Saturday, January 31, 2009

Weird News Update

It must have been a slow day in the newsroom at the Kennebec Journal – Augusta’s home newspaper. I think that might be an understatement. Wonder if it is ever busy. You know, a headline like this really gets your interest up: “Police: At 6:41 p.m., there was a disturbance on Middle Street.”

Anyway, two articles from yesterday’s paper are my choice for Weird News Update. Unfortunately, I can't get them from the newspaper's website, but here there are from the web:

NJ police: Woman's ex-friends used cold as weapon

NORTH BERGEN, N.J. – A 19-year-old woman who thought she was going to a party was instead driven to a rural wooded area and abandoned in 8-degree weather in a long-planned attack by three friends angry with her over an insurance claim, police said Thursday.

Maria Contreras-Luciano, 22, of Dumont, and Amber Crespo, 20, and Dyanne Velasquez, 21, both of North Bergen, face kidnapping, assault and conspiracy charges and are free on $200,000 bail. Crespo is also charged with making terroristic threats.

The women planned the attack for more than a month, Cannella said. The suspects wanted revenge after the 19-year-old sued Crespo's auto insurance carrier after a car accident, he said, adding that he didn't have details about the accident or claim.

Here is the whole story from Yahoo News

In Utah, funeral for toilet that died in line of "doody"

Have a funeral, of course.

On Friday morning, a hamburger joint in Centerville, Utah will have a "moment of silence" for the potty that was destroyed last week when a patron's handgun fell out of the holster and fired as he was hitching up his pants.

The bullet shattered the toilet in the Carl's Jr. restaurant and sent sharp shards into the man's arm. The 26-year-old shooter, who had a concealed-weapons permit, was treated at the scene for minor injuries.

Here is the whole story from Scripps News

That's the news!


The Best Wedding Announcement Ever

wedding rings

I kinda of enjoy the shtick Jay Leno does when he reads the headlines every Monday on the Tonight Show. One of the particular treats is when he rattles off the names in the wedding announcements. You know names like, “the Purple-Sage wedding,” “The Bush-Pylot wedding,” “the Hardy – Soule wedding,” and so on. So I have taken to reading the wedding announcements in the local Portland Press Herald to see if I can spot any of those weird names. Occasionally, I even read the actual announcements.

Several weeks ago this one appears and it has my vote for the best wedding announcement ever. I am not making this up!

Baker – DeLorme

FREEPORT – Chelsea “Look At My Diploma” Holden Baker and Noah “Hometown Hero” DeLorme have decided to stop pretending they’re even mildly interested in other people and mate for life.

Ms. Baker has received seals of approval from Cornell and Columbia universities and has an impressive resume that include “talking a lot” and “attending parties” for some of San Francisco’s hippest companies. The groom-to-be dropped out of high school, three colleges, and is currently an “underemployed” out-of-season farmer with no grammatical understanding of quotation marks. Their children will be talented and ridiculously good-looking, outshined only by their parents.

The couple would like to thank friends and family for countless hours of therapy induced by each other. In lieu of gifts, please send whiskey, aged 10 years, in commemoration of their decade of on-again-off-again dating.

Cannon report in Casco Bay will announce the nuptials on Peaks Island during Labor Day weekend 2010.

I hope I get an invitation to that party!


Thursday, January 22, 2009

Pete Seeger, a true American

Seeing Pete Seeger singing at the Lincoln Memorial the other day reminded me of my own history with the man.

Reading today of a concerted effort to get Pete Seeger nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize made it more urgent to record this story of my own history with the man.

The easy part of the story – and the one that usually gets people’s attention is when I say, “Pete Seeger taught me to play the banjo.” After some oohs and ahs, I have to fess up and explain that in 1970-something after purchasing a used 5-string banjo, I purchased a copy of “How to play the 5-string banjo” by the man himself. I read the book, learned a few chords and some various techniques (most of which I incorporated into my guitar playing style), but never really did learn to play the banjo all that well. Well enough to fake a few songs and entertain the family, but never more than 3-4 chords.

But the purchase of the book, and my newly acquired affection toward Mr. Seeger prompted my father to tell me an interesting story; one I will share with you here.

Dad was a special agent for the FBI from the late 40s into the early 70s when he retired. So he was at the end of his career or in early retirement when he told the story.

As I remember, Dad began by telling me how much he admired Mr. Seeger noting that he was a “true American.” What I did not realize at the time was that for most of Pete’s professional life he was viewed as a Communist and very “un-American.”

It seems that some time during the 1950s Dad was apparently assigned the duty to “watch” Mr. Seeger. In his description, he told me the location where this took place and even noted the exact address where Mr. Seeger lived at the time. The surveillance work was really nothing more than what all FBI agents did or do; they watch and document what people do. It is usually all done somewhat surreptitiously, but as Pete has publicly confirmed for many years, he knew he was “being followed.” So this was not a big revelation.

The intriguing part of the story was my father’s strenuous and passionate assertion that Mr. Seeger had been wrongly miscast as anti-American.

It was the early 70s and I was at the peak of my own subversive period. It was the time of Nixon and Watergate and Viet Nam. I was a bit of a long-hair-hippy-freak at the time, but very mellow on the political spectrum. When I pressed Dad for more details about the surveillance he was mute. He simply kept repeating that the frequent public assertions of Mr. Seeger’s lack of patriotism were, in his mind, clearly wrong. He said this all with a knowing look on his face, and I believed him.

Perhaps what is most interesting about the story was not that it happened at all, but the fact that when I brought the story back up many years later my father denied the whole thing. No, he had never followed Seeger, and no, he had never said anything about Seeger’s patriotism.

This was extremely surprising and completely unconvincing.

As is common with many ex-agents and others from the quiet side of law enforcement – and I know a bunch of these folks – they frequently only talk about their work in cryptic and minimalistic ways. The limited revelations of details always come within coded terms that intrigue me. I usually am forced to do some homework to figure out the true meaning of the message. But Dad’s vintage message about Pete Seeger’s patriotism was very clear and unambiguous. He liked the guy.

His later assertions that it was not true really confused me. But I think I now understand.

I think it was part of that “old man’s disease” of becoming more conservative as you get older. Dad had been a Kennedy Democrat and adored Bobby Kennedy in the 60s. But by the 1980s he was a Reagan devotee and thought Lee Iacocca was God. He was proud to vote Republican and had autographed photos of George H.W. Bush hanging in the house. Ultimately, Dad never said he disliked Mr. Seeger, but would he would never re-assert the comments about his being “true American.”

In the 70s I had become a member of the Seeger “fan club” and would often play a few of his better known songs at folk festivals and social gatherings. Although I have never seen him perform live, I never miss an opportunity to watch him on TV. So, as Mr. Seeger began to perform at the Inaugural Concert in Washington, accompanied by his grandson and Bruce Springsteen, my eyes filled with tears. Like so many Americans who never thought they would live to see the day when a Black man was sworn in as the leader of the greatest country in the world, I am sure Mr. Seeger felt a strong sense of pride and vindication.

The choice to end the concert with the voice of Pete Seeger and words of Woody Guthrie renews my spirit and stirs my soul. This is truly a land made for you and me.

If you missed it, here is is on YouTube:


Friday, January 16, 2009

My Andrew Wyeth Story - repost

In honor of the passing of this great American artist, I am sharing my Andrew Wyeth story:
Republished from August 12, 2007
Christina's World - painting by Andrew Wyeth, 1948
I’ve told this story many times over the years and friends have suggested that I write it down for “posterity.” I am not sure if this blog can be considered as such, but I will tell the story anyway.

I can begin by telling you this idea was re-stimulated by an article in today’s Maine Sunday Telegram (MST). The MST and the Portland Press Herald love to have “human interest” stories this time of year – I’m sure to appeal to “visitors from away.” Indeed there are always some great folksy articles and stories in the summer issues, and I always look forward to reading them.

Today’s featured article in the Audience (Arts) section is about Maine’s most famous living artist, Andrew Wyeth who spends his summers in the mid-coast area. His son Jamie, perhaps the second most famous living artist in Maine lives here almost year round. But the article is not so much about Andrew as it is about the whole clan, and particularly Victoria (known to all as Vic) , Andrew’s 28-year-old granddaughter who has become something of a family historian and commentator.

The article provides a delightful insight into some of the background of the family and includes some vignettes of some the family eccentricities including the detonation of “crazy” Aunt Carolyn ashes, and a recent birthday party for grandpa complete with Uncle Jamie lighting off cannons.

If you are a Wyeth fan, you’ll love the article – read it on line.

But that’s not my story, mine is better.

It begins in 1970 when I was a camp counselor at a camp located in the town of Cushing, Maine. Each Sunday, the camp co-director (aka “The Old Man”) would take a bunch of kids and me to Rockland to attend church. This trip was only for baptized and practicing “mackerel snappers” and required a special request from parents. Somehow I was selected to be the token staff person to attend with the campers as the camp’s co-director wasn’t of that religious persuasion.

One of the things I enjoyed about this weekly trip was the opportunity to get off the island where the camp was located and see a little bit more of Maine. One Sunday, we took some back roads on our return from church and The Old Man seemed to be hunting for something and we made our way south of Thomaston and on to the back roads of Cushing. At some point along the way he suddenly turned the van off the road and on to a dirt driveway that led down to an old weather-beaten house. A sign at the end of the driveway noted “Olson House” and the ancient building overlooking a broad hayfield that provided a decent view of the St. George’s River beyond. The Old Man announced that this was the place where “that artist guy painted the picture of the crippled girl on the hill.” He fumbled for more details and then remembered the Wyeth name. For some strange reason, I could immediately visualize the picture he described. Strange because at the grand old age of 17, I certainly was not a connoisseur of American art and clearly had only rudimentary knowledge of Andrew Wyeth and “Christina’s World.”

The visit was brief, we didn’t even get out of the van, and soon we were back on the road heading to camp.

The story may have ended here, but several weeks later, my father and sisters were in Maine to visit me at camp and I had my father take this same route to camp from Rockland. Remembering and relating the story about the old farm house, my father became very interested and insisted we see the spot. Somehow I found the driveway and soon learned that my father was a bit of a Wyeth fan and thought this part of the trip was a particularly special bonus.

This time I did get out of the car and looked around the house and the adjoining “out buildings;” a series of sheds and small building that appeared to have been used to keep farm animals. The house and property did not appear occupied at that time, but the ground otherwise looked cared for. The multitude of years of brutal Maine weather had left the outside of the buildings in pretty tough shape and it was obviously they had not been painted in many years.

At this point I was still a bit in the fog when it came to Christina’s World. My father had immediately recalled the name of the painting as I described what The Old Man had said. He even knew that Olson was the name of the woman depicted in the painting; Christina Olson lived here. But it was only what happened next that burned the image of Christina and her world into my permanent memory.

It occurred when I happened to look through the window of one of the out buildings. There, affixed to the wall with some simple thumb tacks were a series of sketches of the major elements of the Christina’s World painting. Initially perplexed, I quickly figured out that these must have been the practice sketches Wyeth used to compose the final painting. Drawn in pencil and clearly damaged by rust stains that had bled out of the thumb tacks, the collection included sketches of the house and a few of Christina herself. None of the sketches contained all of the elements together and I realized had perhaps I had an insight into how an artist mind must work; dabbling along with disparate pieces before the whole gestalt is formed.

Being a bit of a typical teenager, I think I jokingly suggested that we break the window and take one or two of the sketches. It clearly appeared that these things had been here for ages and it was not likely anyone would miss them.

Christina’s World is perhaps one of the most memorable and famous American paintings. In the years that followed the experience at Olson House, I became fascinated by Andrew Wyeth and eventually made it to Rockland in 2000 to see Christina “in the flesh” when she was loaned to the Farnsworth Museum from the Museum of Modern Art.

I’ve told the “sketches” story a number of times over the years - to anyone who expressed any interest in Wyeth – but most people acted as though this was all a bit of bullshit on my part. As time went on, and memories faded or became confused with other experiences, I too began to doubt my recall. When, as an adult I began to realize the value and power of this painting, I could not imagine that the artist would have left these sketches in a seemingly abandoned barn in Cushing, Maine. After all, Christina’s World was painted in 1948 which means the sketches would have to have been hanging there for over 20 years when I saw them in 1970. In subsequent trips to the Olson house, the sketches were no where to be found, adding to my doubt.

Sometime in the late 1990s the Farnsworth Museum, opened The Wyeth Center, a former church converted into a special gallery for viewing and learning about Andrew Wyeth, his famous son Jamie and his equally famous father, N.C. Wyeth. Indeed it was at about this time Christina made her return to Maine and over the years the museum has held many special exhibits of Wyeth works.

A few years later, the museum held an exhibit of something extraordinary, something that made me drop everything a take a trip to Rockland. It was an exhibit of preliminary sketches of Christina’s World.

There in Rockland on a rainy weekday afternoon, I came face-to-face with the sketches I had seen hanging in the Olson’s barn nearly 30 years earlier. Meticulously restored, the sketches were now beautifully matted and framed. In the adjoining descriptions, I learned that they had indeed been left to hang in the Olson House as the artist had used that space up until 1969 to paint many other scenes in that locale.

So, it was all true. I did see them. And, now they were owned by a rich Japanese collector and worth millions of dollars.

One of the sketches

I told my story, once again, to a docent working at the exhibit. She shuttered at the thought of my adolescent audacity to “help myself” to some of history’s most treasured artifacts. I had to reassure her several times I was only kidding, although I think the security guards might have been keeping an extra eye on me for the rest of my visit.

So, that’s my story and it’s nice to know that it happened the way I remember it. I have often thought of what it would be like to meet Andrew Wyeth and tell him my tale. I think from what I know about him, he’d get a kick out of it. Who knows, maybe he will read this and give me a call. Better yet, Vic will read the story and invite me over for a couple of beers.

More about Christina's World


Wednesday, January 07, 2009