IN PRAISE OF THE DAILY SHOW (THE BOOK)

Aquarian Weekly
12/21/16

REALITY CHECK

James Campion

IN PRAISE OF THE DAILY SHOW (THE BOOK)
An Oral History of the Golden Age of 21st Century American Satire

I have never actually missed a TV show. The concept seems silly to me. Sure, I wish certain shows I dig would have kept going in-perpetuity, but usually when I look back, I figure it was probably a good idea it stopped. I think Showtime’s Shameless is going bye-bye after seven seasons. That sucks. It is currently the best show on TV for my money. But, I get it, its time. But when The Daily Show lost Jon Stewart – effectively going off the air (for me) – it was a bummer, but, you know, okay…I get it.

But, man, do I miss The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

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And I don’t think it actually hit me until I received a copy of film-maker, Chris Smith’s wonderfully compiled The Daily Show (The Book) – An Oral History in the mail and haven’t been able to put it down. And weirdly, I think when I’m done in a few more pages I’m going to – for all intents and purposes – finally put away this particular icon and try and understand why it was so damn important to me.

For me The Daily Show was, of course, very entertaining. Some might say; right up my alley. Or at least it was playing in the same alley.

In 1999, when Jon Stewart took stewardship of Comedy Central’s then half-hour social-commentary joke-fest, I began getting emails about it from readers of this space, specifically an old radical friend of my Uncle Johnny, who I had never met but I guess started reading my stuff and then tried to get me onto Stewart’s jag. I was never a fan of “fake news” satire – the HBO series Not Necessarily the News or even the early Weekend Updates on SNL. It took me a few years, really, maybe just before 9/11 or so, to begin to catch on to the insurrection that was The Daily Show.

Occasionally I would flick it on and get more than a chuckle, and then, and I’m not sure when or what story they were lampooning or what level of satire they were playing at, it suddenly struck me as damned important work. My guess is I probably became an avid viewer and began setting the DVR sometime before the 2004 presidential campaign and found myself getting at first influenced by the track of the show and then trying like hell not to cover similar ground – as if anyone would notice or care for that matter. But I would. It is a thin alley we were working in. You do not want to bump into anyone for fear you are merely echoing the angst or bile. I have plenty of both already.

And, you see, that’s where Smith’s book really put me on notice this past week. It reminded me how much of the free-thinking public, and okay…college burn-outs and shut-ins and the fringe-class…were satiated by watching The Daily Show make a difference, whether to drive a bill through congress to assist first-responders, or affect the free-expression brigade in Egypt, or merely expose those who needed exposing from the War in Iraq to the banking crisis to the general absolutists that make this country a strange and wonderful mixture of the horrible and fantastic.

The Daily Show (The Book) – An Oral History … illuminates the aim and effectiveness of true satire and the skewering of our most cherished institutions as an art form

Certainly if you are a fan of the show you must read The Daily Show (The Book) – An Oral History, because although I wish it had more “inside baseball stuff” – writing room stories or inner turmoil or other things (and it has it, but not as much I crave from these oral histories) – it is a sincere blast to relive its finest moments and understand how it was achieved and more importantly remember how much it was a major part of the democratic process and how much it began to force politicians and social leaders and writers and scientists and authors and even celebrities hawking whatever to “be real” and give them either a forum to express or a place where they could…not…hide.

And I don’t think necessarily, as has been argued, that the power and scope of The Daily Show would have meant a hill-o-beans in this past presidential election cycle, I do think it would have helped to frame it in its most peculiar terms, something we have striven for here since 1997, two years before Stewart sat in the chair and began to shift the narrative of American comedy, much like the usual suspects, Twain and Bruce and The Simpsons…you know the roll call.

Anyway, before this holiday season gets away from us, I wanted to put a few words together for Smith’s exhaustive work. I rarely get the chance to laud books here. I read so many damn books and some are definitely worth writing about and some…not so much. I do my bi-annual Rock Reads thing for the paper and that seems to suffice. I am not a critic and have no interest in faking it, but I think the readers of this column would get a kick out of The Daily Show (The Book) – An Oral History because it illuminates the aim and effectiveness of true satire and the skewering of our most cherished institutions as an art form I believe is the last vestige of reality (ironically) in a world that is replete with fabricated nonsense passing for righteous outrage and political expediency.

But mostly the book has made me miss the show and miss Stewart and all the great correspondents and writers and that nice exhale at the end of each day when it is eleven and we can laugh at our goofy human experiment and then nod off to sleep.

But at least we have this as a memento.

Bravo, Mr. Smith.

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THAT METAL SHOW ON THE RUN

Buzz
Aquarian Weekly
3/16/16

THAT METAL SHOW ON THE RUN
Eddie Trunk on The Fate & Fortune of His Beloved Cable Show

There is little debate among fans of That Metal Show. It is great. It is fun. It is geeky and loose and relatable and the hosts, Eddie Trunk, Don Jamieson and Jim Florentine are like buddies hanging at the bar arguing about the best thrash metal band or what guitar solo is the better or what live version of a song outdoes the studio version; important, life-affirming stuff. The interviews with the rock stars are intimate and disarming and have the air of same; hanging out talking hard rock and metal with the passion it deserves.three

This is why when a few months back, June to be exact, it was silenced, there was a hue and cry across the land. Its channel, VH1 Classic, owned by MTV Networks, did not renew its option, due in part to upheaval in upper management and the usual boardroom financial quarrels. The ratings were good. In fact, it far exceeded anything the network aired. It’s frugal, low-tech production, the only original content produced by the network, never wavered.  Yet, after 14 seasons, That Metal Show is no more and fans want to know why and what’s next?

The show’s brainchild and founder, Eddie Trunk comes clean in this exclusive interview with the Aquarian, and since Eddie was kind enough to read, rave about, my new book, Shout It Out Loud – The Story of KISS’s Destroyer and the Making of an American Icon and interview me for his Sirius XM coast-to-coast radio show this past October, I have drawn the assignment to get the scoop.

What happened? What’s happening?

Here are the highlights of our discussion on the matter and the latest from the That Metal Show front lines.

 

james campion: First off, how did this all go down?

 

Eddie Trunk: For fourteen seasons, every time we’d finish one the network has about ninety days to let us know if they plan to pick up the option to do another season. The ninety days lapsed in April and they said that there were some changes going on at the network, at many levels; executives that were big champions of the show and were responsible for getting them on the air were either dismissed or quit.

We were told that the show initially was going to be moved to another network with the same company. There were a lot of things we were originally told and then each time another phone call came it was basically, “We’re not going to do that. We’re not going to do that.” And then they basically just released us completely from our deals. It’s just restructuring. It’s nothing personal.

 

jc: Do you, Don, and Jim have your own production company? How did you work all that with VH1 Classic and how are you guys moving forward?

 

ET: VH1 produced and owns every episode of That Metal Show including the name.

 

However, what happened is our producer, Jeff Baumgardner, who produced every episode and worked for VH1, as part of his exit out of the network he was able to make a deal to get the name of the show. So he now actually controls the name of the show and it’s under his world now. So we have the ability, because Jeff is in our corner, very much wanting to continue to do the show, we have the ability to continue doing the show exactly how it was and use the name and all the same features. It’s just that when that’s done the network that decides to pick it up would have to make a deal with VH1 for it. But there is a deal in place, so it’s very easy to do. So we can continue the show. We can continue it under the name That Metal Show. It’s just some paper work that needs to be done for that to happen, but VH1 has given us their blessings to continue to look for a new home for the show and to allow it to still be called That Metal Show.

 

jc: So where are we now with all this?

 

ET: Well, my agent, Adam Leibner is representing me and also helping to place the show. He was a huge fan of the show for many years long before he represented me and he is in the process now of talking to various parties to see what the options are. And at this point we don’t know. It’s a very slow moving process and I understand that’s frustrating for the fans. Frustrating for us as well. I would love to bounce right back and be right back on, but it’s not that simple. And the TV landscape is extremely convoluted right now, because you have all the over the air networks but then you also have the emergence of Netflix and Amazon and all these streaming services, apps, and all these different things in the media world today. So every single avenue is being explored and weighed and discussed to see what’s out there and what makes the most sense.

 

jc: Is there something you would prefer that would allow you to do the things you didn’t have the budget to do or you would even attempt to do to expand the show, to have bands play or have more production value or whatever?

 

ET: Absolutely. How realistic it is, I don’t know, but I always have lofty goals and I always am looking to make everything I’m doing bigger and better and have more opportunities at every level no matter what I do. I would certainly love to record more episodes a year than we have. I’d love to include band performances. And I would certainly love to broaden it out. People may find this pretty hard to believe, but I never ever, ever, wanted the name “metal” in the name of the show. And that’s not because of the fact that, I mean, God my whole reputation is in that genre, so it’s nothing to do with that. It’s just that I wanted it to be a little broader based. I thought it would be important to lure in other sort of acts that might be alienated by that name and still keep it a rock show.getty

So we would like to take some chances and do some different things. We’d like to make it bigger and better. It’s just a question of finding a dance partner that’s up for that and wants to do it. And listen, the flipside of that could very well be where we have to go a little leaner and meaner.  We have to even strip some things away maybe depending on what the opportunity presented to us is. So, again, we are listening to everything and everybody and taking it all in. It’s being digested and I’ve got a guy that I trust to process all this and go through it and see what’s going to make the most sense. We just simply don’t know right now. Truly anything can happen. We just have to let the process play out.

 

jc: What’s your preference for how this plays out?

 

ET: My dream would be to be on HBO. The reason why I say that is because I would also love to be uncensored. I think that dealing with the people that we talk to, the stories and stuff that we could get that we wouldn’t have to censor would be incredible. Or obviously my dream would be to be on a network, but that’s a pretty lofty thing. But again I don’t rule out anything. Nobody does. It’s just a question of where is there traction? Where is there interest? It’s funny, James, because, and I get this from a fan’s standpoint because they’ve lived with this show for so long and they love it and it’s ingrained in them, and I greatly appreciate that; but the huge amount of fans that I hear from, they all say the same thing, “Well, just take it here.” “Just take it there.” “Just put it on there.” Like I can do that! (Laughs)

There’s going to be a very sizable audience that when we do announce a new home is going to immediately come there. And we hope that that’s a powerful enough thing to get some interest from a network, but I gotta be honest with you, man, I’ve always been a guy that I never get too high and I never get too low. So nothing would surprise me that could happen here. And, of course, I hope for all the best stuff, but I’m prepared for anything and I’m hoping it all works out. If it doesn’t, I’ll do something else. I’ll do something new. I developed this. I’ll develop something new hopefully.

 

jc: So you guys are keeping all options open.

 

ET: Sure. There’s a ton of those networks that are merging. And somebody just told me the other day there’s a channel called Esquire, which I didn’t even know I had that’s on my cable system. And there’s a bunch of these channels that people honestly don’t even know about that are out there. And it’s kind of like, “Ok wow. That could actually work. That could be a fit. What’s involved in making that happen?” And again there’s so many of them. A lot of people have said, “Access TV!” Well, sure. That would be a logical place, but they have to want to do the show. And listen, doing That Metal Show is not cheap. It’s cheap by big network standards, but the way we were doing it, it’s an investment. They have to feel that it works for them. We’re going to explore everything. Also, the other thing I run into is people yell out networks that they get on their cable systems. For everybody that’s yelling at me, “Access TV!” there is just everybody else, the next person that says, “Well I don’t get that channel, so don’t go there.” (Laughs)

jc: So, what can fans do that read this? Also, I’m sure a lot of the guys, the acts and some of the rock stars you’ve gotten to know that have been on the show probably want to be in your corner and write emails and make phone calls and back you. What do fans do en masse to get That Metal Show back on the air?

 

ET: Well, there really isn’t one at the moment. There is a couple of fan ones that have been set up. I know, Tim Louie at the Aquarian had one going for a while. I don’t know how many signatures at last count, which is all wonderful and really very flattering and really very nice. And it is certainly, certainly appreciated, but I’d be lying, and I just don’t want to waste anybody’s time to tell them that there is something we can do like that now. There isn’t really anything like that to do just yet that is really going to mean something in the big picture here. There may very well come a time that we do need that and I’ll be the first to let everybody know when, where, and how to help. But as it stands right now we really are still just in this exploring phase and I’ve seen a lot people email networks and I know that Netflix in particularly, Access TV, because those are two that come up all the time, have been tagged on tweets and what have you. That’s all great! And it’s appreciated. I don’t know how much it means to the networks. I don’t know what it means. I don’t know if it gets to anybody there. But it certainly can’t hurt, as long as it’s done in a respectful way.

 

jc: I’ve come to learn since my KISS book came out, that these bands have a strong cult following, as does your show.  Metal Heads do not fool around.

 

ET: Well, thanks, man. And you know we appreciate that and we’ve heard that from a lot of people, and again, I can’t stress enough; our one-hundred percent goal is to absolutely get it back on. And there is nobody anywhere that’s deviating right now from the plan of saying “Ok. What’s out there? How can we do this? What’s the best home? Where can we bring it?” It’s just going to take a little time. I know that everybody expected and wanted a quick answer and a quick bounce back, but we don’t have that just yet. It’s a process and it has all got to play out. And again I hope that it truly does. In the meantime, I would tell everybody that for fun, I mean, the show is still on VH1 Classic. They repeat episodes constantly throughout the week.

 

jc: You guys still do road shows and appearances, right?group

 

ET: Yeah. It’s very important for people to know what we do on the road is certainly not a taping of the TV show. But for years now we have been going out together, the three of us, and we go out to clubs and we tell stories, behind the scenes stories, and Don and Jim do standup, and I do some Q & A, and we do some live “Stump the Trunk.” And we just have fun with the audience in a bar setting. People come out, obviously they have some drinks, we give away prizes, and we have a good time. There are no cameras. Sometimes there are no guests. It’s just really us.

Another thing, people have said, “Hey just go do the show on the road.” That’s a little more involved then you would think. Again, it comes down to money. You’re talking crews and sets and hiring guests and musicians. That’s a big operation that again we don’t have that sort of funding available.

So we do kind of a lean and mean road show. We get out there, we have fun, we thank the people that have supported the show and it’s something that we’ll keep doing with or without the show on a new network. The three of us are all still great friends. We have a good time out there together. We’ll see where it goes. But I can’t stress enough my thanks to everybody for their support through this whole thing. And also, of course, that we hear ya’ and it isn’t as easy as saying, “Go here.”

 

jc: It’s an exciting time. Something will come of it. I just have a good feeling about it.

 

ET: You never know. And again; I don’t get too high, I don’t get too low. I just kind of let the process play out and nothing usually ever surprises me. So we’ll hope for the best and who knows, maybe somewhere in the not too distant future we’ll be doing an interview talking about a bigger, better new home.

 

 

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DAVID BOWIE 1947 – 2016

Aquarian Weekly
1/20/15
REALITY CHECK

James Campion

DAVID BOWIE 1947 – 2016

The task of philosophy is to teach the individual to become autonomous: not to ask, what is Being? but rather, what do I think about being, justice, physics, etc.
– John David Ebert

Strange fascination, fascinating me.
– David Bowie

One thing that must be said about David Bowie that never changed, despite his manic, almost schizophrenic ambition to do so both musically and physically throughout his almost five-decade career; his performance art never moved fashion, started trends or signified rebellious solidarity. Bowie’s trip was just the opposite; solitary, introspective, antithetical. While Elvis Presley obliterated the past and introduced a new youth paradigm in the 1950s, followed by The Beatles transformation of an entire culture in the 1960s, and skipping to Madonna’s anti-fashion, campy reimagining of a woman as the saint/sinner in the 1980s, Bowie was our perpetual outsider – zigging when the rest of the thing zagged. Thus, by not transforming anything but himself, constantly and without bearing, he became the pop culture, rock symbol of the 1970s.

Bowie

“He spoke to skinny backgroundish guys everywhere who, while in the midst of fighting to find it, questioned the very reason behind having a place (at all) in any current society. It wasn’t a gay thing, but an idea that a person could reinvent themselves into any entity that broke the norm,” my friend Peter Saveskie elegantly wrote to me this week.

Bowie was a creature of the 1970s, an era I’d immersed myself in for over three years while researching my new book, Shout It Out Loud – The Story of KISS’s Destroyer and the Making of an American Icon in which Bowie is famously quoted as saying that “Rock must prostitute itself. If you’re going to work in a whorehouse, you’d better be the best whore in it.” In the same interview Bowie is quite adamant that anything that emerged out of the wildly experimental 1970s had to have a sense of humor in it. Humor, of course, being perhaps the most subjective and private of reactions to the great social order, something never lost on David Bowie’s best work.

The 1970s was the first time, specifically in America, where assimilation reigned for nearly two centuries, that individuality exploded from every social corner; race, gender, sexual affiliation, musical and artistic branding, even the origin of nationality. Until the ‘70s, there was none of this African-American, Italian-American stuff, or the identity politics that still rages along today. It was the beginning of societal edges careening into the mainstream, something often erroneously tied to the 1960s, when, in fact, there was a counter-cultural gathering to the rebel nature of youth. The following decade all of that fractured into segments of society creating a space to express; on a lesser note in music, where rock transformed from a movement to disparate interests, which led to several groundbreaking inventions, glam, prog, punk, disco, rap and hip hop.

David Bowie swam these currents with little interest in latching on to anything. Perhaps for the first time in the genre we have an artist that lives and breathes as a reflection of our worst fears; that change is inevitable and with it comes a breakdown in togetherness. Bowie disturbed the notion of youth culture by making it a non-culture; his most famous character, of which there were dozens, Ziggy Stardust, (“Oh don’t lean on me man, ’cause you can’t afford the ticket”) was a complex vision of doom and hope in the ostracized, the shunned, the queer, the bizarre, the unwanted, the rejected. His Aladdin Sane (“Sits like a man but he smiles like a reptile”) was an urban myth eulogized in the underbelly of cults that seemed to pop up every forty seconds throughout the decade. This is what it comes to, when we realize we are not of our time or place but of our own identity, says Bowie in his dark Berlin trilogy.

Bowie’s family history is of very real schizophrenia, his half-brother Terry suffered deeply from it and disintegrated in front of his eyes, after he had introduced him to the wonders of rock and roll as an expressive tool to escape the horrors of what might indeed be his own illness. Bowie ran from it his whole life, sure that he was afflicted with madness. He wrote about it constantly with spectacular success; “Rock and Roll Suicide”, “Scary Monsters and (Super Creeps)”, “An Occasional Dream “, All the Madmen”, “Quicksand” to name a very few.

Bowie dabbled in androgyny like no one outside of the subculture of homosexuality, especially in England where it had always been hidden in plain sight in the realm of theatrics, both professional and cultural, simply because it rejects identity. He dabbled even in the idea of humanity, its bigotry and pettiness, transforming himself into an alien appearance – made ever more eerie with his two different colored eyes and one perpetually dilated because of a beating he took as a youth in school. He embraced the black experience, not like The Rolling Stones, who had expressed its holy ritual as a pop machine, but its fusion of jazz and funk and street jive. His appearance on the popular Soul Train, the first such musical television show that did not collect kids like a mass marketing ploy, but set strict parameters on black music for its brilliance, its blood and soul, was historic. Ten years later he recorded what would turn out to be his most popular album, Let’s Dance with Nile Rogers and spat on MTV’s ignoring of black music at its own peril.

If I may, I wish to add a bit of my own experience discovering Bowie in the 1970s and beyond. My favorite Bowie album without question is Hunky Dory, because pound for pound it has his best songwriting, a skill for which he is stunningly underrated. It would also, I would come to find out, specifically from Peter Doggett’s wonderful The Man Who Sold the World: David Bowie and the 1970s and my friend, Ken Sharp’s Kooks, Queen Bitches and Andy Warhol; The Making of David Bowie’s Hunky Dory mark the first time Bowie forged a new identify, that of the “screwed-up eyes and screwed-down hairdo” – the quirky phrasing and the William Burroughs cut-up lyrics that hinted at Fascism and bisexuality and sophism and the indefinable charm of hiding; “Ch-ch-ch-changes…”

“Rock must prostitute itself. If you’re going to work in a whorehouse, you’d better be the best whore in it.”

When Bowie escaped America in the late 1970s barely hanging onto any of his contrasting identities, strung out on cocaine and running wild through the pitched dangers of Hollywood, he mused about his seduction with suicide as an artistic statement, wiping out his persona so as to not have to face the inevitable fade into banality, and then he created his finest work with Brian Eno and finished up the decade awash in myth.

I leave this piece in the hands of another friend, Doctor Slater, whose screeds on all-things at all hours of the day and night hit me in the special places every time. He wrote to me last night of Bowie: “The particular brand of poison I’m partial to has left me agog as to this Mr. David Robert Jones. Davy Jones, that’s probably a contemporary I would want to distance myself from, product of the TV scene. What name do I choose? A big fucking threatening knife, yes, that is to be my new last name. Bowie. He sold himself as a bond. He’s featured on money, and alternative currency called the Brixton Pound. Like Benjamin Franklin. And from the 80s’ comes the reinvented Duke. Asking us to get along, long before the cops beat the shit out of Rodney King. From the Spiders of Mars to Getting me To Church on Time, the man knew how to surf. He predicted the collapse of the music industry. Fuck that puff dicking around with the Yanks in the California sand, I’ll show the world what a proper English lad can do. Mind your manners young ones.”

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IN DEFENSE OF EBENEZER SCROOGE

Aquarian Weekly
12/23/15

REALITY CHECK

James Campion

IN DEFENSE OF EBENEZER SCROOGE
A Christmas Plea For Leniency For A Misunderstood Freethinking Capitalist

Keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine.
– Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol

’Tis the season for forgiveness and empathy; which works both ways, bub. Caring for the less fortunate, giving to those in emotional need, understanding those who may be ostracized and forlorn; these are the sentiments I wish to bestow upon one of the most despised characters in the English language, the brilliantly named Ebenezer Scrooge from the master Charles Dickens’ seasonal-standard 1843 novella, A Christmas Carol.

I maintain, if the jury would allow, that Scrooge, while being obstinate and crotchety, mostly rude and myopic, is hardly a villain and does not deserve the kind of black mark rendered upon him next to some of the most vile of literature’s rogues, like say, Louis Stevenson’s Mr. Hyde, Shakespeare’s Claudius, Stoker’s Dracula or even Milton’s Satan.

Sheesh, Satan?

scrooge1

We have here a psychopathic monster, the greatest villain in English literature, the king of vampires, and Satan.

Satan.

I read an essay two years ago, and the author escapes me, but he compared Scrooge to Grendel from the epic one-thousand year old poem, Beowulf, the original monster introduced to the language. The argument if I can paraphrase had the similarities of loneliness, isolation, abandonment, mommy issues, etc. This is lazy and presumptuous analysis since, of course, these fill all manner of villain back story from Dr. Moriarty to the Wicked Witch of the West to the Grinch to the Joker.

Grendel?

Murderer? Monster? Villain?

What exactly are Ebenezer Scrooge’s crimes?

He hates Christmas? He is cheap? He does not care about anyone, not even himself?

How about he refuses to partake in a phony celebration of humanity in a glaringly inhuman urban setting of blight and disease, poverty and despair, or in other words 19th century London? This crushing economic nightmare has strangled anything resembling a middle class and has led to a reality of paranoia and hording and a sense that if one does not hang onto one’s meager possessions, one is likely to become a freezing, homeless carcass.

Scrooge, as the novel tells us right off the bat, works in finance, lending finance to be exact, and is faced day after day with his and the next generation’s dwindling largesse, seeing his friends and colleagues, once prosperous men of business, reduced to begging, borrowing cretins for whom he must prop up with no manner of end. And so he treats his clients and his employee, the terminally optimistic Bob Cratchit with a sense of dread well earned. Cratchit wants to put more coal on the fire. He is cold. Scrooge is adamant that to waste it is a sin. In these times he finds himself, with so much evidence of doom, Scrooge is nothing but pragmatic. He treats his family and his associates with equal caution, rightly bursting their fantasy bubble that “all will be well”, because there is no reason for such gaiety on December 24 or July 10 or frankly anytime on the calendar.

If anything Scrooge appears to be – and I believe it has since been sussed out that this was Dickens’ aim – a microcosm for the era. Scrooge, like all of Dickens’ characters is a victim of his age. His reaction to this is not charity, but survival; the basic human response to crisis. This is Victorian England at the crossroads, as Dickens had painfully and vividly unfurled in some of his most striking polemics (Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby) against the untenable Industrial Revolution – its progress obliterating the working class and replacing it with greed, antipathy, pollution, and unchecked power.

However, perhaps it is what Scrooge’s environment has done to him physically that allows Dickens to begin to riff with glee; the manifestation of avarice and the pursuit of soulless profits from faceless factories that not only operate beyond human frailty, but in spite of it. It is the inhumanity towards humanity that fuels A Christmas Carol, which transforms Scrooge into a twisted creature.

To wit: “Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grind- stone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shriveled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dogdays; and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas.”

These external features, while rendering Scrooge a physical wreck like, say, eating poorly or incessant smoking and drinking can alter a person’s outward appearance, are merely self-inflicted. I applaud Scrooge’s internalizing of his loathing of a system he did not create but that created him. He does not go out and shoot anyone or go on a murderous spree, or steal from or destroy his competition. He does not start a movement to defend the blatantly cold and anti-Christian machinations of capitalism or use that power to manipulate an already corrupt system. If anything, he means to protect and enhance his dearly departed partner Jacob Marley’s legacy by not giving into sentiment in a time of grave economic and social dangers, not to mention disease and crime.

Beside Marley, Scrooge has another man for whom he must pay homage in A Christmas Carol; his once gregarious boss, Fezziwig (another fantastic name that paints a picture of a preternaturally gleeful and foppish English businessman) introduced to readers during the visitation of the first of the three promised ghosts by the apparition of his fallen friend. Fezziwig hosts a grand party for his employees, something completely alien in Scrooge’s current times, sharing his wealth and laughing in the face of the oncoming economic deluge, which will cause him to be swallowed up by the industrial cabal that will also gobble up his earnings, absorb his beloved business, and cause him ruin. This indeed is a cautionary tale, and not that of the heart, but the stomach that will soon be empty if one tosses away his fortune on fun, frolic and the frivolity of Christmas.

Also, if I may, I think that Scrooge’s infamous blurting of “Humbug!” at the mention of the holiday is quite enviable. He will not give into banal social niceties at a time of utter predatory corruption. His honesty, even in the face of self-denial (which I can surely argue is an unwavering self-awareness), is extraordinary. Everyone tries to get this guy to lighten up, and, ironically, most of them represent Scrooge’s fears; they are broke and in dire need of assistance, as they can no longer provide for themselves. Why in the name of all that is holy would Bob Cratchit have six children in this economic apocalypse and then complain that he cannot feed or clothe them properly? And why is this dubious at best and immoral at worst behavior Scrooge’s problem, or his problem that the sixth of the brood is a sickly boy? Maybe Cratchit should have stopped at five or maybe four or two or even one. The man is clearly insane or sexually insatiable and is quite frankly lucky to have a gig. He should have worked on Christmas or at least kept it in his pants.

The key discussion that drives the rest of the novel’s narrative occurs right before Scrooge calls it a night and before being haunted mercilessly by having to view himself as an abandoned child, a jilted lover, a miserable miser and a forgotten and despised dead man standing above his shallow grave. It involved men seeking Scrooge’s charity, despite knowing well that such a request will send him up a wall. When pressed for his sympathies, Scrooge answers with the query that haunts humanity time immemorial; “`It’s not my business,’ Scrooge returned. `It’s enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people’s. Mine occupies me constantly. Good afternoon, gentlemen!’”

Why in the name of all that is holy would Bob Cratchit have six children in this economic apocalypse and then complain that he cannot feed or clothe them properly?

And so when our former villain protagonist becomes our newly reborn hero, “cured” as it were by the ghosts of his past, present and future, and begins forgiving debts and throwing his money around like a drunken sailor, we rejoice. He is filled with the Christmas spirit! Yahoo!

And then what?

For all of his days, writes Dickens assuredly, he would “keep Christmas”. But how many more of those did he have before he was faced with the same horrors of reality he once embraced over a philosophy of sudden philanthropy? What then becomes of our Scrooge?

Not sure. But I know this, each year we relive this tale (my Dad has a running tradition of sitting down near midnight on Christmas Eve each year to enjoy the 1951 Alastair Sim version, and in the autumn of 2008 I even purchased him a copy at Dickens’ London house where he wrote the thing in an amazing six weeks) and Scrooge becomes our miser villain once more before plunging into the vortex of his psyche and coming out the other side a man who he would never recognize and his times would likely swallow up hole.

I forgive you, Mr. Scrooge, and so should we all.

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UNRAVELING THE MYSTERY OF TWO MILLENNIA

Aquarian Weekly
12/16/15
REALITY CHECK

James Campion

UNRAVELING THE MYSTERY OF TWO MILLENNIA
In Praise of The Christos Mosaic

Full disclosure; author Vincent Czyz is a dear friend and a frequent contributor to our monthly Readers Responses. Among his many qualities; he is a wonderful conversationalist and debater on all things, a fine dinner guest and an impeccable dresser. We have supported each other’s work for over a decade now (that is hard to believe); he as a purveyor of fiction and a novelist, mine as whatever you call this, as well as an author and one-time novelist. I like Vincent. This much is true. But I absolutely love his new book, The Christos Mosaic, a page-turning masterpiece of a thriller with more than an undertone of controversial reimagining of Biblical history. It will challenge your beliefs and keep you on the edge of your seat; a pretty damn enviable balancing act.jc_vc

It is strange for us to have books published within a few weeks of each other, mine a pop culture treatise on one of the seminal records of our childhood, Shout It Out Loud –The Story of KISS’s Destroyer and the Making of an American Icon, and his long-awaited entertaining polemic on the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth and the sinister underbelly of black market antiquities throughout the backstreets of Turkey and Egypt. We celebrated this welcomed anomaly at the historical Algonquin Round Table last month in the heart of NYC. It was a magical touchstone for me, and I dare say, for him. Vincent worked hard on this book for more years than he cares to remember and it is quite simply a triumph.

Having researched and penned a controversial book on the subject, released in 2002, Trailing Jesus – A Holyland Journal, and since have engaged my wit and wisdom against Vince’s considerable barrage of wonderfully buttressed factoids about First Century myths and the origins of Christianity, I looked forward to The Christos Mosaic with bated breath. This, I assumed, and rightly so, would be the culmination of my friend’s incredible journey, both personally and professionally – and certainly spiritually – to put down once and for all the inner conflict of the intellectual pursuit of truth versus the comfortable blanket of faith. I came to know that journey well. It is a difficult one for anyone, let alone a writer to make, and then dare to put down for posterity; but to do so in the engagingly penetrating novel form – replete with action, intrigue, sex, violence, and mystery – is as immense an effort as one can expect from art.

Vincent lived in Istanbul, Turkey off and on for seven years, teaching English at several foreign universities as a burgeoning novelist, much like his protagonist and the novel’s hero, as well as its moral center, Drew. But when pressed at our Algonquin dinner if the character was autobiographical, he demurred, assuring me Drew was indeed a work of complete fiction, and in fact the characters in Christos were more fictionalized than any of his other work, which includes the published collection of brilliantly evocative short stories, Adrift in A Vanishing City. However, like the places and characters that stimulate Adrift, Christos puts the reader on Istanbul’s every street corner – the cafés, bars and apartments – awash in the sights, sounds and even the smells of the city, and the colorful language and mannerisms of its inhabitants. (Vincent even went as far as providing English phonetics to bring the reader into the pronunciation of the Turkish language that lends an authentic air to the richly rewarding dialogue).

Here is one of many favorite passages of Christos in which Vincent puts the reader squarely inside the claustrophobic bustle of Cairo’s largest marketplace, Khan Al-Khalili: “Tourists, merchants, boys carrying trays of tea in their hands or long pallets stacked with round loaves of bread on their heads all fought for position in dusty, often- unpaved streets. With some of these narrow byways, a car was not an option. Sellers had set up their tables so that even pedestrians had to pick their way through.

They were stuck behind a man in a turban who was pushing a cart with wooden wheels. The cart was topped by a wood-fed oven with a tall pipe. The man, who was having difficulty maneuvering around tables piled with wares, was selling roasted yams.

And then there were the flies. Smaller, faster than the ones Drew was used to. They were everywhere. You could wave them away, but they’d settle right back on you – generally around your eyes and mouth drawn to the moisture.”

This is the tool Vincent uses so well to weave his stirring tale; the backdrop, the people; the grimy, pulsing humanity. It engulfs our hero, Drew. He must navigate through the density of his surroundings, the recalcitrance of his intellectual opponents, and the villainy of those who value profit over discovery and myth over truth.

Drew is a seeker, like Vincent. He is the seeker in all of us, who must grapple, frustratingly so, as the evolution of deduction gnaws at the comfort of our traditions. Not coincidentally, Drew is introduced in the novel as a precocious college student challenging the norm and using his literate skills to eviscerate what is accepted knowledge about the beloved and reverential Saint Augustine, providing the reader with the intellectual corner in which Drew will come out fighting and keep fighting throughout his adventure, even when the noose is tightened on an ancient but unfolding mystery.

And the unraveling of that mystery, some two-thousand millennia long, is both shocking and inspiring, not unlike my favorite of the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas quotations attributed to the historical Jesus; “Those who seek should not stop seeking until they find. When they find, they will be disturbed. When they are disturbed, they will marvel, and will reign over all.”

He is the seeker in all of us, who must grapple, frustratingly so, as the evolution of deduction gnaws at the comfort of our traditions.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the arguments presented through the evidence discovered, hinted at, debated over, and eventually unearthed in Christos are not hyperbolic and provocative merely to play on our most deeply held beliefs for dramatic purposes. They are carefully presented through painstaking research and sound analysis without embellishment. It really is hard to fathom how Vincent crammed all of it in, but he did, and he did it well.

Ultimately what my dear friend has created here in The Christos Mosaic is more than a novel; it is an impeccably framed thriller that will hopefully spark new discussions and provide insight into the future of Christian thought and study for the new century.

It was also one hell of a fun read.

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A NEW TWIST ON WEEKLY SHOOTING

Aquarian Weekly
9/2/15
REALITY CHECK

James Campion

A NEW TWIST ON WEEKLY SHOOTING
Former TV Newsman Kills TV News People on TV

This is the beauty and horror of living as long as I have; you tend to see it all. Well, you think you see it all and then this past Wednesday happens. Former disgruntled local news guy, 41 year-old Vester Flanigan aka fancy TV name, Bryce Williams, shoots 24 year-old WDBJ feature reporter, Alison Parker and her camera man, 27 year-old Adam Ward, killing both, and fatally wounding the subject of the report, Vicki Gardner, the middle-aged director of the chamber of commerce for Roanoke, Virginia. The whole thing happens on live TV and is later posted on Facebook and tweeted by Flanigan before he is run down by local police and shoots himself dead.vester-flanagan

This is a murder/suicide emblematic of our media-obsessed times. A TV guy shoots other TV people on TV and uses social media to promote it. Later, the obligatory incoherent hate manifesto emerged, also posted somewhere on the Internet, where all ugly things eventually reside, like these words, and whatever you will absorb after reading this.

Make no mistake, I am not decrying the Internet or television or social media, nor am I citing it as the only motivation for a kook to murder people, but just like freedom – freedom from invasive and presumptive state or federal regulations on mental health, freedom to own and carry a deadly weapon, freedom to spew odious propaganda online or really anywhere you wish, and freedom for predators to skulk from victim to victim undeterred – it can be a dangerous game.

And as much as it pains me to spend two consecutive weeks discussing the media’s role in events when I have maybe touched upon this ancillary subject once or twice at most in 18 years of penning this weekly column, it does indeed play a role. And it is not something that can be or should be easily curtailed. News happens and news organizations must cover it, some of those news organizations bring cameras and those cameras roll 24 hours a day, five days a week, 365 days a year, and thus are a powerful attraction to the one constant in these random killers, whether terrorists or lone crazies: They dig being covered.

The coverage is a spotlight to the killer; a spotlight not afforded them in their otherwise empty, grueling, oppressed existence. It gives them purpose and it gives them honor, the honor of being remembered for something where they will likely live out their subsistence in crushing isolation and unending anonymity. Vester Flanigan is chubby loner living in a one-room apartment with no job, no prospects, no friends, and as a result, no self-esteem or hope. His alter ego, made for television, Bryce Williams was dynamic, lovable, and good enough to have someone point a camera at and for people to watch it. The management at WDBJ fired the effervescent Bryce Williams and turned him into the pathetic loser, Flanigan.

Sitting in a deli yesterday watching a CNN reporter standing in front of the small WDBJ studios in sleepy, otherwise quiet and peaceful Roanoke, the signs of dozens of other television news outlets crammed around him, surrounding the place, was surreal. Here is a news station, used to covering the news, being covered for a tragedy; a tragedy (again surreal) that had befallen it whilst rolling cameras and reporting the news (or at least some local TV version of news).

I realize bitching about too much news and an overload of information is as useless an endeavor as complaining about too many guns. How much is too many guns? How much is too much information? How much is too much freedom?

For the past 15 years, since 9/11, there has been constant chatter about how much our civil liberties should be compromised in order to protect ourselves from violence. The most egregious was the Patriot Act, but there have been others subtle forms, (racial profiling, protests against the building of mosques, the simple idea of everyone being a watchdog against everyone else “If you see something, say something”) and less so (outlandish airport security, street cameras, frisking at sporting events, etc.). But in every instance there is only so much you can do to protect the citizenry from itself. By nature a free society has consequences, just as one living in a lockdown has its own dark drawbacks.

This is a murder/suicide emblematic of our media-obsessed times.

I have written way too many times to be comfortable about these shooting tragedies and human nature, accepting the fact that by the very fabric of allowing you and me to roam free without harassment in the relative and constitutionally-provided cover of privacy – everyone having a camera on their hip notwithstanding – is a risk we are always willing to make; “Give me liberty or give me death.”

Sometimes, Mista Henry, you get both.

And so, of course, we cannot dissect the allure of the televised murder, anymore than we can have a serious discussion about the amount of guns we have out there, or more pointedly the risk one takes when firing someone that might come back blasting away at the purveyor of his misery. Notice how I didn’t put “his/her” there; it is always “his”, another fun aspect of our male humanity.

It is also foolish to not recognize that by giving infamy to those who would otherwise wallow in a meaningless existence is seductive to these vipers. The fact that I have just written about a guy who a few days ago would be lucky to get someone to nod at him with any kind of socially acceptable street behavior shows that it works. Killing someone in this wildly dynamic manner gives you an immortality you would never get in a million years of being the miserable little shit, Vester Flanigan.

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THE SCOURGE OF BRIAN WILLIAMS & OTHER THINGS

Aquarian Weekly
2/18/15
REALITY CHECK

James Campion

THE SCOURGE OF BRIAN WILLIAMS & OTHER THINGS

It is important to reiterate an obvious dictum: What is done here weekly hardly represents even the slightest hint of journalism. Yet, somehow I consider myself a journalist. I was trained as such by some of the finest minds I have met in my time shuffling around the mortal coil. Yet, my idiosyncratic playfulness in the face of actual journalism (whatever that may be) is a mockery and therefore holds little to no credibility here.Brian-williams-burt

I also need to state that I find that most of the history of journalism in this country – a microcosm of the world at large – has been a heinous goof. I can randomly choose a story from any decade through each century of this democratic experiment and you would, depending on your sensibilities, either be laughing hysterically or horrified. If your sensibilities fall in the category of the overreaction to Brian Williams’ embellishing on and then fabricating a war story from 2006 then you would lean toward the latter.

However, presenting all of that as a preface, I must say, for the record, Brian Williams can no longer seriously continue as the managing editor of the National Broadcasting Company’s news division anymore than he can sit with a straight face and read us the news every evening. He may come back from his suspension (without pay, which is significant when you consider the man rakes in $11 million a year to read aloud in front of a camera; great work if you can get, it, but you can’t because you suck at it), but it really doesn’t matter. We think he is most likely full of shit and that is a detriment to trustworthiness.

It’s like the New England Patriots winning the Super Bowl despite cheating their way there. No one with a real sense of facts and decorum think the Patriots title legitimate, but they still won and have a trophy and no one is going to care now, because there is a lot of money and the integrity of the sport at stake and everyone needs to remain silent to this grand deception, so we all feel better about ourselves for watching it happen. We will do the same for Brian Williams on the surface, but not really. We will know he lied about something for little reason but to be interesting, like all of us might lie about stuff to appear interesting or cheat to win a sporting event, but we don’t represent a vocation or a network or a conglomerate trying to perpetuate the idea of being trustworthy.

And let’s face it, trustworthy is such a thorny concept that it’s hard to fathom. There was a time when Walter Cronkite could go on television and tell the American people that the war in Viet Nam is lost and that it was an abject waste of human life and treasure and we kind of accepted it. It cost Lyndon Johnson a second (or third term, depending on what you think those months after JFK was slaughtered counts) and it certainly fueled the campus uprisings that pretty much pulled the wool from the eyes of an entire suckered generation.

But, be that as it may, Williams has some lineage to Uncle Walty, “the most trusted (there’s that word again) man in America”. And for that he cannot be trusted and therefore needs to find something else to do with his time. Maybe he can move into the one place he feels most comfortable, entertainment; the man has appeared on more comedy shows doing bits and/or sitcom appearances than anyone who has ever attempted his job. There are pretty good sources that insist he lobbied to take over for Jay Leno when he boogied from the Tonight Show and maybe that would have been best. No one gives half a fart if Jimmy Fallon makes stuff up; they half expect he will – for laughs.

But before we go, we do need to point out that Williams also comes from this latest generation of network-climbers, both on real television or basic cable (where the real lying hits the highest or lowest bar). This was glaringly palpable during the ramp up and execution of those first crucial months of the terribly bungled fabrication that was the Iraq War, arguably the worst abuse of our government since Watergate, and the national press not only slept on it, but galvanized its ascent, as in giving it a fancy name – Shock & Awe, and embedding its most cherished personnel into the Pentagon’s shenanigans. The most disgusting of all, anchors wearing flag pins covering the action as if it were the World Cup.

My favorite NBC News moment was when in 2002, as the case for war was being pitched by the Bush Administration, the vice president’s office leaked a bogus story to the NY Times about Iraq possessing nuclear, chemical and biological weapons – known today in journalistic circles as the “aluminum tubes ruse”, and then sent Dick Cheney on Meet The Press to quote the article as fact. It is one of the great pieces of underhanded criminal activity ever perpetuated by a sitting vice president, and he used the most trusted forms of the American press to pull it off. Great stuff for Cheney, not so much for the press.

Brian Williams? Well, he is the symptom, my friends. The disease may be harder to “suspend without pay”.

But we covered all of that gory nonsense here as it happened, but now it is ancient history and we ignore it or accept it, because it makes us feel better to do so. In fact, those that backed George W. Bush now claim that President Obama enjoys the same snoozing national press corps, and can you blame them for whining?

Take John King, who still culls a paycheck from CNN despite having told an international audience in the wake of the Boston Marathon terrorist attack that suspects had been apprehended, describing what turned out to be the bogus suspects for nearly an hour. The NY Post even piggybacked this blatant error and splashed on its front page for two straight days these erroneous figures, both of whom turned out to be innocent, with headlines like “Monsters”. Hell, CNN also wrongly reported the Affordable Care Act had been overturned by the Supreme Court and aligned itself with the networks to call Al Gore president of the United States in November of 2000.

And then there is the clown show that is MSNBC and FOX NEWS. Whew, where do you start there?

Brian Williams? Well, he is the symptom, my friends. The disease may be harder to “suspend without pay”.

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A-Riteway Construction Must Be Stopped

Aquarian Weekly 8/29/12 REALITY CHECK

A-RITEWAY CONSTRUCTION MUST BE STOPPED

A-Riteway Construction has been allowed to run a deceitful, negligent and dangerously haphazard business here in New Jersey for far too long. Its spectacular string of unfinished or in many cases barely begun jobs — despite gladly taking deposits — false claims and empty promises and, as one livid victim of its egregious practices put it, “a blatant disregard for human decency” has cost an agonizing roll call of unsuspecting “customers” hundreds of thousands of dollars, along with grief and damages that its owner, a chunky, chain-smoking stutterer named Leonardo Petrosillo has apparently no intention of rectifying.

I know this because I am a victim of A-Riteway and the devious Petrosillo, who at the time of this writing continues to take on new jobs despite a host of complaints stemming from what can only be described as a festival of carnage posing as legitimate construction. But I am also a reporter and have put that to good use by digging deeply into A-Riteway’s pattern of at best incompetence and at worse malfeasance.

A-Riteway’s shoddy work on the Clemens Estate (named, of course, for the great Mark Twain, who thrilled in deconstructing the habits of the brainless) began this past April, overrun with sloppy and mostly incoherent sub-contractors, who, while actually showing up –something those directly involved with the parent company or the obviously distracted and apathetic Petrosillo failed to do — treated the grounds as if a refuse pit; leaving debris, broken glass, discarded materials and tools everywhere. One low point featured the pulling of fish from out of a community lake and, when confronted, dumped back in, bucket and all. When A-Riteway did show up, like for instance to blow insulation in walls or even to rebuild a wall, it was done in a way that even a layman such as myself harbored doubts these men had previously attempted anything resembling it.

Let’s face it, I’m a maniac, and when things went sideways around here I blew several gaskets. After throwing these cretins off my property, I began to harass the poor girls at the A-Riteway office, not the least of which was Petrosillo’s own sister, Maria, who for my money was the toughest and most honest of the bunch, which best explains why she walked on her feckless brother after finding no more excuses for the barrage of accusations hurled at her daily. More times than I can count the woman promised that Petrosillo or someone would show up when, in many cases, the workers were at disparate jobs or I later learned from inside sources working on Petrosillo’s own home.

It was then, around early June that Petrosillo literally disappeared under a torrent of dubious alibis that he instructed his new receptionist, a soft-spoken and overwhelmed 25-year old named Rosemary Trapani to roll out on an hourly basis every day. “When Leo did show up to the office we gave him a list of customer complaints that he either would just ignore or would give me a rotating list of excuses written next to each customer to tell them where he had been, whether in the hospital or Europe or he was getting a shot in his back or in surgery,” explains Trapani, who was so appalled by Petrosillo’s disregard for civility she had to go on record to expose what she claims was a formulated attempt by him to respond to damaged property and unfinished jobs only when a disgruntled customer “lawyered up” and not before. “I dreaded picking up the phone because he had a specific story per client that I had to keep track of.”

Trapani remembers that for a month and a half almost every call the office received were complaints: “On a normal day I took calls on average of one every fifteen minutes, and in some cases multiple calls at a time from people screaming at me that deposits were taken and work wasn’t started.

“I was very angry and scared,” continues Trapani. “Here I was a woman left alone in that office for hours on end and that any one of these people he took money from could come in and… who knows what?”

Quite sure after more than a week of unreturned calls and ignored texts that the jig was up, Petrosillo had all-but stolen the money I had given him and was not going to provide the proper services rendered, I set up a face-to-face meeting at the A-Riteway offices. Petrosillo agreed through Trapani. For five hours I waited on a Tuesday morning, as Petrosillo told Trapani for me to wait for him throughout. Of course, he failed to show. I later learned that day from an A-Riteway worker, who feared so much for his job he begged me to have him remain unnamed, that Petrosillo had the entire workforce convene at his house to delegate the day’s schedule in order to avoid meeting with me.

But that was his mistake.

“Everyone at A-Riteway lied about things all the time,” concludes Trapani. “The worst is that they wanted it to look like a completely family owned business, so much so that some of the workers would tell customers they were married to Maria and that Leo was their brother-in-law or even Leo’s brother.”

While there I was able to obtain key information to help fill out the details of what was fast revealing itself to be a strategic level of bait, switch, duck and cover by A-Riteway for months on end. The workers and office staff, Trapani and a young and very frightened woman by the name of April regaled me with tales of confused and angered crews, apoplectic visits from wronged customers, and a blow-out resulting in the exit of a company partner named Rocco — the name familiar to me as months before he had warned me that Petrosillo was in his own words, “going mad”.

Documents left lying out in full view and posted blackboard lists displayed up to 30 different recalls (complaints from jobs completed badly) and impatient customers having invested money with no sign of work being done. I listened as call after call came in berating Trapani and demanding to see Petrosillo. I could see her cringe when a prospective customer would call looking for assistance. “I feel like telling these people to run,” she whispered to me. “But what can I do?”

I took the information gleaned from my visit and began contacting some of A-Riteway’s victims; David and his brother Raji Chandan from Jersey City, whose home was dismantled improperly for over a year after handing over $15,000 of the proposed 18 grand for a job never close to being done, Victoria Rodriguez from Hackensack, who hired A-Riteway in April and by May, after parting with a down payment and enduring a complete demo of portions of her home, was abandoned, Donna Brooks from Wayne, who was sold two erroneous “annual insurance policies” for gutters and face work not constructed properly in the first place, and a gentleman from the Newark area so livid over Petrosillo’s chicanery he preferred to remain anonymous for this piece so that he could surreptitiously destroy A-Riteway on his own terms.

“I hated what Leo turned me into,” says Rodriguez, who furiously tracked down Petrosillo’s mother, allegedly the company’s accountant, and threatened a lawsuit, which unleashed another spate of confused and unsupervised workers that eventually stopped showing up. “Dealing with Leo was like handling a drug attic, telling one lie after the other to get his fix until the whole thing implodes and the family gives up.”

The Chandans’ two-family home was left in “disaster” after what David describes as A-Riteway “sending people out here sporadically without supervision and half-completing crap work only after several calls to complain” (Trapani, who took many of them, estimates his brother Raji’s calls to the office at five times a day). Upon discovering that the paving in the front of the house was not done with a proper permit resulting in the job being shut down by police, the Chandan brothers placed several unreturned panic phone calls to A-Riteway before contacting a new contractor. They were further angered to find that there had been major violations like no parchment put on plywood to prevent build up of moisture that could lead to harmful molding and another city inspector that confirmed an uneven stone staircase that previously had nearly caused Mr. Chandan and his sister-in-law to fall.

Donna Brooks, who’s filed complaints to the Better Business Bureau (at present count there are a total of 31) was left holding completely useless “insurance contracts” from A-Riteway before her own freak-out calls led to her being told they would respond in 24 hours to any issues — the key issue being major leaks from substandard work. Each time she was met with wait-times up to a week after which still no one arrived.

“By then I was pissed off and asked for the guy who sold me the insurance policies,” Brooks explains. “I was told he no longer worked for A-Riteway and when I asked for the owner, they told me Leo was at the doctor (the doctor excuse, as confirmed by Trapani, was likely a completely fabricated con to avoid a professional response). Brooks then filed a small-claims case that soon went to court. Not surprisingly, no one, least of all the now running for cover Petrosillo bothered showing up.

The kick was the court judged against A-Riteway, but only when Ms. Brooks was instructed to return a week later to provide “expert witnesses” to prove her complaint, putting the consumer and not the obvious recidivist Petrosillo on trial. The system in effect is set up to protect marauders like Petrosillo and A-Riteway by making it nearly impossible to sue under the misty guise of “perceived value”, as in my case, wherein the contractor can yammer on about having done enough work to justify the costs, while claiming customer impatience or general ignorance to the “inner workings of professional contracting”.

At the time of this report, the length of breadth of which is still being unfurled, the North Haledon Police Department (the town where A-Riteway currently resides) has gotten involved. According to Trapani, one particularly fed-up customer demanding a check arrived late one afternoon in mid-June, a few days after I was there, with the police in tow. Given the runaround until day’s end and threatening Petrosillo with arrest, the cops preceded to his home, where they found a purportedly dazed Petrosillo being helped by his wife to a hospital, the victim of an alleged nervous breakdown. (Petrosillo had told me himself for whatever its worth that he had begun to show signs of mental duress from pills prescribed to him after an employee he sacked ran him over with his car)

I followed up with local police weeks later and received a call back from a Detective David Parenta, who informed me that there were four different complaints against A-Riteway and I was welcomed to come down to the station to join in. I gladly did a few weeks later and spoke in length with several officers who all knew of Petrosillo’s tactics, but beyond “keeping an eye on him” considered the matters civil cases. One source at the station confirmed to me that Petrosillo had been run ragged for weeks under a barrage of fiscal woes and was summarily evicted from his offices, where he had moved into only months before after rambling from his original location in Hawthorne, New Jersey. Another source proffered a theory that swirled around one complaint from a woman in Rahway, who had seen A-Riteway billboards further south, indicating perhaps that Petrosillo was expanding his reach in order to allegedly avoid too much local blowback to his gradually growing negative image.

It will be hard to do after this piece.

Or what may be coming from Trenton, as I later learned just minutes before sending this to press that Passaic County Consumer Affairs Senior Investigator for Consumer Protection Carol McClellan told another wronged A-Riteway customer from Mahwah that there have been so many complaints against A-Riteway that they had to send the entire case up to the state.

“Everyone at A-Riteway lied about things all the time,” concludes Trapani. “The worst is that they wanted it to look like a completely family owned business, so much so that some of the workers would tell customers they were married to Maria and that Leo was their brother-in-law or even Leo’s brother.”

Not sure what will happen to A-Riteway or Leonardo Petrosillo once this hits newsstands and the long arm of the Internet, the results of Trenton’s influence or the local police, but it is painfully obvious that something has these charlatans and any contractor who feeds on those who entrust them with their homes.

As for the Clemens Estate, after taking bids from reputable contractors for nearly two weeks in mid-June my job was completed by several entities, mostly the extremely professional Bernie Connors Construction and Rick Hamilton, a private carpenter who both rescued the place from Petrosillo’s dim-witted disrepair, the running thread in opinion seemed to surround a practice of many New Jersey contractors that have used the downturn in the economy to under-bid legit companies in an attempt to get a name on a dotted line, grab the cash, start the job in the most rushed, slapdash way, and disappear, which A-Riteway has done and is still very likely doing to numerous new customers.

For the record, Petrosillo was warned this type of brutal action was coming from me. He was told in no uncertain terms that it was not a good idea to screw with a journalist, especially a vindictively crazed journalist, and the might of my viper pen would be unleashed should he not make right. But despite several calls (unreturned, of course) A-Riteway has presently declined to comment or make amends.

This, among 100 other reasons still being uncovered, is why A-Riteway must be stopped.

This is just the beginning.

 

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Fuck Chick-fil-A

Aquarian Weekly 8/15/12 REALITY CHECK

CONVENIENT “FREE SPEECH”

A few years back, I penned the opening salvo for a Free Speech blog at the request of friend and fellow scribe, Rita King. It was aptly titled “Free Speech Must Stop” and its premise was primarily focused on prefiguring what the loss of free expression might be when measured against the preponderance of babble that passes for commentary and the general state of the ill informed who find it necessary to utter it. Of course, I put myself right in the mix — fully admitting that I had and still have nothing binding to add to the vox populi and was relieved, nay, proud to admit so.

Dan CathyI took more shit for that essay than most of what has appeared here weekly for 15 years and my guess at the time (beyond the fact that I put the damnable thing in my fourth book, Midnight for Cinderella) was it pierced a main nerve. No one likes to hear that their opinion is not only insipid but also mostly lost in the grand din; the irony of such a statement posted on a blog was not lost on me. These were the days of blog infancy, to which Ms. King should have been lauded; instead of receiving a half-bright invective wrapped in amplified wise-assery.

Since then, wise-assery and dumbness has reigned supreme on the Internet, most of it veiled in the obligatory cowardice of anonymity.

At least, I could argue, my dumbness went to press with my name heralding it.

What could not be imagined then was the explosion of social media and its affect on recording every burp of every public and private figure and in some cases high-profile political types. More than ever we are deluged with opinion. Some of it warranted and well considered, and a whole lot otherwise. But through it all there seems to be this hidden obligation to express the most banal to the most heinous of thoughts for all to absorb. Almost none of it appears to come from a place where a scintilla of fact or rational thought is involved.

Don’t get me wrong; dullards are a dime a dozen and have been offering their two cents far longer than the evolution of technology could more or less legitimatize them. But things have truly become unchecked, almost anarchistic, and sheds a great deal of light on the level of our intellectual barrenness or what Jim Morrison once mused as “a short cut to thinking”.

The act of imbecilic regurgitation has certainly reached the halls of our “esteemed” leaders, as in the most recent unfounded implications by Senate majority leader, Democrat, Harry Reid, a 24-year veteran of the United States congress, who walked to the floor of the Senate and claimed to have heard something from someone who knows another unidentified guy mention that Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney did not pay taxes for a decade. This on the heels of a two-week McCarthyesque harangue by Republican congress woman, Michele Bachmann, (who also sits on the Foreign Intelligence Committee) accusing members of the State Department of having direct ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Neither of these charges has been remotely substantiated by anything resembling evidence. Yet these “professionals” conjured the need to brazenly express it, as if by simply doing it would lend it gravitas.

Give me all the stuff, not the populist, rabble-rousing nonsense, and maybe this whole Free Speech thing can work after all.

Now, we’ve written volumes in this space over the years dissecting the outrage stemming from the “controversial” yammering of radio showboats like Howard Stern, Don Imus or Rush Limbaugh, the comic stylings of (you name it) and the usual lyrical musings of the faux revolutionary set. Rarely someone hits a nail as straight as say a Lenny Bruce or George Carlin or Bob Dylan or Edward R. Murrow, much less Mark Twain. Mostly it’s the spastic hammering away at one sacred cow after the other to get ratings and keep jobs, all of which is celebrated here as a blessed right, but hardly worth noting.

It’s the easy targets for which I take umbrage; Bill Maher riffing on people seeing the Blessed Mother in a potato chip or the relentless pounding by everyone on Sarah Palin’s inability to never appear coherent. Taking potshots from the cheap seats on the Internet, making shit up for shock value or making a buck is all well and good, but my respect is saved for those who tread against the grain, deny the force of the tide beyond mere grandstanding.

Take for instance the case of Chick-fil-A CEO, Dan Cathy, who last week expressed his distaste for same-sex marriage (a 50-50 polling proposition that has yet to win a deciding vote by citizens of any state) citing the “arrogance” and “audacity” of this generation (not sure which one specifically, the man’s a Baby Boomer) to deny the will of God. Unlike Reid or Bachmann, Cathy has proof; the Holy Bible’s Book of Leviticus. Although the Bible lacks credible insight into the actual mindset of a monotheistic being than the Qu’ran or Dianetics, and is no basis of law, we must assume Mr. Cathy believes in the immutable truth that according to Leviticus 20:13; “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.”

But everyone uses that Leviticus bit — 33 lousy words out of thousands — but what of the other immutable laws set down by the will of God? Take for instance a woman who is raped being forced to marry her rapist. Let’s say for argument’s sake Dan Cathy quoted that nifty tidbit of God’s will, which is as legitimate a sentiment as the one he uttered about the popular and easily identifiable same-sex thing. You think there would have been people lined up to buy tons of chicken in support of free speech?

That would have impressed me. I might have even been on that line. For no other reason, but the man treads the road less traveled.

I wonder where talk show God-man, Mike Huckabee falls on the side of rapists marrying their victims to fulfill the will of God?

Free speech advocates and God-fearing Christians everywhere would like to know.

What if Cathy had cited Leviticus 20:10 about the killing of any man who cheats on his wife? Hell, since lust and masturbation are considered cheating that pretty much wipes out the male population of this country. How about my favorite, “Any person who curseth his mother or father must be killed” from 20:9. My guess is in the time you’re ready this there would be bodies everywhere.

Also, it stands to reason if Cathy is sold on express his support for the persecution of homosexuals, certainly his right, then he also believes very strongly that those who are handicapped (deemed “lame” or “blind” five thousand or so years ago) or those with “flat noses” should be denied salvation.

Chick-fil-A supports the damnation of the handicapped!

Now, my friends; that is some heady free speech.

Saying gays are going to hell is like people protesting war. It’s the rhetorical equivalent of shooting the proverbial fish in the barrel. Hitler is bad. Star Wars sequels blow. Yeah, yeah.

Give me all the stuff, not the populist, rabble-rousing nonsense, and maybe this whole Free Speech thing can work after all.

 

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In Praise of “Vegan is Love”

Aquarian Weekly 8/1/12 REALITY CHECK

IN PRAISE OF VEGAN IS LOVE Author Ruby Roth’s Alternative Literature for Kids

My wife is a vegan and we are raising our daughter vegan. I am not a vegan nor am I a vegetarian. I am, for those familiar with this space, nothing. I could scarcely call myself human, really. I traded in my integrity for a moped and a six pack of Genesee Cream Ale in 1981. This makes almost everyone I know better than me. This is an interesting base in which to run an elitist egomaniacal construct. But I manage.

Vegan is LoveFor those unfamiliar with the term, vegan is according to Webster’s “a strict vegetarian who consumes no animal food or dairy products; also: one who abstains from using animal products (as leather)”. A quick search of veganism on Wikipedia will garner “Ethical vegans reject the commodity status of animals and the use of animal products for any purpose, while dietary vegans (or strict vegetarians) eliminate them from their diet only. Another form, environmental veganism, rejects the use of animal products on the premise that the industrial practice is environmentally damaging and unsustainable.”

My wife simply says, “Eat like you give a damn”, which she wears on a tee shirt as proudly as she displayed the “Meat is Murder” bumper sticker on her college shit box.

So it is no surprise that as we happened to catch an appearance by children’s author and artist, Ruby Roth speaking about her new work, Vegan is Love, a practical and rather stirring primer for kids from seven years and up (a publisher’s recommendation Roth does not necessarily agree with, as she believes, as I have always believed, that children of any age are capable of handling the truth of a given subject if explained properly) it roused a request from someone who rarely if ever reads my column; “You should write about this woman and her book.”

At first I thought my wife was nuts; something that was clearly evident long before this suggestion. No one cares about this, really. This is why I had to add the definition of vegan to my lead. People can barely muster empathy for the starving, war-damaged or oppressed peoples of the world, much less chickens. And if there is one thing people usually agree on is they love meat; cheap McDonald’s crap to big fat juicy, expensive carcasses.

But my best friend on planet earth has dedicated her adult life to this cause and now my only child has followed suit for four years and counting, so I figured; why not?

We received a copy of Vegan is Love some weeks ago and love it; and most importantly so does my daughter. And so a couple of phone calls ensued, and after a few biographical tidbits about Ms. Roth being the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors with “an acute sense of oppression”, raised by a vegetarian mother on a “an organic tree farm in Hawaii”, and later studying politics and American history at UC Santa Cruz, which she calls the Mecca of veganism, we got down to business.

“To know the violence you’re participating in and continue to eat animals takes a willful ignorance,” Roth began. “Our society has a very anthropomorphic-centric view and it is at the root of the ecological crisis that we find ourselves in today. Our desires and addictions and technologies are more important than the very earth that we walk upon. And I think the self-centeredness that allows us to keep abusing animals is the same outlook that allows us to buy houses that we can’t afford or trick other people into buying houses that they can’t afford. It is a systemic belief that our country suffers from that surely begins on our plates.”

Roth, thirty, considers herself an artist before a writer and has dedicated her life’s work to what she says is a “cherished philosophy and the foundation of my morals and values.” She is soft-spoken and well versed in the advantages of her chosen lifestyle and quite adamant about the adverse. Yet she does not come on as preachy, simply referring to humanity’s apathy to the abuse of animals as “the truth”.

“The quickest way out of any predicament is to tell the truth,” insists Roth. “You forget how simple it is to say some people eat meat and some people don’t. I don’t.”

The public image of most vegans is that they’re militant, elitist and mostly angry, something you would be if you really cared about animals, because a preponderance of evidence shows that hardly anyone does. Most say they do, but they don’t — like people telling pollsters they go to church instead of strip clubs or read instead of watching The Bachelor. Maybe people dig their pet or some cute thing they see in a movie, but cows?

“It’s a very strange disconnection,” Roth said when I inquired about how people who would not normally kill a pig or cow or turkey can easily compartmentalize their eating habits. “It’s like a blind spot even when your attention is turned to it. I think if you haven’t witnessed the footage it’s impossible to imagine the depth of destruction and violence that occurs. It changes you as a person. I think my brain chemistry changed when I started witnessing the footage, because our habits allow us to associate meat with comfort food and that’s normalized, but when you see what it really is your neural pathways actually change.”

“The quickest way out of any predicament is to tell the truth,” insists Roth. “You forget how simple it is to say some people eat meat and some people don’t. I don’t.”

The other public image of vegans is that they tend to skew young, as in they embrace this philosophy in the idealistic age of caring for the future of their environment, etc. And once they go vegan, most don’t let go. Believe me. I know. It is here that Roth has connected on a deeper level with Vegan is Love, in that it purports what my wife has always believed; children have an innate bond with all living things and if that disconnect was not passed down from their parents, they would, as Roth puts it, “choose wisely”.

For the first time in children’s literature Vegan is Love presupposes that if kids know animals are being tortured for product testing, abused for sport or entertainment or especially killed for glue or coats or lunch, they might be inclined to go for the salad.

“It’s never too early to discuss the truth and when kids start asking questions, that’s an appropriate time to tell the truth,” said Roth. “There is no universally accepted concept of childhood. Our American one is inherited from the Victorian age when it was believed that children needed to be protected from the adult world, so it’s passed down to us and we see it in our schools, our children’s books, and our laws. In other countries by the time kids are four they’re hauling wood and watching over their younger siblings.”

Although a kid’s book, there is nothing juvenile about Vegan is Love. It is beautifully and realistically depicted with Roth’s stunning illustrations and the text allows for parents to discuss such weighty subjects as animal testing for drugs, hunting, the wonton destruction of the environment and the gory spectacle of animals in circuses. Yet the book is less polemic than it is a genuinely empathetic characterization of animals. It is here that Roth makes her most interesting point.

“Most children’s books and movies are anthropomorphic and I think that detaches us from animals, because we automatically think of them with fictional attributes. It’s the same with zoos and circuses, which they claim sensitize people to animals when it actually does the opposite; it desensitizes us to the use and abuse of animals.”

Roth’s mission for Vegan is Love is to offer an alternate view for children, and for our daughter, it is a helpful reinforcement of something she has embraced thus far; something she will need when entering a world that doesn’t accept alternatives to anything easily. But hell, the kid is already behind the eight ball with a lunatic like me for a father.

“Vegan kids are good influences on their peers and their peers are often interested in what they’re eating” Roth, a former educator, assures me. “I think knowledge is power. And the more your child knows because of discussions that you’ve had the more confident they will be. The confident kid in the classroom always seems to be the cool kid.”

Roth, who says the positive response to Vegan is Love has far outweighed some of the criticism, is currently working on her third book with the same faith that humanity’s most compassionate elements begin in childhood; which is where we all begin our journeys to the center of our own universe.

“Maybe if it’s too scary to talk about,” Roth mused as we bid ado. “Then it’s too scary to eat it or participate in it.”

Or write about?

 

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