet memory. But I guess I won’t be doing that. Especially with a much older woman, like in those coming of age movies, because women much older than me are pretty much already dead.

There are two candidates I have found so far for the role of tragic lover. One, whose name is Anne, is a tenor, a lovely tenor, as delicate as a flower but who apparently has lungs that could blow your windows out. Unfortunately, she is married to an Israeli fellow (aren’t they all in the military, and they know how to kill you with their bare hands in a depressing number of ways?), and from the way she talks about him, they are copacetic. Oh, well.

The other is named Simonetta. She is apparently a real big deal in opera circles, and is very pretty, in a dark Italian way—olive complexion, big eyes that look always ready to fill with tears or light up with the wonder she seems to still feel for the world even though she must be familiar with the darker side of life, if not in practice, then in theory, for all these operas are filled with passion and deceit and double dealing and tragic and poignant circumstance. Her English is not too good, but then again, neither is mine. Stay tuned.

The trip down to JFK from Albany was uneventful, just the way I like it. I sat all the way in the back corner of the plane in a seat that was made for a kindergartner. The woman next to me was German, and she had a kind face, and would occasionally look at me and say things in German that I think were kind, although most things in German to me seem somehow less than kind. Eight hours, and my butt was hurting after four, and asleep after six. Finally, I fell into a fitful doze, dreaming that my lower legs, completely asleep from the awkward position I sat in, had been amputated in some freak accident in Italy, a place where freak accidents are expected to occur.

Things went relatively smoothly when we got there, although it was raining hard in Rome. I thought of A Farewell to Arms, where the hero, Frederic Henry, is always drinking grappa and a cold rain is always falling and the boredom of his life is punctuated by the violent death of battle. And he falls in love with that nurse. Simonetta is not a nurse and I’m not Frederic Henry.

On the way to the Villa, I am astounded by how so many ancient buildings are preserved here, as well as how much the Roman suburbs look to me like West New York, NJ, a Cuban enclave near the George Washington Bridge known for bodegas, graffiti, and old men sitting outside on the sidewalk playing dominoes, and talking about the extremely macho exploits of their youths. Anne talked for the last ten kilometers about how wonderful her husband and kid are. Blech. Simonetta talks in animated Italian on her cell phone, and I don’t think she notices me beyond noting I am an ugly American (I hope only metaphorically so).

We stop at a bank to get some Euros, and I am surprised to find you must enter a bulletproof tube and be fingerprinted before you can enter. Are these Italians masters of the bank robbery? I know they specialize in homegrown political terrorism on both the extreme right and left, and kidnappings and strikes by the continually disaffected workers, but I didn’t know bank robbery was on the menu too. I have been looking at all kinds of Italian women but have not been struck by the thunderbolt yet. And I don’t seem to have particularly struck anyone myself. The Villa is as beautiful as advertised, but seems awfully remote from everything. The only things nearby are goats and cows. Tomorrow is another day. We visit the Vatican.

© 2015 Mike Welch