A-Riteway Construction Must Be Stopped

Aquarian Weekly 8/29/12 REALITY CHECK


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


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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“Death of a Salesman” 2012

Aquarian Weekly 5/23/12 REALITY CHECK

In Praise of Death of a Salesman at the Barrymore Theater

Why am I trying to become what I don’t want to be? What am I doing in an office, making a contemptuous, begging fool of myself, when all I want is out there, waiting for me the minute I say I know who I am! – Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman – Biff, Act 2, Part 7

In the guise of Philip Seymour Hoffman, the mid-twentieth century victim of urbanization, progress, and the delusions of facile success as image, Willy Loman emerges as the defiant lion of the twenty-first century; not a 99 percenter or a TEA Party activist, but a true believer in the American myth, to the bitter end, as bitter as the gorgeous solemnity of Arthur Miller’s finest work allows him.

Phillip Seymour HoffmanThe stirring new Broadway staging of Death of a Salesman at the Barrymore Theater is as good as live theater gets, with an intense cast of emotionally charged players straining with each scene to match Hoffman’s mesmerizing shifts in and out of Loman’s manic mood swings, his bi-polar hallucinations, and long, disturbing pauses that leave the room bereft of oxygen again and again. Hoffman polimorphically manifests jazz great, Miles Davis’ immortal line about the emotion of all music being found in the silences, the notes not played as pertinent as the ones heard.

Hoffman is a ferociously broken wing of the post-war affluence of American spirit, as Loman is written and has been played for more than half a century and on Broadway four different times during parts of six decades, but he is never defeated, roused like a schlep Lazarus or as the whispering voices in a foxhole near the end of a battle the doomed cannot win but cannot yet admit they will never exit alive. Miller’s aim for his timeless tragic anti-hero was to lull audiences into sympathy before the crushing denouement when the truth of the man’s illusions destroys his meager legacy, his fractured family, and his barely subsistent pride. Hoffman, while respectful to the historic playwright, manages to turn this well-crafted ruse on its head by tearing open Loman’s fears of irrelevance into a defiant protest, refusing to accept being unloved, unsuccessful and lost in a time and place not of his making.

But it is not Hoffman for whom this play shines brightest, but his co-star, the young and talented Andrew Garfield, in his stage debut as the ever-wandering loser, Biff. Best known, as is Hoffman, for his film work, most recently as Eduardo in The Social Network and soon-to-be the newest Peter Parker aka Spider-Man, Garfield instinctively commands the stage at his most vulnerable and crazed. Opening the play in boxers and a tank-top tee, his taught muscles and ruffled hair depict a yearning for an escape out West, away from the crushing pressures of the city and his childhood expectations. He closes it strangled by the imprisoned business attire he dons against his will to save his father’s life. Garfield physically becomes the myths of the play.

Death of a Salesman is a good as modern tragedy gets and its current revival proves it.

Here at their nadir, Loman and his son are pitted against each other, held together by blood and lies, as both rage against the machine that churns on without them, even when, for a fleeting second years ago, deep in the glory days of fading sunshine, they are on a suicide run together; one ideological, the other quite literally. And here, to his credit, Hoffman is generous with his skills. As in many of his films, he allows others to shine, expanding his role by sharing the spotlight. Whether playing opposite Meryl Streep in Proof or Along Came Polly with Ben Stiller or Magnolia with Tom Cruise or The Savages with Laura Linney, Hoffman duly supports his co-stars and brings the stories to life.

The play’s director, Mike Nichols, whose acrobatic use of symbolism in his 1968 film masterpiece, The Graduate that turned a dime-store novel of alienation into a generational siren, uses light and imagery, music and a constant unnerving movement to portray the banality of the urban dirge as something more than tragedy. In Nichols’ hands this is a story of unrequited redemption, only because it is the insignificant little damages that lead to the unraveling of contentment in modern times, or as poet Charles Bukowski once mused, it is the broken shoelaces and not massive trauma that drives a man to madness.

Nichols, who has never made a film nearing the perfection of The Graduate, has nevertheless proven his mastery for visual metaphors, as his Death of Salesman brims with one hammering reminder after another that the worth of a man’s existence in a country that had paved over most of its frontier by 1949 is ever more ambiguous. Instead, he is replaced by industry and the automobile, technology, commerce and war. Thus, all the talk about open spaces, wilderness treasures, high-rise executive mastery and daring individualism is cast inside a claustrophobic set design – dreary catacombs from the tiny front porch to the cramped kitchen, the shoebox bedrooms set below tenement windows closing in all around.

But Death of a Salesman is not a political or social treatise; it is a play about lies – domestic, familial, professional and internal; all of the rationalizations and petty misdirection that salves the ticking clocks of our lives. And no one affiliated with this latest run of an American masterpiece, from small walk-ons through the four major players, is unaware of this. There is a reverence for the greatness of the work, but also a bold expanse of its most cherished moments.

Death of a Salesman is a good as modern tragedy gets and its current revival proves it.

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Look Away Dixie Land

Aquarian Weekly 3/28/12 REALITY CHECK


In human history a moral victory is always a disaster, for it debauches and degrades both the victor and the vanquished. – H.L. Mencken

Oh, I wish I was in the land of cotton Old times there are not forgotten Look away, look away, look away Dixie Land. – Daniel Decatur Emmett

Ah, the South. Lincoln’s great mistake; not allowing a full and complete secession from the Union to stand, providing the free-market mechanism to eventually take from it the power, ideology and half-baked customs that has been the bane of the American existence for lo these many decades. By crushing the South militarily, it not only cost the 16th president his life, but it left the defeated with a sense of martyrdom and the pangs of vengeance which has filled volumes of American literature, sordid history and rancorous expression for 147 long years. Since, the South never disappoints when it comes to shenanigans of all kinds — political, social, racial, religious; it remains our witless cousin; the one the money people like the Kennedys or the Romneys would keep in the basement and feed dog food and tell the neighbors was a bad rumor.

Trayvon MartinOh, but the South is not a bad rumor. It is real.

Well, as real as the South gets.

Apparently in our most southern of states, Florida, a certified legal and binding prefecture of these United State — where law breeds a hazy mystical sludge and civil rights are up for debate on color, sexual orientation, gender, religious affiliation, patriotism, media outlets and celebrity — you can kill another citizen and not be incarcerated. Joining Texas, South Carolina and Mississippi for this nation’s highest under-prosecuted murder rate and by far highest hate-crime per capita, the Sunshine State takes front and center this week for its ham-fisted legislative racketeering and obligatory confederate axiom to shoot first and figure out the motivation much, much, much later.

Much later.

Twenty-six days later by the time of this writing.

The shooting of a17 year-old African American boy named Trayvon Martin by a civilian that carried the vague title of Neighborhood Watchman, which in the real world and not that of the South means vigilante, has yet to include an arrest. The alleged killer, George Zimmerman, who has a criminal record and a history of domestic violence, reported on a 911 call that Martin “looked suspicious” and then for reasons only known to Zimmerman gunned the boy down with nothing more than a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea on him.


Whoops that end in the death of a citizen, whether black, white, green or purple, whether teenager, infant, cross-dresser, priest or octogenarian in the real world and not that of the South usually ends in at first a manhunt, and especially in this case, wherein there is a full admission of guilt, an arrest.

This is not merely a South problem it is humanity’s problem, however the environment, the aura, and the acceptable social behaviors of these states and their region of origin do not legally sanction such arbitrarily deadly behavior.

What is keeping Zimmerman a free man is a very interesting law (not in the real world and only that of the South) passed by the Florida state legislature and signed into law by its then governor, the honorable Jeb Bush in 2005. Called “Stand Your Ground’, this law allows citizens to carry automatic weapons and use them at their discretion if feeling threatened. According to statistics released by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, since the law was enacted seven years ago, justified homicides in Florida have jumped threefold.


Yes, and while I have to say that I am certainly on the fence about such a law in that if it had been available to me, along with an automatic weapon of my choosing, in the Bronx from 1962 to 1972 and central New Jersey from 1972 to 1982, and certainly in Westchester, New York from 1982 to 2001, and here in the great mountains of New Jersey from 2001 to the present day, there would be a phalanx of bodies piled up behind me from the proverbial here to the probable there. Oh, yes. I felt threatened, was threatened, and beyond that all-out assaulted by every manner of cretin known to civilized man. Having the opportunity to shoot these people might have appealed to me then, especially if the law allowed it, and the law, in Florida (not in the real world and only that of the South) indeed does.


Okay, so maybe as Zimmerman and the confused and beleaguered Sanford city local government and police force maintain, he was threatened, assaulted or put down by a 17 year-old kid and his buddies armed with sugar water and fruity candy, then maybe, according to the law, he has a case. He has done nothing wrong. Justice? For what, protecting his personage against onslaught — real or imagined? Remember the law clearly states that all one needs is to “feel threatened” by someone “looking suspicious”. Justified killing on a feel and a look is regional dialect for not in the real world and only that of the South.


The South shall rise again.

So now, as with Louisiana during Katrina and Texas during Waco and Mississippi during the 1960s with the murders of Medgar Evars and Martin Luther King, burning of black churches, killing of voter rights protestors — sheesh, I have no room for all of Mississippi’s bullshit — and on and on and on, the federal government, already broke, and the American citizenry, always the collective fall-guy for this nonsense, will have to pay for a proper investigation.

This is, after all, Florida, which gave us the constitutional crisis known as the 2000 presidential election (orchestrated by, you got it, the honorable Jeb Bush) that took federalist comedy to new lows. But even for a fairly screwed up political system, this is a pretty substantial clusterfuck. Dead kids are bad for business. Dead black kids, well that’s bad for everyone everywhere, especially in the South.

Look, no one is claiming that if such a law were to make it through the New York state legislature or in Minnesota or Massachusetts or Illinois that people wouldn’t be “feeling” like shooting each other “under suspicion” hourly. This is not merely a South problem it is humanity’s problem, however the environment, the aura, and the acceptable social behaviors of these states and their region of origin do not legally sanction such arbitrarily deadly behavior.

This is what goes on in the South.

Whoops…it’s legal.


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Dear Mista Christie

Aquarian Weekly 3/7/12 REALITY CHECK



The following was sent to the N.J. governor’s office the morning of February 29, 2012, 11 days after Chris Christie vetoed the New Jersey legislature’s bill to legalize same-sex marriage in a mostly progressive state, which already recognizes civil unions, and whose majority of citizens support the referendum.


Office of the Governor PO Box 001 Trenton, NJ 08625 Att: Mr. Christie

“Marriage is the union of two different surnames, in friendship and in love, in order to continue the posterity of the former sages, and to furnish those who shall preside at the sacrifices to heaven and earth, at those in the ancestral temple, and at those at the altars to the spirits of the land and grain.” – Confucius

I send this missive neither as a taxpaying citizen of New Jersey, which I certainly am, nor as an activist for progressive measures in and out of the political arena, which I find mostly to be a masturbatory enterprise. And trust me on this, despite my weekly contributions to the editorial din as founder and president of the Reality Check News & Information Desk; ideological agenda is less an aim than a useful cudgel to effectively pummel for laughs and a paycheck. What you are dealing with here is a generational contemporary. In fact, you are literally three days older than me.

And so fellow post-boomer Virgo, it comes as some surprise that you decided to veto the Same-Sex marriage bill recently passed through our state legislature.

Come on, man. I used to think this type of systemic bigotry was the tarnished emblem of a bygone era filled with vapid familial/cultural inbreeds that perpetuated myths in order to protect their own myths; pathetic fading echoes of Jim Crow and McCarthyism. Remember we used to laugh at those ridiculous dumb-asses who stonewalled a woman’s right to vote, a woman’s right to choose, an African-American’s right to eat at a diner, sleep in a hotel or use public bathrooms? The insipid puritan throwbacks that pitched a fit when Jack Johnson showed up at a PR event with a white woman or when Elvis shook his hips on TV were freakish wax images from the black-and-white dark ages.

Our generation is supposed to be so far removed from this type of atavistic nonsense it’s laughable that one of us would gain power and pull the same tired shit. Being on the wrong side of history was the sad work of the frightened old guys, the feeble-minded post-war, pre-enlightenment drones who ignored a reasoned evolution of thought, and not all that Sixties crap we stomped out in the Seventies and Eighties when the cold stark realities of a drug-fueled, sex-addled hedonism for hedonism sake “movement” was reduced to a burned out Disco nightmare. Fuck “Born to Run”, you don’t know a thing about that song. Shit, Springsteen wrote forty songs about New Jersey and they are all “I gotta get out of this backwater hellscape, babe!” “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, Mista Christie. That’s our anthem. “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”


You grew up in Jersey, not Alabama or Mississippi, right? Where the hell is this coming from?

Is it because you’re part of a political party, which is something akin to being a Boy Scout? Okay, there may be rules of engagement and secret handshakes that those of us in the Freethinker milieu find curious if not goofy, but don’t you pride yourself on being a bit of a freethinker (small f) on several issues both social and fiscal within the Republican brand?

So, what’s your play?

Your official public position as reported is; “I am adhering to what I’ve said since this bill was first introduced — an issue of this magnitude and importance, which requires a constitutional amendment, should be left to the people of New Jersey to decide. I continue to encourage the Legislature to trust the people of New Jersey and seek their input by allowing our citizens to vote on a question that represents a profoundly significant societal change. This is the only path to amend our State Constitution and the best way to resolve the issue of same-sex marriage in our state.”

All right, so the whole constitutional thing is not your strong suit. I can accept that. You’re the union-busting, tax-slashing blustery wise-guy — although my property taxes were just hiked and I’m not sure any taxes have been eased since your swearing in, but that is another letter for another day. But you do realize that you have been duly elected as a caretaker of said constitution, along with your fellow legislators, to interpret and uphold its tenets. Then what’s with the buck passing? This feckless maneuver appears more curious than your veto in that you have fashioned your cult of personality to that of a tough-talking straight-shooter Jersey type out of a 1930s Jimmy Cagney flick. Seems odd this is too big of an issue in which for you to come to grips.

For now, this agonizing episode in head-in-the-sand politics as usual hits hardest at home, in my state and from my generation. I am embarrassed for both of us. But hell, I guess we’re just another in a long line of cowards.

Oh, and by the way, voting on a civil right isn’t exactly how constitutions are written up. The Bill of Rights, as granted by the United States Constitution, supersedes all half-baked state initiatives. Please see the American Civil War of 1861 or the Civil Rights Act a century later for prime examples.

And while it is hard to believe you buy into the whole facile Religious Right silliness, the legislation contains a religious opt-out clause, meaning no church clergy would be required to perform gay marriages and places of worship would not have to allow same-sex weddings at their facilities.

It can’t be philosophical or historical, can it? No one who has cracked a book or two can seriously believe there is such a thing as “sanctity of marriage”. Maybe you’re not familiar with the history of the institution, which pre-dates anything resembling modern Judaism or for that matter Christianity by centuries. Marriage is a business agreement, a property grab-caste jumping exercise that the Catholic church turned into a money-making scheme and the puritans ran up every flag pole they could get their grubby hands on.

Let’s say for the wildest sake of argument you are concerned for the fabricated “definition” of marriage; then why don’t you make a cause of repealing your state’s No-Fault Divorce Cause of Action, which grants legal separation to any husband and wife that lives separately in different houses for a period of at least eighteen consecutive months? Anyone without dung for brains can see the threat this law is to the purported “sanctity of marriage”, which as stated can be easily disproved as a lark by a serious perusal of historical fact.

Marriage is merely a business merger without humans, whose emotions, sexual energy and pure, embroiled passion give it whatever meaning it possesses. Maybe you heard that homosexuals are human.

So I can only assume you’re a homophobe?

It’s fine. I don’t particularly embrace anyone or most anyone’s culture, but then again I’m not representing anyone or their culture, but the governor, sir, is the governor of all, and the majority is not always right. I heard you say much the same when some of your more unpopular policies were polled into the ground. You civil servants come to that eventually. Hell, I say it too when stuff I believe (the four or five I have left) are polled into the ground. Thing is no poll or vote is going to make a wrong a right and you have a steaming bowl of wrong on your hands here, no matter your reason.

Finally, since you’re a secular leader and most of what is described above is what I call voodoo gobbledygook, your specious argument, assuming you are not a spectacularly uniformed homophobic party lackey, rests on the Civil Union law currently on the books. In fact, you have stated that you are “just as adamant that same-sex couples in a civil union deserve the very same rights and benefits enjoyed by married couples — as well as the strict enforcement of those rights and benefits.”

Well then, consider the case of John Grant and Daniel Weiss, an Asbury Park couple in a civil union and are among many who recently testified in support of gay marriage. According to a well-documented story from several local news reports, including my old pals at the Asbury Park Press, when Grant was in a life-threatening automobile accident and rushed to a New York hospital in 2010 — before that state legalized gay marriage — Weiss said he couldn’t authorize badly needed surgery or even go through his partner’s wallet to find his health insurance card. He said their civil union was essentially worthless; Grant’s neurosurgeon even asked, “What is a civil union?”

Look, man, you appear to be a fairly coherent guy, but this move is an anachronistic mess and whether you did it for political reasons, personal phobias or an abject ignorance about what you are defending here, this is a plain and simple denial of civil rights by a democratic government and for that you shall be judged; now and in November of 2013 when you will be run out of this state on a rail.

For now, this agonizing episode in head-in-the-sand politics as usual hits hardest at home, in my state and from my generation. I am embarrassed for both of us. But hell, I guess we’re just another in a long line of cowards.

At least, if the research buzz I’m getting here at The Desk is to be trusted, this next generation thinks we’re a fucking joke. Remember thinking that about the others? No? That explains it.

Yours in Disgust,



Reality Check | Pop Culture | Politics | Sports | Music


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A Question of Secular Faith

Aquarian Weekly 2/15/12 REALITY CHECK

A QUESTION OF SECULAR FAITH The Role of Law in Perpetual Religious Times

Rulers who wish to subvert the public liberty may have found an established clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just government, instituted to secure and perpetuate it [liberty], needs them not.

– James Madison

Although the Constitution permits communities to enact most laws they believe to be desirable, it requires that there be at least a legitimate reason for the passage of a law that treats different classes of people differently. There was no such reason that Proposition 8 could have been enacted.

– 9th Circuit Court Ruling on Prop 8

James MadisonAnd with that, the childish nonsense that continues to be an issue in a purported free society protected by law meets its latest nadir. The wholly unconstitutional pogrom on civil rights perpetuated by atavistic 16th century theocrats silly with gay-marriage bans has taken another blessed step towards oblivion. And soon, when a brave soul decides to present this madness to the Supreme Court, as has been done with the criminality of the Patriot Act and will soon visit the wholly farcical National Health Care Law, then all the crazy votes from all the crazy people will do no good.

It is hard to believe we’ve been trolling this subject for lo these fifteen or so years. Frankly, I am embarrassed every time I have to write it, as if I were carrying on an endless battle against the Flat Earth Society. But we do. And slowly but surely this will go the way of most of the embarrassing nonsense that has littered the checkered history of this republic.

But this is not what we’ve set about to cover this week, although it falls under a similar umbrella of Law vs. Religion.

There has been much furor recently over religious liberty and the aforementioned National Health Care Law vis-à-vis the Catholic Church and its bevy of universities, colleges, hospitals and care centers, wherein the federal government is mandating these institutions provide full insurance coverage to its employees, which include contraception devices.

You may rightly ask why any institution has to provide anything mandated by the government, but then you would be here for weeks pouring over the hundreds upon thousands of regulations – some of merit, many goofy – that the federal government has mandated for decades. Nevertheless, it is a fair question, and it too must have its day in court.

However, a divisive political climate and the opportunity of an election year has curiously turned a legal matter into an issue of “religious liberty”, as in why should Catholic-run institutions be forced to provide a service its dogma is patently against?

Now, mind you, we’ve fought these religious vs. the state battles before with slavery, civil rights, women’s rights, prohibition, the teaching of evolution, interracial marriage, abortion, etc. Most of these have seen religion get its ass kicked, so in a binding, legal sense, this is probably not going to go well for religion, but it appears to me that this is not a matter of religious liberty, but only that of “extensions” of the Catholic Church to run public hospitals and institutions of higher learning that cater to all members of society.

Granted, nearly 98 percent Catholics have admitted to using or having used contraception devices at one point or other, so there appears to be some foxes in the theocratic henhouse so to speak, but Catholic hospitals and universities are open for business (and these are indeed businesses and not Mother Teresa missions) to Jews, Muslims, Evangelicals, atheists, agnostics, snake-charmers, and so on. More to the point, these businesses hire American citizens of all faiths and as such must adhere to the labor laws of the land and not dogmatic tenet.

Whether the Health Care Law is an abuse of personal liberty – and this space argues it certainly is – will be a subject dissected within the parameters of constitutional law, available to believers and non-believers alike. It will not be played out in a pulpit.

There is also the question of what government grants these health institutions receive and in that case we return to our age-old argument against the taxpayer funding of art and its hindrance on artistic freedom. If you take the cash and then use it to create something deemed offense by the benefactors, then it leaves the artist very little in the way of defending his/her freedom or even full ownership of the artistic vision. In other words, freedom, and all it denotes, is sold to a bidder and that bidder gets to call the tune.

A funny aside; many of the same people who once aggressively promoted the actual repression of religious liberty, or just liberty in general, are the ones now crying foul. Remember the Islamic center a taxpaying citizen wanted to build within a ten-block radius of Ground Zero in New York City? Yeah, that one. The argument against his right to purchase a building and put whatever he damn well pleased in it (as long as it wasn’t a sex-related endeavor near a school, which is more unconstitutional nonsense) was that it was Islamic. Since Muslims killed the victims of 9/11, it was deemed insensitive by its opponents. Rights trampled over insensitivity, not rights infringed upon for the public health.

This current debate is simply not about religious liberty, despite the politically exploitive attempts to make it so by the Republican-controlled congress and three of the four remaining GOP presidential candidates, excluding Ron Paul, of course. It is that sort of mucking of the point that has kept Same-Sex Marriage from its rightful place in the civil rights arena. It is not about indefinable poetic hodgepodge surrounding “the sanctity of marriage” or voodoo gobbledygook as in “God intended”. It is the idiosyncratic denial of basic liberty guaranteed by the Bill Rights.

The framers of the United States Constitution, specifically Thomas Jefferson and his political apprentice and author of the document, James Madison put their heads together to create the secular template for this republic in 1786 with Virginia’s Act for Establishing Religious Freedom – the first of its kind in any formed government anywhere. Madison, fearing the establishment of Christian-only laws, wrote what many historians consider as important a treatise as Jefferson’s masterful Declaration of Independence; Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments. Madison’s main objective in Memorial was to as much promote the absence of religion in the civic conscience as it did in keeping one religion from dictating the law of the land; be it Christian or otherwise.

This, and only this, is where the matter lies.

The government is not forcing the Catholic Church to alter its course within the parameters of its faith, as in mandating priests to promote the use of birth control or forcing condom dispensers in church restrooms, no more than it would demand equal rights to women denied the opportunity to be priests. But if the Catholic Church wishes to play in the public free market, it must play by its rules, not the other way around.

You want to bitch about religious oppression? Ask a Mormon Church how it feels about the late-19th century abolishment of its polygamy practices in two separate laws passed over the course of 20 years.

Whether the Health Care Law is an abuse of personal liberty – and this space argues it certainly is – will be a subject dissected within the parameters of constitutional law, available to believers and non-believers alike. It will not be played out in a pulpit.

Just as both Jefferson and Madison portended.

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Aquarian Weekly 12/28/11 REALITY CHECK


This will be the last column I pen this year, in the final days of this twelfth month of 2011, and I choose to write about the number 12.

In a few days we embark on 2012, and each year I try and end the previous one with a tag line or a semantic touchstone for where things may go over the following calendar run. It’s a way of cleansing by throwing something out there for kicks. We hardly ever — and by hardly ever, we mean mostly — predict how things will pan out. Never did go much for the “past is prologue” stuff. Don’t look back. Rearview mirrors are for suckers. This is more our speed.

jcNone of this is true, of course. The entire purpose of this space is to point out that nothing is new and that somewhere along the line of civilization, and most assuredly in the history of these United States of America, there has been a dead-ringer or worse catastrophe than the one currently being endured. This calms the natives from believing the End is Nigh, an age old defection in the human condition that bridges raging ego with a preternatural fear of the unknown to justify the eradication of existence, when all it really means is that things are subject to a natural shift and we’re just pissed about it.

However, the end of the year is hardly for reflection but dissection, and in that spirit we offered up 2011 as the year of “challenge”, as the political and social landscape of our nation would be motivated to defend, refute or understand the largest legislative maneuver in nearly half a century; the National Health Care Law. Before that in 2010, we predicted a re-birth of fiscal conservatism by examining a growing worship of Ayn Rand by the wounded Right Wing. Back in 2009, which we labeled the Year of the Guilty, we took a turn for the weird. Not sure where that was going.

Now 2012 is upon us and it is long in coming for me.

The number 12 is my number.

Well, I was initially partial to the number 2 in the grand scheme of the primary numbers, but my grandmother and mother were both born on a twelve, and later I was married on a 12. My first hero, Joe Namath wore number 12 and his team won its only title on a 12. When I was 12 my head exploded when I heard The Who’s Tommy for the first time, which completely altered my being, and then shortly after or during this experience, my body exploded into another completely different being.

Yet, somewhere along the line I learned from the Oxford Dictionary that a study of the number (or word) twelve’s etymology suggests that “twelve” arises from the Germanic compound “twalif” “two-leftover”, so a literal translation would yield “two remaining-after having ten taken”. Therefore, the remaining “tw”- hints that twelve and two are related.


Also, in any monotheistic measure, 12 rules; as in 12 tribes of Israel for Judaism, 12 apostles and a bunch of crazy 12 stuff in Revelation for Christianity, which brings us to the Mayan calendar, end of the world thing, and well — I get that. Also, there are 12 Imams, whom are considered the legitimate successors of Muhammad in Islam. But my favorite is the Hindu 12, which indicates the number names for Surya, the Sun God.

Really nice.

Of course, my awareness of the number 12 is not without its constant reminder: The Roman calendar has 12 months, broken up by 24-hour days split into 12-hour periods, which begin at the stroke of midnight (12:00 am). In fact, the very basic units of time (60 seconds, 60 minutes, 24 hours) can all perfectly divide by 12. And for what’s it’s worth, the Western and Chinese zodiacs have 12 signs.

This year of ’12 could be the year we get out of the war business for a while. That would be nice.

Maybe my absolute favorite (and let the music geeks have at it on this one) 12 is the number of pitch classes in an octave, not counting the duplicated (octave) pitch. Also, 12 is the total number of major keys, (not counting enharmonic equivalents) and the total number of minor keys (also not counting equivalents). This applies only to twelve-tone equal temperament, the most common tuning used today in western influenced music.

Beyond nice.

Crucial, really.

There are 12 steps in AA.

There are 12 face cards in a deck.

There are 12 Federal Reserve Districts in the U.S.

Human visitors to the moon; 12.

You may have heard something about the number 12 deriving from Egeria, the Roman water goddess, often pictured carrying 12 jugs of water, which she summarily spills to create the earth’s lakes, oceans and rivers.

Here’s a final tidbit about my 12; the word “twelve” (the largest number with one syllable) is also the largest number with a single-morpheme in English. In linguistics a “morpheme” is the smallest semantically meaningful unit in a language.

Chew on that for a while.

So, while we’re enjoying our 12 days of Christmas, I wish to ponder on all-things 2012, a presidential election year. The hope here, and a mild prediction, is that a true third party candidate will emerge to finally challenge the status quo.

Why not?

Has that not been my mantra for eternity? Why not in ’12? If not now, when? If the Payroll Tax debate, as innocuous and petty a tit-for-tat political piss battle as can be imagined, ends in a virtual stalemate, what is the point of a Two-Party system? (and let’s not deal with the ironies of my conveniently decrying the number 2 appearing here, shall we?)

Not sure who or what a third-party candidate would look like, and the foolish dream is it won’t be a nut like Ross Perot or Donald Trump, but we’re feeling positive for a few fleeting seconds, so go rain on someone else’s parade.

This year of ’12 could be the year we get out of the war business for a while. That would be nice. When Iraq goes to the dogs after trillions spent and thousands dead and maimed we’ll turn our attention to letting Afghanistan tumble, ignore the Middle East and continue this interesting infatuation with Asia, the New Europe for the New Century.

The desert is out in 2012.

Sadly, what is also out in 2012 is Hackwriters.com, which has been printing this column across the U.K. and the rest of planet earth for the past 12 years. Along with the brave souls at this paper, and several others who have come and gone over the nearly 15 years we’ve been at this, Hackwriters and its staff have been right on the front lines with the Reality Check News & Information Desk.

We wish their next endeavor in 2012 to be better.

Why not?

Embrace the 12.

It’s good for you.

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Black Friday In Mexico

Aquarian Weekly 12/7/11 REALITY CHECK

Bored, Drunk & Hiding In Mexico

Mid-afternoon in Salsita’s Café, a garishly authentic dive near the historic town square of San Jose, Mexico. The glorious quiet is accented with an aroma of fresh salsa fresca and bean spices wafting from its kitchen, inspiring a wave to our friendly barkeep for a lunch menu. My wife sips Tequila staring at the tiny television flickering weirdly violent images across its screen.

Salsita's Bar“Black Friday is underway in the U.S.,” a British voice intones with the kind of blissful sarcasm best presented from a BBC anchorman witnessing the stampede of consumer madness. “Millions of shoppers, many of whom have waited for hours in long lines throughout the night for giant chains to open their doors at midnight, begin a furious rush to procure the best bargains and herald in the American Christmas season.”

“This is why we’re sitting here,” I whisper calmly to my wife, tipping a bottle of warming Corona to my lips in a deliberate attempt to punctuate my pithy observation.

The wife says nothing. She rarely if ever says anything when offered commentary of strange behavior on television, whether seated on our living room couch, in bed, an airport gate or any and every place they put televisions now, so one can more frequently view the peculiarity of the planet’s highest intelligence. But when she is enjoying Tequila, there is scant chance she will even acknowledge my presence.

But, really, what is there to say when enduring clip after clip of what has to be assumed are “normal” adult humanoids crashing through barely opened automatic glass doors to careen spastically over end-caps and clothes racks in a trampling charge worthy of the Running of the Bulls or the opening sequence to a 60s’ Japanese monster flick?

So the wife sips her Tequila.

“Estimates from independent economic indicators say that this year’s all-important Black Friday retail numbers will dwarf 2010, even as the U.S. economy sags,” the British voice continues. “Consensus from the American Consumer Council predicts a nine percent increase in retail sales this year, a crucial gauge of how the economic climate may go in 2012.”

Our barkeep, a handsome quick-witted soul whose name, Izel, means “Only One” in the Mexican lexicon, decides to fill the silence left dangling by the wife; “This is…what…is…Is this real?”

“Oh, yes,” I proudly say, as if translating the behavior of my countrymen with certitude. “We celebrate the inauguration of every major holiday by launching ourselves into silliness. On the Fourth of July we blow shit up. Just blow shit up. Everywhere.”

“On purpose?” Izel asks.

“Well, of course,” I tell him. “On Easter, we lather chocolate all over our bodies and writhe in vats of jellybeans and duck sauce.”

“What…duck sauce…they make sauce from a duck?”

“Correct,” I continue, satisfied to be helping my new friend appreciate the customs of the true American. “New Year’s marks the time when we take all the alcohol and drugs we have failed to consume in the previous year and challenge each other to a collective gorging that in many ways signifies re-birth.”

“This…” my wife hisses. “…is why I don’t retort.”

Izel chuckles nervously, as he notices my wife roll her eyes.

“Don’t listen to her,” I caution. “Black Friday did not get its name by accident. It is imperative that Americans shop like it will be their last time to spend money, to insure the national economy. It is a way of life, the very fabric of our country’s life-blood. After our generation’s greatest calamity on 9/11, the president of the United States told us to go out and shop!”

I have plans to prattle on, but get distracted by video of Manhattan’s Herald Square looking like Occupy Wall Street, but with haircuts and pocketbooks instead of dreadlocks and bongos; the One-Percenters on Parade.

“Christmas time here is very quiet,” Izel says, sounding disappointed. “Too quiet.”

“Black Friday did not get its name by accident. It is imperative that Americans shop like it will be their last time to spend money, to insure the national economy. It is a way of life, the very fabric of our country’s life-blood. After our generation’s greatest calamity on 9/11, the president of the United States told us to go out and shop!”

Of course, we are miles and seemingly centuries from the images flashing across the tiny screen that hangs above the bar. San Jose is a sleepy fishing town perched on the curve of the Sea of Cortez, founded in 1730 upon rivers of blood and Catholicism by Spanish pirates, Native Americans, and ultimately, Jesuits, who turned it into a mission that still dominates the hamlet today. Mainly, San Jose is an escape for the artists who make the pottery, linens, and tourist junk sold ad nauseam day and night across the beaches of Los Cabos.

For a full hour before settling into our comfortable place, bellies firmly squeezed into bar, my wife intensely browsed hand-painted sink basins until sadly realizing none of them would fit our bathroom counter. “We can gut it!” she decided gleefully. I offered that we’d think about it over Tequila; a dangling carrot that never fails to distract my bride from taking heavy tools to vital portions of my home.

“Make sure you keep these coming,” I nod toward her near-empty glass. Izel smiles and fills it.

Suddenly, a mist of rain turns steady, causing a rush of tourists to pour into the café, interrupting our oasis from the Black Friday specter. The women furiously shake out their hair and the men flap their arms as if the terrible notion of getting wet against their will on the Baja Peninsula is some heightened measure of mortal sin. Up until now, the bar has been empty, save for two half-soused artisans, the wife and myself.

“Goddamn, it!” shouts the silver-haired Midwesterner. His wife, a look of utter horror masking her overly adorned pallor, stammers, “Where did this come from?”

A young couple, awkwardly groping, as young couples need to be doing at every waking second, giggle in the corner. A family barrels forth through the tiny entrance squealing, making the chubby fellow with the phalanx of cameras uneasy. “Can I get a towel?” he demands to no one in particular, sounding quite obviously like one of the “all-inclusive” types that converge on small Mexican shore towns every autumn.

“What is wrong with these people?” my wife asks the bar keep, but he is long gone, having run with four young boys to frantically drag the leather porch furniture back into the bar.

The cook, who we learned an hour ago likes to be addressed as Clavo, pokes his head from the back with the grin of a man about to clean the house at the roulette table.

“Holy, mother,” he whispers.

“What? What?” my wife presses.

“It has not rained here for more than ten minutes in four years.”

Although spoken with astonishing conviction, it sounded apocryphal — No rain for four years? — almost in that creepy Biblical phenomenon way that’s added to enhance the affect that you’re merely here because some greater force is allowing it on a whim. However, it was true as far as I could tell. We had not seen it rain in southwest Mexico in the three years we had visited here during November, nor have the many friends we have convinced to invade this magnificent place. No one has experienced so much as a mild Nimbostratus.

As more people, mostly Caucasian and mildly perturbed, stumble into the café, the rain intensifies, prompting additional precipitation history from Señor Clavo.

“It has only rained twice in the past year, amigo, for ten minutes each, last September — ninth and nineteenth. People will be dancing in the streets.”

“The farmers,” one of the artisans adds, now pushed to the corner of the bar, as the tiny front room begins to take on the look of lifeboat. “They pray for rain and it never comes, but now it is a gift.”

Black Friday on the outskirts of the 21st century has found its stampede.

We turn back to the bar, and my wife sighs; “One more for the road.”

Reality Check | Pop Culture | Politics | Sports | Music

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Chasing The Center With Dan Bern

Aquarian Weekly 11/2/11 REALITY CHECK

CHASING THE CENTER WHILE KICKIN’ ‘ROUND THE FRINGE A Few Crucial Hours On The Run With Admiral Bernstein

Sometimes you get lost and you find something new. – Dan Bern

Yeah, sometimes the Reality Check comes home.

It’s bound to happen.

Dan Bern & Erin D. MooreWe spend a lot of time slashing and burning around here, so of course it gets hard to differentiate between the slash and the burn; and sometimes you can barely see a sliver of light between them, and other times there is no light at all, believe me. So you get lost in the joke of it all, where the joke is going — if it hits Fitzgerald’s “High White Note” or when it bottoms out — but in all the absurdities of human endeavor we traverse here weekly, from one hypocrisy to the next, there is very little in the way of direction or point.

And that is precisely the point of what this space provides, a pointless point. For when the rubber truly hits the road, there is no actual point, and therefore, ipso facto, the point.


Don’t worry. You’re not confused. I am. Check that — was confused, or if not confused at least temporarily off kilter about the space we inhabit here each week; to provide the service of one voice. That’s all you have, really, One Voice. Unless you begin to stagger into the hypocrisy area, then you inhabit several and varied voices that become a cacophony, which is far worse than a pointless point.

To wit: A few weeks back a friend and colleague, the esteemed novelist and griper, Vincent Czyz wrote me a one-sentence response to my overly wise-ass-to-fairly-beaming attempt at defining the Occupy Wall St. movement. In so doing, Czyz perfectly nailed the entire milieu in which we merrily occupy — for 15 years here and for many more before that in a host forms.

“Perhaps my memory is faulty,” Czyz wrote. “But I, while I have seen lots and lots and LOTS of world-weary, jaded, I-know-how-this-is-all-going-to-turn-out-better-than-you (you poor deluded suckers) criticism in your columns, I don’t recall ever seeing a solution. Not a serious one anyway.”

Ah, this not only struck a chord, but a big fat G-Chord on a beautiful Gibson Songwriter Series, a fantastic piece of American engineering that I broke down to purchase a few years back and trust me when I tell you that for my dollar it can ring out a fucking big-fat-god-fearing G chord like no other guitar in existence.

“Oh, my friend,” I returned in earnest. “You have nailed this one. Never has it been put more on the nut than that. It shall go on my urn.”

And it shall.

But since I am not ready for my urn just yet, I spent most of the following week thinking of how I would broach this absolute truth to my readers; get out from under the mask, flick on the light, face the mirror and describe the scars. Hell, I can do this. I’d done it before in this space. Get real for a few words. Come out from behind the curtain and try and explain what solutions I may offer or if I believe in anything, and if so, for more than a fleeting burp or a gin high.

Nothing came.

What happens on the fringe stays on the fringe.

At least nothing worth writing, or if it got out at all, reading. So I decided instead to address the Youth of America, as old a rant as there is in the annals of middle-age commentary. I have volumes of garble on my shelves by aging scribes giving half-assed advice about “not fucking up like I fucked up” crap from Norman Mailer to Pete Hamill. This is what happens to writers, especially decaying male ones. I have seen it with my own eyes. I have listened to their wounded call, like the dying elephant walking proudly to its final resting place. Not everyone could feel good and write about feeling good and mocking you for not feeling as good as Henry Miller did until his last breath. That bastard had better be in heaven. He sure as shit carved out a chunk of it here.

So, in my malaise of self-examination, into town blows Admiral Bernstein, aka Dan Bern, songwriter, troubadour, novelist, painter, and one-time guest columnist to this space. Bernstein has been to me and my artist/yoga/Vegan crazy-person wife, a dear friend and sounding board, a brother-in-arms, a fellow wise-ass in the great hall of wise-ass fame. We have run the gamut with The Admiral that has been only broached in public by any of us; from the deserts of New Mexico to the Lower East side.

What happens on the fringe stays on the fringe.

Turns out, in his usual perfect timing, Bernstein is on the road again and through the Big Town. Sure, I thought, a few minutes with The Admiral will provide daylight.

First stop was the shores of the Hudson at an aging theater under construction called The Beacon in Beacon, NY. The stage was set up in its vast lobby, making its ironic backstage a massive, ornate 1930s’ rotunda, where we shared Thai food and discussed of all things parenthood.

Because that’s where we are now, bub. He has a girl; a beautiful brown-bob, button-nosed, round-eyed cherub, who I would be humbled to meet the following night, and me and the crazy-person with our own striking, dirty-blonde, giant green-eyed, ruby-lipped gal. The Fringe dwellers deep into the center; a place we would occasionally visit but could never hang for too long, but now with the beauties hanging on every word and calling you dangerous things like “Daddy”, it is indeed a Reality Check.

And so we spoke of fatherhood and writing (songs and other stuff) and personal evolution in the grand scheme of that madness, during which the man said, “You’re on a roll, keep it up, you’re doing a great thing; they can’t put a label on you” or something gut-punching like that. And then he hit the stage, pulled out his own G-fat Gibson and played some of the most heartfelt of his songs, new ones like “Economy” and “Party By Myself” and a gorgeous song about Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash and George Jones; a country ballad about maturing and teaching and understanding where you’re from and guessing where you’ll end up.

We left with hugs and a sense that it wasn’t enough for me. I needed to run the streets with Bernstein again; feel the aura of those far-off days of fist-pumping creativity. And so we met the next day downtown to toss around why we’re never sure that what we do is what we actually do and if so what’s the point? We spoke about why we love films, baseball, Spain, beer, J.D. Salinger; road a van up Fourth Ave., ate Indian food with these really great guys from Common Rotation, an L.A. band I plan on writing more about. I watched the entire clan play songs at a magazine, made vacillating top-five lists on Tom Waits and Woody Allen backstage across the street from the Village Voice at Joe’s Pub, and before I left we promised each other to never again search for a point in the grand pointless dance.

We’ll just dance.

And that is where we found our center.

Okay, Admiral?

I’ll see you back on the fringe.


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